Recently I’ve been challenged to go back to the early Church. The Church was on fire and moving with great speed spreading the gospel. It was growing so fast that the leaders couldn’t keep up with the demands.
Acts 6 tells us that the leaders came up with a grand solution to solve the splitting-at-the-seams problem. They chose 7 men of high standing to take care of the daily needs. And Stephen was one of those chosen.
Listen to what’s written about him…
“A man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5)
“A man full of God’s grace and power” (Acts 6:8)
“[No one] could stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke” (Acts 6:10)
For most of my adult life, I’ve been drawn to people with a fired up faith and an exemplary love for Jesus. These are the people I choose to spend the majority of my time with because they challenge me in my walk, epitomize true Christianity, display Christ-like behavior, and teach me how to love God’s Word. They seem to give their all for Jesus. I pray that my Christian friends and acquaintances feel the same about me. I’m wondering if those who knew Stephen just loved being around him, too. Not only was he knowledgeable in the Scriptures, but he also had an energized faith.
Stephen’s life was short-lived because he was martyred for his faith. In fact, his remarkable story is found in Acts 6 & 7. You’ve probably read it, but let me encourage you to read it again.
Stephen was brought before the authorities because he was causing quite a stir in town. Word about this man of great faith reached the ears of the judges. The Jewish Sanhedrin (the supreme court of the Jewish land) gathered to hear what he had to say for himself. And I must say that Stephen didn’t disappoint. His testimony truly honored God.
If I could summarize Stephen’s life/ministry, there are three things I would say…
1. Stephen stood OUT for Jesus!
There were seven men chosen, but one who seemed to stand out the most. The other men were mentioned by name, but Stephen’s electrifying presence is brought to light in the Book of Acts. I’m guessing that if we were in Stephen’s presence, his Spirit-filled life and exuberant passion for Jesus would cause us to confront our own relationship with the Lord. Imagine how believers wanted to be around this man who loved Jesus more than life itself—whose faith was indeed real.
I often say that my friend, Shirley, seems to have a direct line to heaven because when she prays, things happen. Something tells me that incredible things happened wherever Stephen went as well. Let me say again, Stephen stood out for Jesus!
2. Stephen stood UP for Jesus!
Stephen was brought before the Sanhedrin to give an explanation of his beliefs in light of the testimony brought against him. As he began his defense, he knew he was walking on safe ground as long as he stayed within the boundaries of the Old Testament because the Jewish religion recognized the Old Testament as God’s rules and regulations. In fact, it seemed all ears were tuned into Stephen’s lecture as he documented the Jewish faith from a historical point of view. He offered to them a detailed chronology beginning with Abraham.
But the atmosphere quickly changed the moment he brought up Jesus. Here’s the thing: Stephen was well aware that the members of this court rejected Jesus as the promised Messiah. I’m certain he knew that chaos would erupt as soon as Jesus’ name was mentioned. He was right! What’s remarkable is that Stephen didn’t disguise the truth about Jesus, but he condemned them for their actions in putting Him to death.
Stephen knew that he would be the only one representing Jesus in that room. He certainly could have avoided Jesus altogether, but he just couldn’t do that. His salvation rested on Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. His whole reason for living was Jesus. If we could sum up Stephen’s actions before the Sanhedrin on this day, it might be that he testified with incredible boldness.
3. Stephen stood FIRM for Jesus!
At the conclusion of Stephen’s speech, the men became enraged. It was here that Stephen certainly could have stopped and apologized for being so blunt. He could have retracted his words out of fear. Imagine standing there and glaring into the angry faces of seventy-one members of the highest court—so angry their teeth were grinding together. It reminds me of being confronted by an angry dog who is protecting his property by growling and showing the whites of his teeth. I don’t know about you, but this scene makes my palms sweat and my heart race.
It was at this point that Stephen saw the “the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55). Not only did Stephen see this, but he proudly proclaimed, “Look….I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56). This is the only time in Scripture where Jesus is seen standing at God’s right hand. I think it’s amazing that Stephen held his head high and boldly proclaimed the truth, even though he knew it would anger them more.
And it did! In fact, their anger was so fierce they dragged him out of the city and stoned him to death.
I think that this boldness and audacity for Christ is missing in today’s church. Perhaps it’s because we haven’t had to defend our faith in quite the same way. But that day coming, friends. Let’s go back to the Book of Acts and begin living like the early believers did. Let’s let Stephen be an example to all of us.
Stand OUT for Jesus
Stand UP for Jesus
Stand FIRM for Jesus