Summary: 1. Trust God to work in the right way (7:54; 57-58; 8:1,3). 2. Remember that our pain is their gain (7:55-56; 59-60). 3. Don't feel guilty about your grief (8:2). 4. Don't bear your burden alone (8:2). 5. Press on for the cause of Christ (8:4).
God's Guidance for the Tragic Times
Sermon by Rick Crandall
Grayson Baptist Church - Nov. 3, 2013
*The death of a loved one is one of the hardest things we ever have to go through in life. Most of us have already been there, and if we live long enough, all of us will. But through Stephen's brutal death, God's Word shows us how to cope in the tragic times of life.
1. First: We must trust God to be working in the right way.
*There could be some doubt about that here, because terrible things were going on in these verses. In Acts 7:54, when the judges heard Stephen's testimony against them, "they were cut to the heart (in a murderous rage), and they gnashed at him with their teeth."
*Then in vs. 57-58:
57. . . they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord;
58. and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.
*And in Acts 8:1-3, we see some more terrible news:
1. Now Saul was consenting to his death. At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.
3. As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.
*We might think: "If I was God, there is no way I would have allowed those wicked judges to stone Stephen! He was too good to die that young. He was doing too much good for the Kingdom of God. He was one of the greatest heroes of the early church. They needed him." We might think that way, but are we better than God? -- Of course not! God is infinitely better than we have ever been on the best moment of our best day!
*Think back to when Abraham prayed to the Lord about destroying Sodom. In Genesis 18:23-24, Abraham started by asking:
23. . . "Would You also destroy the righteous with the wicked?
24. Suppose there were fifty righteous within the city; would You also destroy the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous that were in it?"
*Then in Genesis 18:25, Abraham said this to God: "Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?''
*"Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" That's a good question, and we know the answer. God is infinitely good. He proves it every day, and He proved it best when He died on the cross for us.
*But some people are tempted to turn away from God on this point: If God is good, how could He let Stephen be stoned to death? If God is good, how could He let Saul drag the new Christians off to prison? And how could He let so many evil people do so much harm in the world today? If God is good, why would He let both James Christopher Allums and his little sister Elizabeth have Fanconi Anemia? It's a terrible disease that leads to bone marrow failure.
*In our limited understanding, there are some reasons to doubt God's goodness, but we must trust God to work in the right way. It helps to look at things from God's point of view.
 Think about the Lord's attitude.
*Sometimes the very things that make us sad make Him very glad. For example, Psalm 116:15 says, "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints." When a believer dies and goes home to be with the Lord, it's a "precious" thing to God. That means it's a valuable, splendid, glorious thing. That was the Lord's attitude toward Stephen's death.
 But also think about the Lord's actions.
*We can see part of what God was doing in Acts 7:55. There the Bible says this about Stephen: "But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.
*Please notice the great things that God did here. First, He filled Stephen with His Holy Spirit. By His Spirit, God was right there with Stephen, and He has promised that He will be with us! Then God opened the curtain of Heaven, so that Stephen could be comforted by seeing the Lord. And Jesus stood to welcome Stephen home!
*The Lord helped Stephen, and we can trust Him to help us! No matter how bad it gets. No matter how bad it hurts, we can trust God to do the right thing for us, because He already did the best thing when He died on the cross for our sins. Jesus died for us. He took our eternal death, so that we could have His eternal life.