Yesterday we started looking at Stephen, the first Christian Martyr. Today we continue looking at this remarkable man who stood steadfast for the Lord Jesus in the face of immense persecution.
1) People saw Stephen’s life in action. The Greek for Stephen is “crown”. He certainly seems to be crowned with God’s best gifts.
Ac 6:8 Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power
God’s grace and power! Quite an impressive combination! Grace depicts love, gentleness, kindness and mercy where power reveals strength, determination and fearlessness. These were virtues the Lord Jesus had … and for Stephen, these exposed his life to those he ministered too. Although these qualities ought to be part of all believers, pastors and evangelists need them because a gracious gospel approach filled with gospel power is what convinces people of the truth of Jesus.
2) People saw Stephen’s labors in action.
Ac 6:8 Now Stephen did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people.
Remember this was a time where few scrolls of Holy Scripture were available and the production of the New Testament through the agency of the Holy Spirit had not yet started. Due to this God used signs, wonders and miracles through the apostles and a few other men like Stephen. The purpose of these was to authenticate the gospel message. Remember Jesus’ ministry was generally in a small area around the Sea of Galilee. His crucifixion was in Jerusalem and although many knew it was happening, yet not everyone. Another important matter is that although the gospel is seen throughout the Old Testament, the religious leaders rejected Jesus because He was not the Messiah they wanted. Therefore, they refused the gospel with their synagogue members generally not being exposed to it. God used dramatic means to arrest people’s attention to focus on and think about the message they were hearing. Stephen was one such man God used. Now that we have the full Bible, God has withdrawn the signs, wonders and miracles He used in the First Century. We don’t need them now but we do need faithful Bible teaching and Gospel preaching accompanied by the Holy Spirit’s anointing!
3) People saw how the opposition loathed Stephen with passion. We saw this yesterday but we need context.
Ac 6:9 Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia.
These men began to argue with Stephen. Wherever there is good, honest Gospel preaching there will be opposition. Some small church pastors might think they preach as best they can yet the unsaved fight the message and hate the preacher. The reality is that this happens in big churches as well. Where Truth is proclaimed there will always be opposition!
4) People saw Stephen’s learning in action.
Ac 6:10 but they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke.
Here we find another set of twins … “wisdom and the Spirit’s empowerment”. Many preachers have lots of knowledge and education (numbers of degrees), but these don’t add up to wisdom. Biblical wisdom is a spiritual thing and it’s only acquired through many hours in the Word of God, reading, studying, meditating and praying through each phrase and verse to understand Biblical morality and ethics. Over the years spiritual wisdom is acquired. That was Stephen and that is what is needed today in pulpits and pastoral ministry. Wisdom obtained from the Bible leads to godly discernment … to discern Truth from error, to discern motives and hearts, to discern false teaching and to discern what guidance and counsel in required in different situations. Like with Stephen, once one is saturated in the Bible and prayer, God’s Spirit speaks through that person. O how we need to pray for this today!
5) People saw Stephen’s looks. These people mostly were the opposition but I would think there were onlookers as well.
Ac 6:15 All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.
As we know from other passages, especially to do with the Lord Jesus, angels were radiant in appearance because they came from the presence of the One radiating all the glory of heaven itself. Not only because Stephen spent lots of time in God’s presence … but in times of persecution and suffering God visit’s His faithful servants, to support, uplift and encourage. The people saw Stephen’s face shining like an angel. This is what we need today. Not expensive suits, flashy cars, catchy slogans or fancy hair styles, neatly trimmed beards and flashy gold rings. What we need today is men dressed with the Fruits of the Spirit
Gal 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control.
Once again, this appearance is learned on the knee before the Throne.
6) People saw Stephen’s love. We have considered this but what is noteworthy and important is that those who stoned him to death were aware of his love for them.
Ac 7:60 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.
Such love is love in action. Even though they were the cause of his death, he knew that death was the door to heaven. He knew he was in the Savior’s will and hands. His eternal safety was secured. He: had preached to them. He had revealed the true Gospel … see Acts 72-53. He wanted them saved and as Jesus set the example at Calvary
Lu 23:34 “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing”
so did Stephen. His life, labor, learning, looks and love … even the way he was loathed are great examples for all Christians, especially pastors and Christian workers to copy.
O Lord our God, thank you for Stephen and his life’s example. Please raise up many pastors and Christian workers, gifted like him to be a blessing to the Church and Kingdom of God. Mercifully send Your Spirit upon all Your workers ploughing in Your harvest field. Lord we do so need solid workers like Stephen … and we pray all these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.