In the midst of all the wild scene—Stephen fell asleep!
(J. R. Miller, "Stephen the First Martyr")
"When they heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him! But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. "Look!" he said, "I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!" At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Then he fell on his knees and cried out, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them!" When he had said this, he fell asleep." Acts 7:54-60
To Stephen, dying was only breathing out his soul into the hands of Jesus Christ! He knew it was not death—but life, which was before him. His body was being mangled and broken—but his spirit, his real self, could not be harmed. Beyond the strange mystery of death—Jesus waits to receive the departing spirit. Death is only a gateway through which the soul passes—and then life and glory burst upon the vision of the emancipated spirit!
Very beautiful is the picture of death which is given here: "He fell asleep." Sleep is death's new, sweet name! What a picture of peace the word suggests, right here in the heart and fury of the mob! In the midst of all the wild scene—Stephen fell asleep!
We think of a tired child creeping into the mother's bosom and falling asleep. Sleep is not a terrible experience; it is nothing to be dreaded. We sleep when we are weary—and we awake refreshed. Sleep is not the cessation of life. We expect to awake, after we have slept. As we part for the night, we do not say, "Farewell," but "Goodnight," for we expect to meet again in the morning.
This beautiful Scriptural designation of death tells us, therefore, of life beyond, of resurrection, of immortality. We shall awake from this sleep of death—and our life shall go on again. We shall awake refreshed, lying down weary—and rising strong; lying down sick, or old, or deformed, or worn-out—and rising well, young and radiant in heavenly beauty!