Stephen’s story in Acts is the account of an ideal follower of Jesus Christ. Stephen shows what it means to embody Jesus’s teaching about discipleship: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Like Jesus, Stephen encounters opposition from the religious establishment, just as followers of Jesus Christ do to this day.
Verse 15 offers a striking parallel to something that precedes Jesus’ passion in Luke’s Gospel. Jesus, facing increasing opposition from religious leaders and predicting that he will be killed by them, defined discipleship as taking up the cross in the midst of such opposition. Eight days later, three of Jesus’ disciples experience his transfiguration: “the appearance of his face changed” so that they saw in him the glory of God (Luke 9:29). Now, while people bore false witness against Stephen, the council looked intently at him and “saw that his face was like the face of an angel” (v. 15).
Christians celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration on August 6—the same date the United States detonated an atomic bomb over Hiroshima. The juxtaposition of the two commemorations is theologically significant. Just as Peter, James, and John saw God’s glory in Jesus’ face on his way to his crucifixion, the council sees God’s glory in Stephen’s face on his way to his martyrdom. Disciples today take up their crosses and follow Jesus in a world in which world powers bomb civilians and do all manner of things opposed to the divine work of fostering the flourishing of life. Even against the backdrop of unholy acts of violence, people may likewise catch glimpses of God’s glory.
When have you glimpsed God’s glory through the lives of contemporary Christians who follow Jesus in counter-cultural ways? Who are some of these Christians?
Holy God, may others see your grace and glory in our lives as we take up our crosses this day to follow the way Jesus shows us. Amen.