Acts 6:8-15 & 7:51-60
Stephen was one of the seven selected by the Apostles to perform special service within the Church. Some have called them the first deacons, a fitting title as the word means servant. Luke describes Stephen as being filled and controlled by five spiritual factors: the Spirit, wisdom, faith, grace, and power. Stephen found it impossible to keep silent about the changes that had occurred in his life after accepting Jesus. Believing it possible to discredit his teaching, the synagogue’s membership thought initially to disrupt Stephen’s ministry through debate. When that did not work, the Jewish leaders adopted the same course used against Jesus.
They arranged for witnesses to slander and misrepresent the things Stephen was saying. The result was a brilliant sermon on the history of God’s relations with mankind. At the conclusion of his message, Stephen accused the Jewish leaders of treating him just as their fathers had mistreated the prophets. Then, filled with the Spirit of God, he was allowed to look into the throne room of Heaven and see Jesus sitting at the Father’s right hand. At that, his opponents snatched him up and rushed him outside the city to be stoned.
There are a number of messages we might find in this story of Stephen’s faithfulness.
1. A message of faithfulness in the face of persecution
2. A reminder of God’s faithfulness to His saints in crisis
3. A lesson on living/dying; the peace that passes understanding
What strikes me as being especially significant is the contrast between the two central characters of the story. Stephen was filled with the Spirit and focused on serving Christ. He was unconcerned with what others thought and dedicated to doing only what the Spirit led him to do.
Saul, on the other hand, was full of himself and so focused on doing religion that little evidence of his humanity could be seen.
I. Paul’s Introduction to Christianity
A. First impressions are often lasting
1. Paul related these facts to Luke
2. Stephen’s testimony pierced the armor of Saul’s heart and helped bring him to conviction
B. Look to Paul’s conversion just weeks hence
1. The Damascus Road experience
2. Paul was under strong conviction
II. Why Does God Allow His Saints to Suffer?
A. Salvation does not exempt us from life**
B. God turns sorrow into joy, thereby transforming us into more worthy vessels
1. Stephen’s death was a tragedy but from this event rose up Paul’s ministry
2. Paul’s ministry was an extension of Stephen’s
III. Memories of Our Past May Serve Us Well
A. Remembering what we were and from where we have come keeps us humble and enables us to see the hand of God at work
B. Our experience provides an example for those that follow after us in the walk of faith
Paul’s testimony was such as could convince any sinner of God’s grace. Had he not been a party to murder? Was he not once desperately lost in his sins? If God can save a man like Saul is there any man He cannot reach?