Two Lessons We Must Learn Part 2
by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)
Now, let’s look at lesson 2: GOD GIVES HIS PEOPLE SPECIAL STRENGTH TO FACE DIFFICULT SITUATIONS.
One of the seven men chosen to minister to the widows was Stephen.
He did much more than “serve tables”, for we are told he did wonders and signs among the people and that he went into the synagogue and preached about Jesus.
He was opposed there by the religious leaders, but his reasoning was better than theirs.
However, these stubborn men did not give up when they were beaten philosophically.
They simply resorted to dishonorable tactics; making slanderous charges that Stephen had spoken blasphemy against Moses and God.
But Stephen hadn’t done anything against Moses or God, so they brought in men who were willing to lie.
They alleged that Stephen had spoken blasphemous words against the synagogue and the Law.
They really stirred up the people when they alluded to a portion of his message in which he quoted Jesus’ statement about destroying the body, and it being raised again in three days.
The same statement had been misinterpreted when Jesus uttered it; now it is misinterpreted when Stephen reported it.
The political and religious powers became unhappy with what was happening.
Steven was standing in the synagogue and preaching that Jesus was the Messiah, and anytime we invade the enemy’s territory, he strikes back.
They were angry, so they seized him and brought him before the council.
The council was the Sanhedrin, the same bunch who had put Jesus on trial.
They believed that they were God’s representatives and that their job was to protect their religion and their way of life.
Stephen’s message was a threat to all that; what he was preaching was new and different.
When he poured new wine into old wineskins, the synagogue members could not handle that.
They couldn’t stand to lose their prestige and the comforting experience that the synagogue offered them.
They believed that the rituals and ceremonies that they performed brought them the approval of God.
Christianity is just the opposite; it makes us uncomfortable with our sin, and with what sin has done in our world.
The new wine of salvation by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ, could not be placed in the old wineskin of the Law.
Grace stood face to face with the Law, when Stephen stood before the Sanhedrin.
He was accused of blasphemy, and for that, he could be put to death, but he didn’t defend himself; instead, he preached what may be one of the greatest sermons ever preached.
If you want to read it, you will find it in the seventh chapter of Acts.
I hope you will; it’s a tremendous sermon.
Stephen dared to upset the religious world of his day.
He preached a message that was simple, but it pierced their hearts.
But those men didn’t have any scruples.
According to verse 11, Then they secretly induced men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.”
They would do whatever necessary to protect the synagogue.
Jesus had told the apostles that when they stood before the council, not to worry about what to say because it would be revealed to them.
Stephen was filled with the Holy Spirit and the words he spoke were directed by the Spirit, and they were powerful words.
The Spirit inside Stephen shone through, for we read, And all who sat in the council, looking steadfastly at him, saw his face as the face of an angel.
I believe that his appearance was altered; for his face was like the face of an angel.
I don’t know what that would be like, but it made those men take notice and listen.
They wouldn’t be able to stop him speaking; he would be able to finish his sermon.
In the end, he even dared to make them feel guilty, when he told them, “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you.”
The straight truth when worded in this manner will always bring violent reactions, and the result here was that they killed Stephen.
This is how it happened.
When the leaders heard this, they became furious.
They were so mad; they were
grinding their teeth at Stephen.
But Stephen was full of the Holy Spirit.
He looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at God’s right side.
He said, “Look! I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at God’s right side.”
Then they shouted loudly and covered their ears and all ran at Stephen.
They took him out of the city and began to throw stones at him to kill him.
And those who told lies against Stephen left their coats with a young man named Saul.
While they were throwing stones, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
He fell on his knees and cried in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
After Stephen said this, he died.
I would say that he died well, wouldn’t you?
Even today, Christians die well; and it’s the Holy Spirit that enables them to do so.
John Wesley was quoted as saying, “Our people die well.”
My grandmother was a Christian, and my mother told me that her last words were, “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”
I think she died well, don’t you?
There was one person there that day, whose life was changed forever.
Verse 58 said, “and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.”
We are going to read about him a lot in the weeks ahead.
He was there when Stephen was killed and was all for it.
He hated Christians; he was even employed by the synagogue to track down Christians and arrest them and take them to prison or as he did on this day, to see that they were no longer a threat.
But Saul saw something that day that he would never forget.
The Bible says, “And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.”
Finally, there are two questions which are appropriate:
1. Does anyone see Jesus in you?
What Saul saw in Stephen had an impact on what he believed and later he would meet Jesus on the Damascus Road and he would be changed forever.
But you may be the only Jesus that some will ever see, so we should ask the next question.
2. Are you living a Christian life or a religious life?
Religion can bring comfort, but it will never satisfy you.
Saul was religious; he said that he was a Pharisee of Pharisees and he was educated in the Jewish faith.
When he pursued and arrested Christians, he believed that he was doing God’s will.
But something was missing in his life and he knew it for the first time when he saw Stephen, who “being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!”
Saul saw Stephen look up into heaven and he heard him say that he saw God and Jesus.
Saul looked up, but he didn’t see a thing.
Saul saw Jesus in Stephen and that prepared him for the time he would meet Jesus on the Damascus Road, and he would never be the same.
We can influence others for Jesus if we live a Christian life in this world.
We can’t change them, but we can prepare them to meet Jesus.
So let the world see Jesus in you.
God uses his people to witness in this way to an unbelieving world and He will change them through the power of His Spirit.
Let’s pray and ask God to use us to introduce people to Jesus.