Summary: Stephen was in many ways a forerunner to Paul. He boldly confronted the synagogues of foreign Jews in Jerusalem, possibly even entering them to debate their members. Stephen faced fierce opposition, even to the point of physical persecution. It is even
This passage marks a transition in the book of Acts. Up to this point, Peter has been the dominating figure, fulfilling his calling by taking the gospel to the people. Another figure of importance looms on the horizon: the apostle Paul, who is introduced at the end of chapter 7.
Bridging the gap between these two giants is Stephen. Peter ministered primarily to the Jewish people and Paul would primarily minister to the Gentiles. Stephen’s brief ministry was mainly to the Jews from Gentile lands surrounding Jerusalem. It was Stephen’s ministry that catapulted the church out of Jerusalem and into the rest of the world.
Stephen was in many ways a forerunner to Paul. He boldly confronted the synagogues of foreign Jews in Jerusalem, possibly even entering them to debate their members. Stephen faced fierce opposition, even to the point of physical persecution. It is even possible that Paul’s first exposure to the gospel came through Stephen. Stephen’s death must have left a great impression on Paul; to see Stephen being stoned to death, while he held the coats of the people and hear Stephen ask God to forgive them for what they were doing.
Stephen was a key figure in the early history of the church. But apart from historical role, he was significant because of his character. He was proof that the impact of a man’s life and ministry has nothing necessarily to do with length of time. His ministry, though brief, was essential to God’s plan for world evangelism. He showed that the efforts of one courageous person can have far reaching effects.
It is no surprise to me that the world failed to recognize Stephen’s greatness. The world measures success by popularity, prestige, or material wealth, and thus fails to understand true greatness. After all, they killed Jesus, beheaded Paul, executed Peter, and persecuted the church. Although the people judged Stephen and killed him, he was one of the noblest and most powerful men who ever lived. The text we have before us today presents three evidences of Stephen’s spiritual nobility: his character, his courage, and his countenance.
I. His Character (v. 8)
a. Verse 5 and 8, described Stephen as “full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.”
i. Stephen was totally controlled by faith, the Holy Spirit, grace, and power.
ii. His sermon before the Sanhedrin that caused him to get stoned, revealed the content of his faith, He truly believed that God ruled history and was confident of God’s sovereign control of his life.
iii. His confident trust in Jesus’ care for him allowed him to face death calmly.
iv. Sadly, many Christians today could not be described as full of faith.
1. Just like the father of the demon possessed boy healed by Jesus, their cry is “I do believe; help my unbelief”
2. While trusting God for their eternal destiny, they find it difficult to trust Him with the concerns of their everyday life.
v. Stephen thought trusted God fully and concentrated on doing what God wanted him to do.
vi. Stephen placed the consequences of his faith in God’s hands.
b. Not only was Stephen full of faith, but also of the Holy Spirit.
i. This is the privilege that all believers have, to be full of faith is to trust God; to be filled with the Spirit is to obey fully His will.
ii. Stephen believed God and submitted to the leading of the empowering, purifying Holy Spirit.
iii. Those two words epitomize the strength of the Christian life: Trust and Obey
c. A third spiritual reality, flowing from the trust and obedience, that characterized Stephen was grace
i. Because Stephen trust God, and walked in the fullness of the Spirit, he was given the grace to face persecution, even death.
ii. Stephen did not allow fear or hatred to control him.
iii. Stephen was gracious even at the point of death, because of his confident trust in God and resignation to the divine purpose.
iv. The only way a believer can live like Stephen is by dying to their sinful self.
d. Finally, Stephen’s character was full of power.
i. This is a direct result of His being filled with the Spirit.
ii. The fact that Stephen was performing great wonders and signs among the people, suggests that he was powered by the Holy Spirit and not himself.
iii. Stephen’s life displayed God’s grace and power because he was filled with obedient faith and with the Holy Spirit.
II. His Courage (vv. 9-14)
a. Stephen’s character was a match for any attack and a fierce one was coming
b. Stephen caused such a stir by his preaching that the men of the Jewish synagogues rose up against him in debate.
i. The phrase “rose up” indicates that they were stirred up to action and enraged, not merely standing up from their seats.