P.E. Kretzmann, commenting on the martyring of St. Stephen (Acts 7:51-60) [emphasis in the comments mine] :
The peroration: V.51. Ye stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost; as your fathers did, so do ye. V.52. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? And they have slain them which showed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers; v.53. who have received the Law by the disposition of angels; and have not kept it. Stephen had now reviewed the whole history of the Jews, showing in what manner they had at all times acted toward the Lord and the leader whom the Lord had given them, relying rather upon outward forms and ceremonies, connected with a visible sanctuary, for a justification before God. Stephen’s just indignation therefore reaches its culmination at this point of his recital. Boldly he tells his judges that they are stiff-necked, obstinate, refractory, unwilling to listen to reason, Ex. 33,3.5; 34,9; Deut. 9,6. And in addition to that, they are uncircumcised both as regards heart and ears, Lev.26, 41; Jer. 6, 10; Ezek. 44, 7.9. These were severe terms of reproach and contempt, placing the leaders of the Jews in a class with the heathen nations and with the apostate Jews. This severe denunciation Stephen corroborates by the charge that they were always, continually, resisting the Holy Ghost, literally, throwing themselves in His way, against Him, thus shutting off the working of His grace in their hearts. The Holy Spirit wanted to convert also these enemies of Christ, He was giving them every evidence of His gracious will toward them by having the Gospel preached before them for such a long time; but they deliberately, willfully, refused to listen to His call. And herein they were following their fathers, of whose disobedience and obstinacy Stephen cited a number of cases. Every one of the ancient prophets the Jews had persecuted in one way or the other, and those that proclaimed in advance concerning the coming of the Righteous One they had killed. The prophets foretold the coming of Jesus Christ, the Just and Holy One, and their reward, at the hand of their countrymen, was death. And the spirit of these ancestors was yet alive, for those that were sitting in the Council to judge the present case had become the betrayers and murderers of this same just and holy Christ. And not only that, but Stephen declared that the very Law which was their boast, which they had received by the disposition of angels, probably in this manner, that the Lord spoke through the mouths of angels in proclaiming the Law on Mount Sinai, this Law they had not kept. Thus Stephen, in a burst of magnificent eloquence, preached the Law to these hardened hypocrites of the Sanhedrin, in order to work in them a true knowledge of their sin which might lead to repentance and faith. Note: The sermon of Stephen admonishes us Christians to be mindful of the great blessings of God under the new dispensation, lest we also become indifferent and then callous, and finally resist the work of the Holy Ghost.
The glory of God revealed to Stephen: V.54. When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth. V.55. But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, v.56. and said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God. Stephen’s speech was probably not finished as he had intended, but the increasing impatience and the murmuring of his hearers did not permit him to conclude in such a way as to bring Jesus into greater prominence. For the indignant words of the accused cut the judges to the heart, literally, sawed asunder in or to their hearts. In uncontrollable anger they gnashed on him with their teeth, thus cutting off every further attempt to deliver his speech properly. But Stephen was here given a special grace, a manifestation of the Holy Ghost’s power, which caused him to disregard and forget his surroundings altogether, and a revelation of God’s glory such as has been vouchsafed to but few people. He firmly fixed his eyes upward to heaven and there saw the glory and majesty of God and Jesus standing at God’s right hand, as though He were making ready to assist and to receive His servant, as one commentator has it. In a burst of ecstasy, Stephen testified to that which his eyes beheld by special grace of God. The Son of Man he called Jesus, the Redeemer, who, according to both natures, has gained a perfect redemption for all men. Note: Jesus, at the right hand of the Father, is ready to receive with open arms of love all those that rely upon the salvation earned by Him. Where He is, there shall also His servants be. He wants to receive them into His kingdom that they may see His glory and the glory and majesty of the Father. Thus the believers are, through the merits of Christ, taken from this vale of tears to their heavenly home.
The stoning of Stephen: V.57. Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, v.58. and cast him out of the city, and stoned him; and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet whose name was Saul. V.59. And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. V.60. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep. The last announcement of Stephen, concerning the vision which was granted to him, raised the anger of the judges to a perfect storm of fury. That this man should receive such bliss before their very eyes caused them to forget dignity, justice, humanity, all the virtues of which they usually made their boast. They cried out with a loud voice, in order to drown out any attempt of Stephen to make himself heard in the resulting din and confusion. They held their ears shut tightly lest another word from his hated lips find entrance there. They rushed upon him with one accord, like a maddened herd of cattle over which all control has been lost. They cast him forth out of the city and there stoned him. This proceeding did not have even a show of right. It was against all the rules of the Jewish criminal law, 23) It can in no way even be called an execution; it can be described only by the word “murder,” committed by an infuriated mob, in violation of all law. And yet the mob retained enough sanity to observe some forms of the Law, such as taking the prisoner out of the city and also requiring the witnesses to begin the stoning. It is expressly stated that the witnesses, in making ready for their murderous attack, laid down their outer clothes at the feet of a young man by the name of Saul. As for Stephen, he died the death of a true Christian martyr. While the stones were flying around him, and after he had been struck, he called loudly upon his Lord and God, in the person of Jesus, the Savior. His first prayer was that the Lord Jesus, the exalted Christ, would receive his spirit. And having thus committed his soul into the best safekeeping, he let his last sigh be an intercession for his murderers. Sinking down upon his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, which may, at least to one of those present, have sounded in his ears for years afterward: Lord, do not charge to them this sin. And then he calmly fell asleep in his Savior. Thus Stephen became the first martyr of the Christian Church. Since his time thousands of Christians have been martyred for the sake of the name of Jesus. And their death teaches a lesson, namely, that of cheerfully sacrificing temporal possessions and fortune for the sake of the Lord. In the end we gain everything that a reward of mercy can bestow upon us, heaven itself with all its glories. “Lastly, there is here a fine comfort that St. Stephen here sees the heavens standing open, and that he fell asleep. Here we should mark that our Lord God stands by us if we believe, and that death is not death to them that believe. Thus you have pictured here in this story the entire Gospel faith, love, cross, death, and life.”