May 1, 2018
I Will Build My Church: Stephen
The story of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, is told in Acts chapters six and seven. He is described as being someone who is “full of faith and the Holy Spirit,” and also as a man “full of God’s grace and power.” Wouldn’t you like someone to describe you that way? Stephen was one of the seven deacons who were chosen by God to take care of the distribution of food for widows. But he did far more than wait tables; he also proclaimed the truth about Jesus in the face of opposition. The Bible also tells us that he performed great wonders and signs, so people who had a vested interest in the demise of Jesus’s followers made false accusations and turned him over to the religious leaders.
While making his defense in Acts 7, Stephen gives a long review of Israel’s history, in which he makes several key points. He demonstrates how Israel’s history reveals God’s sovereign, abundant grace. However, it also reveals how stubborn God’s people were in rejecting him and his commands. Finally, he shows how their history reveals a pattern of limiting worship to a sacred space – the temple – rather than to a sacred person.
The end result of Stephen’s defense was his death. But he died as Jesus died, praying for the forgiveness of those who killed him. In life and death, Stephen truly was a man full of God’s grace and power. His martyrdom set off a wider persecution, which resulted in the scattering of almost all of the followers of Jesus. They went far and wide, and wherever they went they preached the Gospel to all who would listen. Rather than stamping out the burgeoning church, Saul and his conspirators actually caused it to be spread throughout Judea and Samaria, just as Jesus said would happen in Acts 1:8!