"And when he had said this, he fell asleep."
How would you define peace? Some would think of it as the quiet and tranquility of a fall morning with a little coolness in the air as the sun majestically rises. A mother might think of it as that moment at night when her little ones have fallen asleep, and she is able to sit down for just a few moments with a cup of tea as she heads off to bed. The business man might define it as the end of a busy week with all of the assignments done and the knowledge that next week is vacation. Peace is usually defined as what brings us relief from the anxieties of life.
When I read this verse, peace was the word that immediately entered into my mind. Stephen had been a faithful servant of God. We first read about him in Acts 6 when he was chosen to be one of the seven men that served the church. He was described as "a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit". What an awesome way to be identified! He was not described as a man with immense talents and abilities, incredible knowledge and intellect, or tremendous people skills and charisma. Unfortunately, these are the kind of characteristics that we usually look for in our leaders. We tend to notice all of the external abilities and talents before we recognize the spiritual. Stephen surely had tremendous abilities, but it was his spiritual qualities that set him apart from others.
Stephen was also a man of peace. He was falsely accused in a mock trial just like Jesus. People were brought forward to lie about what he was saying. Many of us would loudly and angrily defend ourselves. We feel that it is our job to make sure that this type of injustice does not stand. However, when Stephen stood before the high priest, it is said that the council saw his face as the face of an angel. It is obvious that Stephen did not have anger and vengeance on his mind as he began to speak. Instead, he had a peace that what he was about to declare would honor God. Many think of peace as passive, but a person with the peace of God can be as bold as a lion. That is why Stephen was able to look at this council and boldly declare, "You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you."
Of course you know what happened after that. The council and congregation went from being a civil audience to an angry mob. They drug him outside the city gates to stone him to death. In the midst of this horrific moment, Stephen still had peace. We are told that he saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God preparing to welcome him home. As the stones began to bruise and batter his body, Stephen spoke to Jesus and asked him to receive his spirit and not lay this sin to the charge of those ignorantly persecuting him. At this moment, the Bible gives us one of the most peaceful sentences, "And when he had said this, he fell asleep." He slept on a bed of bloody rocks and woke up in the presence of the Savior. What wondrous peace for this saint of the Most High!
May you know the peace of God today!