Summary: Communion meditation for October 2, 2005 and part of the fall 2005 sermon series
A month ago, we started our walk through the book of Acts with Pentecost and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the remaining disciples and others gathered in the upper room. We began in Jerusalem. This morning our walk still finds us in Jerusalem but that will soon change with the events surrounding our main text for this morning.
We first encounter Stephen in chapter 6 and verse 5 as one of seven men who was chosen to develop a fair and just food distribution ministry because of complaints about the equality of distribution. Luke notes that Stephen was ‘a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit.’
It seems that Stephen had a good reputation that suited him well for selection to this program. There is an important lesson for us here. It is that our character and reputation count for something in the life and ministry of the church. ‘Why is that?’ you ask.
Two reasons: First our character is evidence of our commitments and values. In other words, a look at where we spend our time who we spend our time with and what we spend our time on, gives evidence of what our values and commitments are. For Stephen, it was the ministry of the church and his relationship with His Lord and Savior. Therefore, his life gave evidence of those values and commitments.
Second, the pressures and temptations of serving God bears on our character and so it is important that our character is allowed to be shaped and refined by the Holy Spirit through circumstances and obedience. Again, Stephen is an illustration of this point. Because of his faith and his character of being filled with the Spirit, he is able to with stand the onslaught of hatred and even death.
Another thing we notice in 6:8 is that Stephen performed ‘amazing miracles and signs among the people.’ It got him noticed.
When we truly begin to live for the Lord we get noticed. Some of that attention is positive and some of it is negative.
When we are living as ‘the light of the world’ that Jesus called the disciples, and us as well, to be, we are going to attract attention. Good attention and bad attention. It is a fact.
There will be some who will be influenced in the right direction by our relationship with the Lord. They will be attracted and want to have what we have.
Others, either openly or subtly, will be repelled by our life. And they will avoid us or try to sabotage our reputation.
I think that we can see a cause and effect relationship between Acts 6:8 and 6:9. Because of Stephen’s character and reputation, he is engaged in debate.
The debate proves unsuccessful to his challengers and so they engaged in a tactic that is all too familiar today – the ‘smear tactic.’ His debaters begin to get people (intimidate is a better word) to say untrue things about him that garner him more attention from those who think that have the right to do something about it.
He is therefore, dragged before the high council and accused of saying threatening things ‘about the system.’ Nothing gets us upset any more that making changes to the status quo.
Stephen has his day in court and in Acts 7:2-53 we read his statement.
It’s comprehensive because it starts with Father Abraham and goes from there.
It’s honest because it tells the truth, as his audience would know the story and he could not lie.
It’s pointed because as he comes to it’s end, they can’t accept his conclusions about who Jesus was and what they had done to him.
All of this would not have happened if the Resurrection of Jesus Christ would not have happened. Stephen was there because of the Resurrection and Pentecost.
The Resurrection cost Stephen his life.
It gave him life – eternal life, but it cost him his earthly life as he had determined to follow the Lord no matter how much it cost.
Now the church, as we read in Acts 8:1, begins to flee in the face of persecution. At first glance it seems like they are being cowards. But notice what the last part of Acts 8:1 and 8:4 says, ‘all the believers except the apostles fled into Judea and Samaria’… ‘The believers who had fled Jerusalem went everywhere preaching the Good News about Jesus.’
What did Jesus say in Acts 1:8? ‘You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria…’ Persecution does not stop the spread of the gospel, it increases its circulation!
The persecution that Jesus faced, up to and including His crucifixion, was used by God to insure the hope of eternal life.
As I have said before, I will say again, ‘God wastes nothing in our lives. He uses everything to accomplish His purpose in us and through us.’