SCRIPTURE – Acts 6:1-15, 7:1-7, 7:51-60, 8:1
As we continue in our series, “Real People of the New Testament” we come to Steven, the first Martyr in the early church. What a difference between the deaths of Stevens and those of Ananias and Sapphira. Steven who died because of his devotion to God, verses Ananias and Sapphira who died because they tried to deceive God. In Acts 6 and 7 we see the story of the Stephen, we don’t have a lot of details about Stephen’s life. We know that he was a Helenistic Jew—that is, he spoke Greek better than he spoke Aramaic. We know that he was one of the seven men chosen to assist the twelve with leadership responsibilities, specifically the daily distribution of food to widows in the church. We know he had a powerful ministry in Jerusalem, and that he did “great signs and miraculous wonders among the people.” We know that he was martyred for his faith, in fact he was the very first Christian martyr. The story of the Christianity is literally a book of blood. Beginning at the cross of Calvary clear through modern Christianity. We tend to think of martyrs as only being in bible times but there have been more Christians killed for their faith in the 20th century than the combined total of the previous nineteen centuries. Persecution of Christians in this country has only just begun. The question for the church in America is “are we prepared for the persecution that Jesus said would come? Will we, like Stephen, be able to take a stand against the enemy who would love to destroy our faith? Let me ask it this way; “When the crowd has gathered around you, stones in hand, and the look in their eyes reveals their hatred for you, how will you react?” Are you a devoted follower or a fringe dabbler? Steven was a devoted follower and in his life and death we see four marks of a martyr:
1. Lived a Full Life – Acts 6:1-8
There is one word that is used to describe Stephen and it used three times in these passages. It is the word “full”.)
6:5 – Full Spirit
6:5 – Full of faith
6:8 – Full of grace
6:8 – Full of Power
Steven lived a full life, often when someone that is very old dies we will say that they lived a full life but the fullness of a life is not measured by time but trustworthiness – commitment to truth. It’s not how long we live but who we live for that matter. Steven’s life might have been short but it was significant, because of who he served. When we are living a full life it will show, for Steven it came out in his countenance vs 15 says that his face became as bright as an angel’s. Like Moses he had a Godly glow, only his glow was not veiled, but visible for all to see. When you are filled with the Spirit it will show, your life will shine for the Savior. Persecution is designed to destroy your faith but no matter how big the bullies they will never be able to block the brilliance and beauty of God. Steven lied a full life because he died to Christ long before he died for Christ. You cannot consider dying for Christ until you are willing to live for Christ. Listen to the words of Jesus in John 15:13: “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” When we hear this passage we often think it says “greater love has no one that this, that one die for his friends.” But, that is not what Jesus said. Jesus said that we are to lay down our lives. There is a tremendous difference between laying down our lives for Christ, and dying for Him. Let me demonstrate what I mean with money. If you live to around 80 years of age that’s approximately 30,000 days. If each day were represented by $1.00, this is what a lifetime would look like. Show first picture (3 neat stacks of $100’s) then say, now most of our lives are not this neat and orderly so let’s look at a realistic picture please (show the second picture with the money all in a pile). Using this analogy of the money, I think we can understand the meaning of the passage in John 13. You see, sometimes Jesus asks us to go out and spend the whole $30,000 at one time, like in the case of Stephen. But in truth this is not the norm, you see for most of us, God asks us to spend our life one dollar at a time. (Hold up the $1.00 bill) He gives us 30,000 one dollar bills – they are called days – and He asks us to go out and spend them individually. According to the bible you have been called to be a martyr for Jesus Christ. In Romans 12:1-2 it says; “I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.” Our lives are to be living sacrifices, we are to die daily to Christ. So many will say that they would be willing to give their lives for their faith, yet they seem so unwilling to live for our faith. What about you are you living a full life or a fools life?
2. Lived a Faithful Life – Acts 6:9-7:7
When you are full of grace you not only get God but you want others to get Him too. Stephen answered their charges, not with a defense of himself but with a proclamation of God’s faithfulness throughout the generations. He challenged his opponents to see their own unfaithfulness in the mirror of their ancestors’ recurring unfaithfulness. Steven faithfully proclaimed God’s plan of peace even in the midst of persecution. So often we make it about me instead of the Master, but people don’t need to hear about how good we are they need to hear about God. Our job isn’t to look right it’s to live right. What if Steven had spent his time defending himself and had successfully convinced them that he was innocent but in the process he had never shared the truth of God’s love, he would have Failed. We are not called to defend our feelings we are called to defend the Faith and defend it to the death. Stephen is aware that his defense may lead to his execution, and yet, he is willing to stand before these men and tell them about Jesus Christ. So let me ask you a question. Do you believe that the eternal soul of another individual is worth your very life? Do you truly believe that sharing the gospel with someone else, so that they may come to know Jesus Christ as their personal savior is worth the life of the one who is sharing it? How serious is Salvation to you? Steven chose to standing on the Scriptures, he was determined to declare God’s love. He shared the faithfulness of the Father through generation after generation. Do you want to live a faithful life? Then stop making it about you and your feelings and start making it about the Father.
3. Lived a Fearless Life – Acts 7:51-53
As a follower of Jesus, Stephen faced death without fear. Not without conflict. Not without persecution. Not without suffering. Not without grief. Not without trouble. Not without pain. Not without a lot of things that most of us would just as soon avoid. But without fear, because when you are filled with faith there isn’t much room for fear. Didn’t focus on his current circumstances he focused on Christ. If you want to live a fearless life then stop focusing on your situation and start focusing on the Savior. Because fear traps us from living our life for the Lord. Stephen’s outlook may have been bad but his uplook was out of this world. Sometimes it takes a dark outlook in order to make us look up. Remember Isaiah? It was “in the year that King Uzziah died”; a year of turmoil for his people that Isaiah saw the Lord “high and lifted up.” He focused on the glory of God not the wickedness of this world.
Colossians 3:1-2 says: “Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 2 Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. 3 For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God.” Are you going to be short sighted and see only the temporary trouble or will you stand on the truth of your Salvation – “You are already dead to this life, your real life is hidden with Christ” It is fascinating to note not just the position that Steven saw Jesus in (at the right hand, the place of honor) but also the posture (standing). This is the only place that mentions Jesus standing everywhere else He is seated at the right hand. Jesus was standing, as Stephen was being stoned to death, fulfilling His promises to the faithful. Jesus was serving as the one and only Mediator between God and men, as he is described in 1 Timothy 2:5 confessing His faithful ones before his Father as he had stated in Matthew 10:32 “Everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven.” Stephen has been confessing Christ before men, and now he sees Christ confessing His servant before God. The proper posture for a witness is the standing posture. Stephen, condemned by an earthly court, yet is vindicated by a higher court, that of heavenly. He sees the mighty mediator the Son of man. What fears are dominating your life? You want to know the most common fear among Christians, the fear of sharing our faith. What we fear is ridicule, rejection even retaliation, but the facts of Stevens story don’t alleviate those fears. It’s not removal of mans meanness that alleviates fear it’s the message of the Masters mercy. No matter what man may, no matter what for of fear he uses God’s faithfulness will never falter. What about you do you want to start living a fearless life? Then look up stop cowering to your circumstances and start living for Christ. Focus on God’s Word not your worry. Live life from a scriptural stand point not a scared one. Stop focusing on what man could do and start focused on what God has done.
4. Lived a Forgiving life – Acts 7:59-8:1
If anybody ever had good reason to be angry and bitter, Stephen did, but he didn’t let bitterness be his boss. When we bow to bitterness we become slaves to sorrow, living in the bondage of bitterness. When we are wronged we tend to focus on what is fair instead of the Father. We need to learn to stop trying to make life revolve around what we feel is fair and start making it revolves around the Father. How many times have you pass problems through your filter of what’s fair only to end up getting frustrated? The truth is if we were to really get what is fair we would be miserable. Are you trying to make life revolve around what’s fair or the Father? How could Steven forgive in the face of such evil, and how do we live the forgiving life? By focusing on Jesus, on His body and His blood. You can’t look at the Savior without seeing His sacrifice? You can’t claim Christ and forgo forgiveness. You will either reject revenge or the Redeemer? Steven had a choice he could focus on the hurts or on the hope that he had in his heavenly home. At first glance this may look like just another senseless stoning but look at the seeds that were sown: in Acts 8:1 it says that Saul was one of the witnesses, and he agreed completely with the killing of Stephen. Now if you turn to Acts 22:20 it says And I was in complete agreement when your witness Stephen was killed. I stood by and kept the coats they took off when they stoned him.” Saul witnessed God’s witness, and the seeds of salvation were planted. The way we live is a witness, the question is what will other see, will they see God’s love in my life? Steven reminds us of a powerful truth, we don’t have to focus on others failings, we can focus on forgiveness. Are you going to live life imprisoned by the pain that others have inflicted on you or in freedom of forgiveness the Father has purchased for you? You don’t have to be dominated by the darkness done to you, you can live in the light of what the Lord has done for you. Steven didn’t just preach Jesus he portrayed Him, he spoke the same words in his last moments as the Master had in His as He hung on the cross – Father forgive. He used his last breathed to bear witness to what he believe. You see Steven didn’t just confess Christ he conformed to Christ. The power of a Christian is that no matter what others do you, you are always free to forgive. What about you are you going to live a forgiving life? Are you going to leave a legacy of love?
Are you livinga:
1. Full life – Are you being filled with the hurts or the hope, bitterness or the bible?
2. Faithful life – Are you following the Father or your feelings? Are you trying to find your joy in your job or in Jesus?
3. Fearless life – What fears do you need yo give to the Father?
4. Forgiving life – Are you holding on to the hope or the hurts? What hurts do you need to hand over to Him? Are you letting th ejunk rob you of your joy? Your heart will get murdered in ministry and you can let your lives be defined by your hurts or HIM.