I preached this message at Jubilee Church a little over a week ago. It was part of our series from Acts and based on Stephen’s Martyrdom from Acts 6 and 7. Brief notes follow the video.
Till now, Acts had been a time of glorious growth and excitement power. Their friend had RISEN AGAIN and been glorified. All of their sermons in Acts were about this wonderful truth. MOST exciting, most GLORIOUS message MUST share caught up on a wonderful mission. It is almost breathless…the “and” of God.
“And Steven full of grace of power was doing signs and wonders” v8
Even the one appointed to do practical jobs had the SPIRITS power. One might almost have been convinced that it was all going to be fantastic now. It is a bit like that in a growing church, especially if a lot of young people around (i.e. you are not experiencing much sickness and death.) Caught up in what God doing. This one healed. That one saved. That one got a new job. No one can hurt us. We could kid ourselves that life is just fantastic for everyone. My son George even when he is upset says “but I still love my life dad!” I LOVE Jubilee life!
In Acts no significant setbacks so far, despite some hints of greater opposition to come. That was about to change. Joys and challenges, theology must have both. In the crowd of joy can feel as if you are only one here is in pain and a challenging situation. Maybe you are worried that you can’t feel God.
Jesus promised us that in this world we will have troubles. He always keeps his promises, but I don’t hear too many people naming and claiming that one!
Imagine if you will Philip and Steven being called by God:
“Hy guys, couple of jobs for you. One of you to be a great evangelist and caught up in a Holy Spirit transporter. Both mentioned in the Bible for all time. One of you gets to be an inspiration for thousands of martyrs”
Martyr is Greek word for witness. Amazing to realise that so many people died for bearing witness to Christ the meaning of the word changed! 20th century more than any previous! Would Steven have chosen that path?
Like every Christian, he had trusted his life into God’s hands. We don’t get to choose when life suddenly gets “interesting.” It was not because he sinned that it happened to him.
The challenge comes because VAST difference between the people of God and the world:
People of God: v 8 grace, power, V10 wisdom, Spirit
Contrast World: synagogue- religious people often hate us most true even today. “Freedman” arrogant claim that their life showed to be false: slaves of legalism. Dispute, withstand, secretive, deceptive, stirring up, VIOLENT. The violence of the so-called “free” continues today hatred of the so called “intolerant” ie us!
One more thing OBLIVIOUS to God! His face like an angel and all they can think of is killing him. Be not deceived, such an attitude is in the heart of everyone who rejects Christ, it just hides. IF we are honest such evil lies within our old selves too and we have to fight it today. The Bible says we all hate God and choose our own way. Christians are not better in themselves, just saved by Jesus!
Steven is snatched and given a chance to speak his defense. He has one eye on his captors, but one on the believers who are listening, wants them to know they are caught up in the people of God. On a mission together started way before them, won’t stop whatever happens to him, and will continue way after them.
God uses individuals to bless the many. History is always about the story of significant people that impacted the whole. This is the stuff of culture, of identity. In England, we would hear of Kings and Queens, of Robin Hood, and Greatest Briton Winston Churchill who embodied everything British—standing alone against a European threat. Greatest African Nelson Mandella South Africa.Christians belong to another people, Abrahams children, the people of faith.
The “Ands” of God, and the “Buts”
Abraham: AND God of glory appeared, sent him. BUT he never got an inheritance, not even a foot. Promised his people would first be slaves then inherit. Sometimes the but is just about God’s sovereign timing.
V9 Joseph His BUT came first, as he was sold into Egypt and yet we see GOD was with him and the whole known world were saved from famine. Sometimes the but is caused by other’s jealousy and hatred.
Moses was beautiful, saved as a young child, well educated BUT his foolish actions sin of MURDER led to his first 40 years in the wilderness. – Sometimes the “but” is our own fault. Maybe you are struggling with sin. Porn. Murder abortion. Maybe guy left a woman feeling she had no choice.
God’s grace doesn’t not forsake him, however, GOD loves choosing the rejected, the hated like Moses and using them to bring his salvation. God can use YOU to do the same. No matter what buts you have experienced.
V51 Steven is BRAVE and CONFRONTS the people with their rebellion. Just as they were with Moses, and other heroes of faith they were to that day, they had KILLED the Righteous one! He was stoned for his efforts. Someone once said that the trouble with Western christians today is that no one wants to kill them for their words.
What gave Stephen this boldness? What helps the people of God fight thru and persevere despite the many troubles that come their way?
It’s very simple: JESUS. As Tope said last week “Jesus is better” we show He is better than health when we praise him despite our health being taken away. He is better than money when we can still be generous with it and praise him when our budget is under incredible pressure. He is better than the esteem of people, when we are not afraid to risk the rejection of men but honor Jesus in front of them. At work it is hard to share gospel. Friendship. Time needed.
HE is better than freedom if we are willing to risk being imprisoned for him. Hugh palmer Better than life if we look forward to being with him for ever.
It really is all about Jesus. To live is Christ and to die is gain…
Notice the wonderful grace of God. Faced with certain death, Steven is granted a wonderful glimpse of heaven and the glorious Jesus waiting for him. Many would want the same, “prove yourself to me, Jesus” and yet this is given to one who already has faith. It IS a comfort to him, it DOES lift him up, but he has already passed the test that this situation posed to him:
“Will you honor me and be faithful to the mission I have called you to, even when people are against you and I feel far away?”
IT is to those who are seeking him, and being faithful to what they know of him that Jesus will reveal himself more and more. In that revealing, we can know GOD is WITH US, and so we can do ALL THINGS through him who strengthens us! God is faithful hold onto Jesus. Jesus sees the joyful crowd and the one who is suffering.
And so, as a faithful servant who had accomplished EVERYTHING God had for him to do, Steven goes home. The wonderful truth is that this is NOT the end of Stevens story!
As he prays for forgiveness for his tormenters, he could not have known how wonderfully that prayer would be answered: Paul the apostle was there, and would become the greatest missionary the world has known!
The death of Steven emboldened the persecutors, and suddenly it was open season on Christians. But, far from depressing them, the scattered went about preaching the word. In fact it was this that led to the gospel breaking out of Judea. No wonder people have said the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.
British martyrs who said that they had lit a candle that will never go out. As we listen to this story of Stephen does it not make us want to be faithful in the midst of the relatively minor trials we face now, or will face?
Does it not challenge us to conquer our fears and become a missional people?
Does it not encourage us that the same Jesus is WITH US? We live by him… nothing will separate us life nor death, suffering, or delight. All things work together.
Do both and say he is faithful then you are mature. Walking with him. Chose difficult root so you are suffering for Christ.