Summary: It is always right to do the right thing, even if it is difficult. Jesus never said the Christian life would be easy. Remember, the symbol of the Christian life is a cross.
“Stephen: A heart of Commitment”
Acts 6:8-15 and 8:54-60
One of the things that are clear as you look at the gospels is that popularity can be costly. Most of us if we would admit it, certainly desire to have it. But we sometimes don’t realize what it can cost us. We see in the gospels that Jesus had become quite popular with the people. We see that He had fed the hungry, healed the sick, He performed miracles in front of thousands of people. So when the day came that He rode into Jerusalem at the beginning of what we now call Holy Week the people were ready to crown him as their next King. He was at the height of His popularity at that point and that is when things began to change. The scripture puts it this way in the gospel of Mark…. “the chief priests and the teachers of the law began looking for a way to kill Jesus because they feared Him because the whole crowd was amazed at His teaching.”
Later in the gospel of Matthew we find these words again…then the chief priests and the elders assembled in the palace of the high priest and they plotted to arrest Jesus in some sly way and kill him. We then learn that the high priest said not now, not during the time of Feast…or it could start a riot among the people. So clearly people loved and hated Jesus at the same time. It is one of the dangers of becoming so popular that those in control do not like it so they began to find ways to get rid of you.
This morning we look at man who truly had a heart for God. His name was Stephen. If you were writing a book about Stephen’s life it would basically have 7 chapters.
Chapter One. Stephen was Selected as a deacon. We learn in chapter 6 of the book of Acts that the number of disciples in the church was greatly increasing. They had seen 120 people saved; then another 3000 saved in one day and then another 2000. So right away there were over 5000 people coming into the NT church. The pastor of the church was in no way ready to shepherd that many people. Right away a problem arose. One group of the Jews started complaining that the widows in the church were being overlooked and were going hungry. So they gathered all the disciples together and made a quick decision to select 7 men to be deacons. And w we sense right away that there was something special about this man named Stephen. Stephen seems to be the leader of this group…in the list here in chapter 6 Stephen is mentioned first. There are only two of the 7 that have comments made about them….the others are simply listed. Stephen has the highest compliment paid to him as the Bible says that he was “a man who was full of faith and the Holy Spirit.” Stephen had a heart of faith. We then see that as a result of their choosing these 7 men that everyone was pleased and that following that the church began to increase rapidly and many of the Jewish priests came to know the Lord. Clearly these 7 men were very popular among the people.
Chapter Two. I have already said that with popularity can be very costly and we learn that immediately that Stephen was seized due to the opposition that began to develop. The Bible tells us that Stephen was performing wonders and signs among the people…these were miracles God had given him the power to perform. At that point a group of people came forward and began to argue with Stephen. But the Bible says that Stephen was full of wisdom and so they lost the argument. If we get into an argument with someone and you actually win the argument it’s not always a good thing, right? We lose friends; people may not speak to us ever again, so winning an argument doesn’t always turn out well for us. And that was the case for Stephen. They began to make up lies about him and they convinced the crowd that these men were dangerous and that they were blaspheming the name of God so “they seized Stephen, dragged him away and they took him to the Sanhedrin. It was composed of 70 men plus the high priest and they formed a council…… the running of the government was basically in their hands.
Chapter three. Stephen preached a Sermon to the Sanhedrin. This sermon covers the story of Abraham and how he took a step of faith. God told him to go to a country where he had never been and Abraham said yes. He then highlights the story of Joseph; then he moved to the story of Moses as he led the people through the wilderness. That all sets the stage for a discussion about the tabernacle which was known as the place where God lived. What we see in each of these situations/stories is that God took care of his people. But what we see from the people is rebellion against God. Abraham was blessed with many descendants, Joseph was made prince of Egypt and Moses was provided for every step of the way. But Israel just continued to seek other gods.