Stephen amazes me. Bloodthirsty men grab him. The Sanhedrin is no guarantee of justice. These proceedings can be every bit the Kangaroo Court they were with Jesus. Yet, Stephen is firmly resolute. He says what has to be said (v.51), knowing this will only sign his own death warrant.
How can he be this bold, this obedient?
We find the answer in verse 55:
“He, however, was filled with the holy spirit.”
“Being filled” is a major idea in Acts. Nine times some significant character is said to be filled with the Spirit (the apostles at Pentecost, 2:4; Peter, 4:8; the believers that received Peter and John after they were rescued from prison, 4:31; the seven deacons, 6:3; Stephen, 6:5 and 7:55; the blind Saul, 9:17; Saul turned Paul, 13:9; and the disciples in Pisidian Antioch, 13:52). To be filled with the Holy Spirit seems to mean having a deep connection to the Holy Spirit, open to the work of the Spirit, known for possessing the fruit of the Spirit, especially joy and faith. As this Spirit is the Spirit of Christ (Romans 8:9) we should expect that a person who is filled with the Holy Spirit will be much like Jesus.
This point is brought home in a special way in the story of the stoning of Stephen. Stephen is being pelted by rocks. Death is drawing closer, and Stephen says two things:
“Lord Jesus,” he cried out, “receive my spirit.” (7:59b)
“Lord, don’t let this sin stand against them.” (7:60b)
Sound familiar? That’s right. These are two of the seven things Jesus said while on the cross. Stephen is truly a man like Jesus, filled with the Savior’s very Spirit.
Five times in Acts, though, we read of other options for “filling.” Ananias’ heart was filled with “Satan” (5:3). The high priest and Sadducees who arrest the apostles for preaching in Jerusalem were “filled with jealousy” (5:17). Bitterness filled the heart of Simon the Sorcerer (8:23). Elymas the sorcerer from Cyprus was “full of all kinds of deceit and trickery” (13:10). Seeing the success of Paul and Barnabas, the Jews in Pisidian Antioch were “filled with jealousy” (13:45).
One way or another, we will be filled. With what do we want it to be?
Lord, fill us up until we overflow!