True life examples are inspiring because they are real and they show us what is achievable; it is not something fake and unreal.
• So we are going to look at Stephen today. He was chosen as one of the first deacons of the Church, and given the responsibility of overseeing the “daily distribution of food” (6:1)
• This was the need at that time. They needed people to ‘wait on tables’ the disciples said. Some of the needs were overlooked.
• They needed not just helpers, but people “full of the Spirit and wisdom” (6:3).
So 6:5 says they chose Stephen, “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.”
• Again Luke (author) tells us in verse 8 that he was “a man full of God’s grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people.”
• He is a godly man. There is a certain spirit in him.
• He is passionate about people – he was tasked to distribute food (to the poor); and then we see him preaching a strong sermon, urging the people to repent.
Someone says he is a ‘great commandment’ and a ‘great commission’ Christian.
• He cares for the needs of the people – feeding the hungry, visiting the sick and those in prison (like what the Lord says) - “loving your neighbour as yourself.”
• And he is also a ‘great commission’ Christian – we sense that in the sermon he preaches, and eventually died for.
• We are all called to be the ‘great commandment’ and the ‘great commission’ Christians, caring for both the physical and spiritual needs of the people.
His passion for the Lord made him a prime target for the Sanhedrin.
• They wanted to stop him but “could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke.” (6:10)
• “All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.” (6:15)
• The presence of the Lord was so intense that it showed. Just like Moses when he came down from Mt Sinai after spending time with the Lord (Exo 34) – his face shines. You see, people can sense it if you have been with the Lord!
This is what we learn in the last few chapters - obedience to God does not mean no problems – it just mean that God is with you.
• When we obey God, we are doing His will and He is there with us. He gives us the strength and courage to go through the difficult times.
• I don’t think Stephen understands his predicament, but he trusts God. Things weren’t easy for him but he was willing to pay the price.
God will do His part, we see that subsequently. We need not have to understand God’s part; we just need to trust Him.
Stephen makes the longest speech in Acts, and it became the landmark sermon.
• It shows that Stephen knows the Scriptures very well. He saw the workings and ways of God in the OT as part of God’s redemptive plan, and it points ultimately to Jesus Christ.
• No wonder he was a man of faith. He was able to see the hand of God in history. He was able to see God in the Scriptures. Faith comes through the Word.
And Stephen died preaching. He died with the same attitude as Jesus – asking God to forgive his enemies.
• Now we know why he was able to do that – he was full of the Holy Spirit, the Bible says. Like what Caleb shared last Sat, the ability to love your enemies does not come from you; it is the work of God in our heart.
• The Lord has not left him, despite the darkness of sin he sees around. And he proved it – the sky opened up and “he looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus…” (7:55)
• God is watching over His servant. This is true for us as well. You may be in a very difficult situation and feeling all alone. Nothing has change on God’s side. He is still there watching over you.
• God’s light breaks through even in the crazy, sinful world like ours today. We just need to see it with eyes of faith.
Why was his sermon a landmark speech? It marks a turning point in the history of the church.
• Stephen’s sermon led to his death and intense persecution of the church.
• It marks the start of another milestone for the church - read Acts 8:1-2. Believers were forced to move out of Jerusalem and to the regions beyond.
• Acts 11:19 “Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen travelled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews.”
• God turned a seemingly bad event into an impetus for His church to move out, and beyond their comfort zone.
So Stephen’s speech irritated them. And that became the spark that causes the fire going.
• But Stephen did not live to see it. He did not know the fruit of his labour. In fact, what he saw was only an angry mob and flying stones.
• God has the last word. He always does.
Luke wants the readers like us to know that Saul was there. And Stephen’s death made a deep impression in Saul.
• Paul said in Acts 22:20 “When the blood of your martyr Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.”
• Can you now measure the impact of Stephen’s witness? He sowed a seed which the Holy Spirit uses, to bear fruits in the regions beyond and in Saul of Tarsus.
• Look the immense work of Paul in the first generation church, and we get a glimpse of the impact of Stephen’s witness.
Stephen did not die in vain. No servant of God will ever die in vain.
• God will use our life as a testimony for Himself, if we allow Him.
• Our sacrifices today are the seeds God use to plant His work and fulfil His will.
• The blood of the martyrs has become the seed of the church. The DVD “The Cross – Jesus in China” – 2nd episode “Seeds of Blood” – recounts the Chinese missionaries of the early generation.
Stephen made a great impact in his generation. Just like Jesus, they died young but they lived their lives to the best.
• The qualities that characterised Stephen are these - full of faith, full of the Holy Spirit, full of God’s grace and power.
• This is the spirit of the man, and Luke (author) is keen to emphasize.
• We need to pay attention to our inner man. What kind of a spirit do we have? One of faith, one that rest secure in God, one of reliance and obedience? It is what is inside that makes or breaks us.
That spirit of Stephen explains his calmness before an angry mob.
That spirit explains his courage in the midst of the stoning.
That spirit explains why he used his last breathe to pray for forgiveness for his murderers.
Stephen’s focus was on the Lord alone.
• He had no longing for fame and reputation. He did not desire the treasures of this world. He found his greatest joy in knowing and sharing Christ. And he saw Him at the end.
• Stephen was without fear because of his confidence in God. His security is in Him, not in himself, and not in the results of his work. His hope is in God.
I read this article two days ago by Dr John Ortberg, entitled LEADING WITH HOPE published in Vantage Point, May-Jun 2009.
“Several years ago I spent a couple of hours with a newly minted seminarian that our church was thinking about hiring. We talked about why he wanted to be involved in church ministry, about the dreams he cherished, of what he might do with his life and how he might serve God. Toward the end of the conversation he turned to me and said, "I just hope I’m able to last in the ministry as long as you have." I was, at that time, in my mid-forties.
Sadly, we could not find a place on our staff for him. But I have often returned to that conversation in my mind. In particular, I think about what it is that enables people to last in church ministry, and I have a candidate for the number one commodity which I would not have guessed when I was starting out.
I think what most enables people to thrive in ministry is not their giftedness, although effective ministry always requires alignment around spiritual gifts. It is not education, although theologically reflective leaders are sorely needed nowadays. It is not resources or connections or IQ or support systems, although those are all good things. What makes an enduring and healthy ministry possible is hope.
It is an unforced consistent conviction that somehow God is at work in the midst of our efforts, and that therefore they are not in vain, and that therefore no barriers or obstacles have the power to nullify the significance of what we do. "Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations..." (Rom 4:18)”
Luke said Stephen was a man “full of the Holy Spirit” (6:5).
• No wonder he has the faith, the courage and the strength to serve, and even die for Christ.
• The Holy Spirit empowers him. No wonder “his face was like the face of an angel.” (6:15)
What is inside makes us strong. Pay attention to our inner man. Nurture that faith in God, and that love for Him.
• Be filled with the Spirit, Paul said. "And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit" (Eph. 5:18).
• Being filled with the Spirit is a necessary part of spiritual growth and maturity. If Paul puts it that way, then…
(1) It is not an option, but an imperative. It is not some good Christian idea that we can decide to have or not. We need to be filled (constantly) by His Spirit.
(2) It is something that is to take place in our lives regularly. The verb is a present imperative, so that it could be translated, "Be being filled with the Spirit."
(3) It is not something you do, but something that God does within you. Our part is to let Him – that is, are you willing to let Him be Lord of your life; is there anything that is obstructing Him.
[Sharing of the booklet “Have you made the wonderful discovery of the Spirit-Filled Life?”]