Summary: Series on men and women’s prayers in the Bible made a difference and how prayer truly is a difference maker in our lives. I borrowed the outlines from SermonCentral Pro Contributor Tim Byrd.
Stephen: The Princely Prayer
Over these past few months I have taken scriptures and prayers in the Bible and used them as sermon topics. I have called them prayers that made a difference. Tonight we will look at a man that modeled the Lord he so loved and served. He even modeled him in his death. That man was Stephen.
What kind of man was Stephen? He was selected as a Deacon to serve the Body of Christ during the early church beginning. Acts 6 tells us he was a man of honest report, full of the Hoy Spirit and wisdom. He was a man full of power, who did great wonders and miracles among the people. He was also a man full of faith.
He is best remembered as the first Christian martyr because of his death. Tonight I want us to look at his death in these verses tonight and notice three things.
I. His Triumph Over Fear. (V. 54-58)
What led to Stephen’s death? We’re first introduced to Stephen in the sixth chapter of Acts. The disciples were preaching with such strength and fervor that their numbers were increasing daily, but those in Greek society was concerned because the widows were being neglected. In keeping with Hebrew law, widows were provided a daily distribution of food since they had no husband to earn a living and provide food for the household. Complaints were reaching the disciples that because of their continual preaching and teaching the widows were being neglected. The disciples felt as though their calling was to preach the gospel, so they selected seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and wisdom, and appointed them to the task of caring for the widows. Stephen was among the seven appointed to this task. We often look upon this as the selection and ordination of the first deacons.
No sooner is Stephen appointed to this ministry than he is arrested. The Jews always looked upon themselves as the chosen people; but they had interpreted chosen in the wrong way. They regarded themselves as chosen for special privileges and believing that God had no use for any other nation. At their worst they declared that God created the Gentiles to be fuel for the fires of hell; at their mildest they believed that some day the Gentiles would become their servants. They never dreamed that they were chosen for service to bring all people into the same relationship with God as they themselves enjoyed.
When this selection of these first deacons was finished, the Jews were infuriated that none of the original seven had a Jewish name. Nicolas was a Gentile who had accepted the Jewish faith, and Stephen had a vision of a world for Christ. Stephen declared that the world-view according to Christ meant that the Temple must pass away, and that the Law was but a stage so that the gospel and Christianity could be sent out to the whole wide world. In proclaiming this belief, Stephen offended the Jews because he attacked the two institutions they hold most precious: Temple and Law.
He was immediately arrested. False witnesses were brought in to give testimony against Stephen, and when the high priest asks him, “Are these things true?” he launches into a sermon that leaves them “enraged and grinding their teeth."
In this sermon he told them that they were responsible for the death of Jesus. Now Stephen was an effective preacher and his message definitely had and affect on the religious leaders. His words of truth had angered the people and as it says in chapter 7 they were “cut to the heart” especially with his accusations that they were responsible for the death of Jesus. He didn’t stop there he also recounts the deeds of Moses and the faithlessness of the people, reminding his accusers of the idol worship of their ancestors. Then he turned on them saying, “You stiff-necked & uncircumcised in heart & ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit, as your fathers did, so do you.”(v. 7:51)
Needless to say, the people in the court were none to pleased at Stephen’s sermon or what he stood for, but God lets Stephen see right into heaven where he sees Jesus standing at the right hand of God – he tells everyone what he is seeing, and they freak out! That was the last straw for them so they cover their ears so as not to hear him and drown him out with their shouts. They are like our children who cover their ears and say “la la la… I’m not listening…la la la… Stephen was killed by a bunch of immature religious leaders who could not accept change. So they were infuriated by his statements of truth they and “ran at him with one accord.” Then they drug him out of the city and they stoned him to death. According to Jewish regulations, a condemned criminal would be taken out to the edge of a city and thrown over a drop at least twice the man’s height. The witnesses would be the first to hurl large stones on top of him, aiming for the chest (though precision was impossible), till the victim died. Someone has said that Stephen’s outlook may have been bad in the eyes of man, but his up look was glorious.” In the midst of trouble his eyes were on the Master and while they attacked Stephen, he stood there courageously.