Standing up for Jesus Christ is not always popular. Standing up for Jesus Christ is no guarantee of success and material prosperity. In fact, Søren Kierkegaard said, “When one preaches Christianity in such a way that the echo answers, ‘Away with that man, he does not deserve to live,’ know that this is the Christianity of the New Testament. Capital punishment is the penalty for preaching Christianity as it truly is.”
No one knew that better than Stephen, the first person to give his life for Jesus Christ. I wonder what I would do if I were in Stephen’s position, my life being threatened for preaching the gospel—speaking plain, unvarnished truth. My hope is that if I were in that situation, the Holy Spirit’s presence and power would be present in such a way that He would give the needed grace and strength to do the right thing.
You Do Not Stand Alone
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Where would a man such as Stephen get the boldness to stand up and speak before the Sanhedrin? How was he able to rehearse the history of his people and point out how they constantly rebelled and disobeyed? It is the fullness of the Holy Spirit.
When the Sanhedrin began to gnash their teeth and stood up to stone him, Stephen saw the heavens opened, the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the Father’s right hand. He knew Jesus was there watching what he was doing and that his martyrdom was not going unnoticed.
You may never be called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice for your faith, but your bold stand for Jesus Christ does not go unnoticed. It would be tempting to make this a supportive message which says, “Whatever you’re going through, Jesus sees it and is aware of it.” I believe that to be true, but I believe this text takes it a step further. More Christian blood has been shed in the 20th and 21st centuries than at any other time in human history. While some mission fields are opening up and experiencing great revival, others remain gravely dangerous and require great sensitivity. The call of Jesus Christ does not take you somewhere and leave you alone.
Some May Scoff
The religious leaders of Stephen’s day couldn’t bear to hear what they regarded as words of blasphemy. What a contrast that was! Stephen saw the glory of God. The religious leaders saw only their own religious ideas and their own contempt for one who was able to see through the old religious traditions to their fulfillment. Their hatred was so intense that, like children on a schoolyard, they covered their ears and sang, “La-di-da, La-di-da. We can’t hear you!” We scoff at the hatred, short-sightedness and immaturity of their actions, but they were successful in getting rid of this menace.
His Prayers Were Heard
As the stones rained down on his head, Stephen prayed. He didn’t pray for his own safety or for an escape from the situation. Similar to Jesus before him, he prayed for forgiveness for his murderers. Only a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit could pray a prayer such as that. That prayer was prayed for a young man named Saul (among others) who was there taking it all in and approving of his death.
I can’t help but wonder how much impact this man’s graceful death had on Saul. What fruit came from the life of a man who was full of faith, full of the Spirit and full of boldness in speaking truth no matter what!