Summary: God loves to do the extraordinary with the ordinary.
God Uses Ordinary People: Stephen
Rev. Brian Bill
Nine-year-old Jericho Scott is a good baseball player – too good, it turns out because Jericho is a pitcher with a 40-mile-an-hour fastball. He throws so hard that the Youth Baseball League of New Haven, Connecticut told his coach that he could not pitch anymore. When Jericho took the mound anyway last week, the opposing team forfeited the game, packed its gear and left. Wilfred Vido, his coach, had this to say: “How can you punish a kid for being too good?” Young Jericho is bothered by all the controversy and misses pitching: “I feel sad,” he said. “I feel like it’s all my fault nobody could play.” (As reported by ESPN.com, 8/25/08).
In a league of ordinary players, Jericho stands out as someone with extraordinary abilities. As we wrap up our series today called “God Uses Ordinary People,” we’re going to focus on an extraordinary individual named Stephen, who was not only banned from playing; his preaching led to his martyrdom. Since this is the last message in our summer series, I want to emphasize again that God loves to use ordinary people, just like you and just like me. I encourage you to jump on our website and read or listen to any sermons you may have missed in this series – you can even listen to them on your iPod through iTunes if that’s more convenient (www.pontiacbible.org).
Please turn in your Bibles to Acts chapter 6. We’ll go through this chapter quickly, and then we’ll skim most of chapter 7 and finally camp out in the closing verses. Here’s the setting. The church is growing and people are coming to Christ but in the process some of the widows were being overlooked. On top of that, there’s some friction between two groups from different cultural backgrounds. As a result the Twelve gathered everyone together and established that they needed to keep preaching and praying and then seven men are chosen to care for the widows. Among the seven was a servant named Stephen.
That’s a good reminder for us in our 40th year of ministry in Livingston County – we must never neglect preaching and prayer and we must always be willing to restructure and realign people and programs to meet the changing needs around us. This is especially the case as we focus on ways to connect families to Jesus and then to equip them to become growing and faithful followers. As a result of this restructuring, verse 7 says: “So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.”
I see three main things we can learn from Stephen.
1. Determine to be ready. The first reason Stephen was used greatly was because he was ready to be used. We see that there is a rich fullness about him. He is…
* Full of the Spirit (3)
* Full of wisdom (3)
* Full of faith (5)
* Full of the Holy Spirit (5)
* Full of God’s grace (8)
* Full of God’s power (8)
The word “full” means that he was complete or “fully covered over.” He knew his emptiness apart from Christ and so he made sure he was filled up before being used. He was determined to be ready.
And, something we’ve seen time and again in our study of God’s Word, whenever God is at work, opposition rises up. Look at verse 9: “Opposition arose…these men began to argue with Stephen.” Verse 10 tells us that they couldn’t stand up against “his wisdom or the Sprit by whom he spoke” and so they find some men who lay false charges of blasphemy against him. Everyone gets all stirred up, and Stephen is seized and brought before the Sanhedrin, which was like the Jewish Supreme Court. False witnesses come forward and they’re ready to throw him out of the league. We see a contrast right away between their anger and Stephen’s sweet spirit in verse 15: “All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like that of an angel.”
Stephen now has the opportunity to answer the charges in chapter 7 and in the process provides an outstanding overview of the Old Testament. In Jude 3 we are urged “to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.” 1 Peter 3:15 challenges each of us to be ready as well: “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”
Stephen begins with an attitude of gentleness and respect in 7:2: “Brothers and fathers” but he is also very passionate when he says: “listen to me!” Beginning with Abraham and then moving on to Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David and Solomon, with quotations from Amos and Isaiah thrown in, Stephen establishes at least three things.