Summary: The Conclusion of Stephen’s Message was a beginning for him.
Stephen’s Message, Pt. 3 – Conclusion
Acts 7:38 – 7:60
Jeff Hughes – May 18, 2003
Calvary Chapel Aggieland
a. Stephen is a man that we have become well acquainted with in the past three weeks. He was a man of faith and wisdom that had become a vessel used by God to pour out his Spirit. God had blessed Stephen with the ability to proclaim the truth, and he went about Jerusalem doing just that.
b. The problem was, not everyone wanted to hear this message about salvation through Jesus. Some people got angry, and Stephen winds up in front of the Sanhedrin, the local authorities, facing charges of blasphemy.
c. So, under the direction of the Spirit, Stephen begins to deliver a message of salvation to them, mixed with a very good defense against the charges against him.
d. Stephen goes through the list of famous Jewish patriarchs, starting with Abraham and Joseph. Last week, we saw Stephen spend a great deal of time talking about Moses.
e. Today, we will see the conclusion of Stephen’s message, and Stephen’s death at the hands of these men, as we continue our study in Acts. But first, let’s have a word of prayer.
a. In midwinter of A.D. 320 Emperor Licinius sent out an edict that to show their allegiance all soldiers were to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods. Forty members of the famed Twelfth Legion of Rome’s imperial army serving in Sevaste, in present-day Turkey refused the emperor’s order.
b. Their governor summoned these forty Christian soldiers and ordered them to offer sacrifices to the pagan gods.
c. One of the soldiers answered on behalf of the rest of them. "We will not sacrifice. To do so is to betray our holy faith."
d. The governor then asked, "But what about your friends? Consider this--you alone of Caesar’s troops defy him! Think of the disgrace you bring upon your legion. How can you do it?"
e. The answer came - "To disgrace the name of our Lord Jesus Christ is more terrible still."
f. A note of exasperation crept into the governor’s voice. "Give up this stubborn folly. You have no lord but Caesar! In his name, I promise promotion to the first of you who steps forward and does his duty."
g. He paused a moment, expecting his lure would break their ranks. None of them moved. He switched tactics. "You persist in your rebellion? Then prepare for torture, prison, death! This is your last chance. Will you obey your emperor?" The soldiers stood firm, although they well knew the governor would carry out his threat. They spoke: "Nothing you can offer us would replace what we would lose in the next world. As for your threats--we’ve learned to deny our bodies where the welfare of our souls is at stake." Over the next several days the captain had the men alternately flogged and thrown in the dungeon. Finally he had them marched onto a nearby frozen lake. He stripped them of their clothes and said they would either die or renounce Christ.
h. Then upon the night air could be heard a prayer: "Lord, there are forty of us engaged in this battle; grant that forty may be crowned and not one be missing from this sacred number." One by one the temperature took its toll and they fell to the ice. At last there was only one man left. He lost courage and stumbled to the shore, where he renounced Christ. The officer of the guards had been watching all this. Unknown to the others, he had secretly come to believe in Christ watching the unswerving witness of the other 39.
i. When he saw this last man break rank, he walked out onto the ice, threw off his clothes, and confessed that he also was a Christian. When the sun rose the next morning, there were forty bodies of soldiers who had fought to the death for Christ. (Lieghton Ford, Good News is for Sharing, 1977, David C. Cook Publishing Co., p. 16).
j. What would drive men to death like this? What force would drive men to willingly give up their lives? The short answer is – God. God had everything under control for these 40, and apparently, it was their time to go. Their love for God and the promise of eternal life with Him was far more valuable to them than a promotion, or even their very lives.
k. Today, we will look at a man who had that some love for God. There’s a place to take notes in your bulletin, and I’d encourage you to follow along. If you need a Bible, just raise you hand, and we’ll get you one. Acts is right past John, and just before Romans in the New Testament.