The whole world may stand against us, but Christ takes His stand as our advocate before the judgment seat of God. Today, R.C. Sproul considers how the martyrdom of Stephen presents a stunning picture of the gospel.
When we read the narrative of the death of the first Christian martyr, we remember the death of Stephen, how Stephen preached before the Jewish authorities, before the Sanhedrin, which was the highest Jewish court in Israel. And they were so provoked and so angry with Stephen that the Scriptures tell us their hatred became so intense and vehement that they were gnashing their teeth and taking up stones, and they couldn’t wait to kill him.
And so there’s a kangaroo court, and the highest court in Israel sentences Stephen to death on the spot for heresy. And so they start throwing stones at him, and while the stones are bouncing off his head, then off his chest, then off his face—and these were sharp stones and heavy stones; they weren’t just little pebbles—and Stephen is about to die, do you remember what happened? He’s standing there and he says: “Behold, the heavens are open. And I see the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God.”
Now, here’s something that I love. Every time Jesus talks about the Son of Man, He talks about Him as the Judge. And He talks about being seated at the right hand of God. When we do the Apostles’ Creed and we say, “suffered under Pontius Pilate, crucified and dead and buried,” and so on, “He ascended into heaven and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty.” What’s going on at the right hand? That’s the seat of judgment. And so, everything that the Scriptures talk about the Son of Man is that Jesus is going to be the Judge who’s sitting at the right hand of God.
And in this passage, we read that Stephen looks up into heaven while the Sanhedrin is seated in judgment against him and condemning him and killing him. Stephen looks up at heaven, and he sees Jesus not sitting at the right hand of God, but he sees Jesus stand up. That’s the gospel: that the Judge of heaven and earth, the One before whom you will be held ultimately accountable, the One who will evaluate and examine your moral performance, your obedience or disobedience to Almighty God, He’s the One who will sit in judgment to you at the end of the age and who will be seated in that courtroom at the right hand of the Father. And you go in, and they say, “What’s your name?” And the charges are read against you, and you look at the Judge, and all of a sudden the Judge gets up out of His seat and walks around the bench and says, “Your Honor, I am her defense counsel.”
That’s the incredible thing, that God has designed the Judge to be our defense attorney. That’s what Stephen saw. He saw Jesus get up, remove Himself from the place of prosecution, and stand there as his advocate, pleading his case. Because the Judge Himself, the One who judges our sin, died for our sin.