Summary: Exposition of Acts 7:54-8:4 regarding the martyrdom of Stephen and its application toward suffering believers
Text: Acts 7:54-8:4, Title: Life and Death Principles, Date/Place: NRBC, 10/21/07, AM
A. Opening illustration: the story of Andrew Rivet from Piper’s sermon
B. Background to passage: Stephen has just concluded his defense of himself with a blazing rebuke of the established religious authority. In fact, we really don’t know if he was really done, but they cut him off with a mob-style riot, supposedly for blasphemy. And as if that wasn’t enough, Stephen kept on. And this sealed his fate to death by lynching. For the crowd ended the trial, and took matters into their own hands. And Stephen grants unto us a great example of how we are to suffer well. For we live in a society that attempts to avoid suffering at all costs, but Christianity teaches to embrace it.
C. Main thought: In our text we see three principles of suffering for the believer
A. Saints are called to suffer (v. 54-55)
1. Stephen was obviously under the control of the Spirit as he spoke. And immediately afterward, he was mobbed and killed. And the bible is replete with accounts of saints who as a part of their ministry were called to suffer. And the NT has several strange readings about partaking in the sufferings of Christ!
2. Col 1:24, 2 Cor 1:5-6, 4:10-11, Philip 1:12, 3:10, 2 Tim 1:8, 1 Pet 4:12-19,
3. Illustration: “…propitiation is complete, but propagation is incomplete. For this to happen there is a ‘quota of suffering’ that must be born.” Just suppose you could speak with those who have gone to be with the Lord; everyone has a different story, yet everyone has a tale of suffering. One was persecuted by family and friends...another was inflicted with pain and disease, neglected by the world...another was bereaved of children...another had all these afflictions. But you will notice that though the water was deep, they all have reached the other side. Not one of them blames God for the road He led them; ‘Salvation’ is their only cry. Are there any of you, dear children, murmuring at your lot? Do not sin against God. This is the way God leads all His redeemed ones. –Robert Murray McCheyne
4. If we view it as a calling, we will suffer better. It is everyone’s lot to suffer. We should not be surprised or upset when it comes our way. Christians are not exempt simply because we know the Maker. Our purpose is not to live a life of ease and self-satisfaction. Our duty and purpose is to bring glory to God. And many times this can happen much better in suffering that on the mountaintop. God is revealed as your treasure easier when your joy is maintained during a trial than when you are ruling your life with ease. Therefore, if God decides that you or I should suffer, let us walk through the valley if He wants us to. View it as a participation in the sufferings of Christ, as a badge of honor--that he sees you fit to suffer for His sake.
B. Saints will never be forsaken (v. 55-56)
1. Some may ask the question if Jesus was standing right there, why did he not save Stephen? He could have! Be careful not to say should have. And on the surface it may have looked like, and possibly even felt like he was being forsaken. But even down to the final breath, God was caring for, providing for, loving Stephen. We see that God filled him with His Holy Spirit for the task of dying well, and He also gave him a heavenly vision, placing him among about four other men who saw into heaven in the bible. God knows what we need to get done what He wants done.
2. Acts 9:4, Heb 13:5, Isa 41:10, 40:29-31, 43:1-2, Josh 1:9, 1 Cor 10:13,
3. Illustration: “We can conclude that God, know how much we can endure, gives us strength in our times of need, which boosts our spirits on to obedience, even to the obedience leading to death.” In her book The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom tells of the time she and her sister were forced to remove their clothes and stand naked during a typical Nazi inspection. Miss ten Boom said she stood there feeling defiled and forsaken. Then she remembered something. Jesus hung naked on the cross. Suddenly her emotion turned to wonder and worship when she thought of how He chose to do what they were forced to do. She leaned forward and whispered to her sister, “Betsie, they took His clothes, too.” Betsie gasped and said, “Oh, Corrie, that’s right, and I never thanked Him.”
4. If you are in a trial, and can’t hear, feel, see, or touch God, rest assured, He IS there! Refuse to believe the lie that God has or will ever forsake you. You are not alone. And God knows exactly what you need. Trust Him to provide it in the same hour that you need it. Not too much before, and never too late, but always right on time. A special dying grace. But Pastor, I don’t know if I could die for Christ if that’s what it came to! You’re right, you can’t, but you don’t have to do it on your own. Greater is He that is in you! And just because you are not delivered from sickness, pain, heartache, doesn’t me that he has forsaken you either. It simply means that God has a more God-glorifying way to use you for kingdom purposes.