I have been reading through the book of Acts. A fuller title is “the Acts of the Apostles”. It tells the story of Jesus’ followers, and the birth and growth and expansion of a new thing, the Church.
The story is written by Luke, the same man who wrote the Gospel of Luke.
These men and women were part of something new and different. They believed in a God who is one God. They believed this one God sent his son Jesus into the world to live and love and serve and touch and heal and die. he died to pay a debt. The debt of sin. Then he rose from the dead. He stayed a brief time then he ascended into heaven. He then sent a third part of God to the believers, God’s Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit empowered the believers to carry on doing the same type of ministry that Jesus had done, live and love and serve and touch and heal and yes sometimes to die.
In the early church the nature of living in community where all things were shared and housing and feeding widows was just part of the ministry, the apostles were getting overwhelmed with the duties and so they chose 7 men to take over feeding the widows. One of these men was Stephen.
“In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith. Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia —who began to argue with Stephen. But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke.”
Acts 6:1-10 – NIV
The Jewish leaders arrested Stephen, falsely accused him of blasphemy and stoned him to death.
Two things worth noting happened, well three really.
First this: “All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.”
Acts 6:15 – NIV
The second thing was that Stephen preached a message to the Jewish leaders that connected the dots. He taught from their scriptures how Jesus was the one God had sent. The message we have recorded is a chapter long, if you want to read it, it’s found in Acts 7.
The leaders were infuriated and they stoned Stephen to death.
The third Stephen did was as he was dying, he forgave his assassins.
“When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.”
Acts 7:54-60 – NIV
Stephen wasn’t a teacher or an out front preacher. He was a lowly servant who was faith filled and faithful and who understood the Bible and the message and mission of Jesus, who was filled and empowered by the Holy Spirit to perform miraculous acts, even though he was only a waiter in a soup kitchen.
I identify with Stephen, probably because when Jesus found me 40 years ago, I was in the back room of a little 35 seat cafe where I was a waiter….and a cook and a dishwasher and a cashier and window washer and even occasionally a restroom cleaner (I should’ve been this one more often).
The message for me as I have pondered this is just to continue to be faithful in whatever God puts in front of me, to serve all the people around me with my whole heart, to do even the menial dirty work, to study and ingest the words of God and apply them to my life and to be filled with the Holy Spirit so that when needs arise, he can work through me to supply those needs, even in supernatural ways. I need to be ready to serve him, even up to and including dying for my faith in this Jesus who has saved and cleansed and rescued me.
How about you? What does God say to you through this first follower of Jesus to die for his faith?