Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and others of those from Cilicia and Asia, stood up and argued with Stephen. But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke. Then they secretly instigated some men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” They stirred up the people as well as the elders and the scribes; then they suddenly confronted him, seized him, and brought him before the council. They set up false witnesses who said, “This man never stops saying things against this holy place and the law; for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses handed on to us.” And all who sat in the council looked intently at him, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.
As we travel along with the Apostles we read that the Jesus Movement is on fire, so much so, that seven men were anointed prototype deacons to help them minister to the people—widows needed care and the Word of God preached. Stephen, whose name means “victor’s crown,” was one. Verse 8 describes him as “full of grace and power who did great wonders and signs among the people.” Sound familiar?
There are striking similarities to Jesus even before Stephen’s martyrdom. The religious authorities were also bested by Stephen’s tongue; they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke (vs. 10). So what did they do? They violated the ninth commandment and bore false witness against him. Picture a raucous courtroom where these schemers pound their fists, their red faces spewing hatred and threats.
But there he stood, silent. Scripture says, “that his face was like the face of an angel.” One of my favorite words is “countenance.” I can imagine God’s countenance, like an aura, glorifying Stephen’s face in a halo. It’s such a King James word. I don’t think I came to know it until I began reading the BCP. Evening Prayer ends with a beautiful blessing: The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace (pg. 114). This, of course, is biblical; it’s from Numbers 6:26. One’s countenance is different from the expression on one’s face. It’s deep. It emanates from the soul.
The Lord’s countenance was upon Stephen because he possessed the fruits of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5: 22). My thought for this day and particularly during this time of isolation, anxiety and uncertainty is to ask ourselves, how is our countenance reflected? And can it be reflected underneath a face mask? Yes!
I’m not sure what the face of an angel looks like, but Stephen’s face reflected God’s presence. Was it a radiant glow, like the shining of Moses’ face when he came down from the mountain? Or was it one of a non-anxious presence? We can only imagine. But let’s start this morning with a smile that radiates from our eyes and place God’s love on our hearts so that someone might be struck by our countenance and mistake us for an angel.
Stranger things have happened!
The Lord bless you and keep you. Amen.
The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. Amen.
The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. Amen.
(Book of Common Prayer, p. 114)