Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit.

Going from last week’s celebration of Christmas to feast of St. Stephen can seem like a bit of spiritual whiplash.   In one day’s time, we go from angels’ sweet singing to a mob’s enraged shouting.   We witness a peaceful birth, and then a violent death.   We hail Israel’s newborn king, and then we see many of Israel’s religious leaders turn on this king’s ambassador and kill him.   It could lead us to wonder: did Jesus’ birth make any difference at all?

We can answer that with a big yes and a small no.

No, because a tragic history is repeating itself.   Not so long before this incident, Jesus stood before the same court Stephen now faces, similarly charged with blasphemy.   Both of them became victims in a long line of prophets murdered by their own people.

But here’s the Yes:   everything about Stephen tells us that Jesus accomplished his mission of reconciling us to God and filling us with the Holy Spirit.

Even though his earthly life ended so abruptly and violently, Stephen is an early success story in this grand plan of salvation.   “Filled with faith and the Holy Spirit,” he became a remarkable reflection of his Master (Acts 6:5; 7:55).   Like Jesus, he worked “great wonders and signs” (6:8).   He had deep insight into God’s plan, and he presented that prophetic message with courage and conviction.   Stephen looked a grisly death in the eye with calm serenity, his heart fixed on heavenly realities.   And his last words—of surrender and forgiveness—could hardly be more Christlike (7:59-60).

Stephen the Superhero?   Not at all!   Stephen was one of us, an ordinary mortal—but one transformed by the Spirit of Jesus living in him.

That same Holy Spirit lives in your heart.   He is there to help you to be “conformed to the image” of Jesus (Romans 8:29).   So turn to the Spirit in prayer today.   Ask him to help you, as he helped Stephen, to live the life of joy, peace, and conviction that Stephen lived.   Nothing could be greater than knowing Jesus as deeply as Stephen did!

Word Among Us