Read This Week: Acts 7
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 7:55-59 NIV
When problems, challenges, and suffering arise in life, we can see them as an opportunity instead of a setback. When followers of Jesus and the church as a whole face resistance, persecution, and combative situations, we can use it as an opportunity to exercise our faith in the Lord and each other. We can trust God for His protection as we carry out His mission with boldness and confidence. We can examine our ministries and see if changes need to be made internally. We can also increase our passion and witness for Christ.
In Acts 6 and 7, we see the growing pains of the church and the persecution of it by those who opposed Jesus, the message, and the mission. Among the believers was a man named Stephen, who was filled with the Spirit and anointed to preach in Jerusalem, win those far from God, and even do miracles like the apostles. His life and testimony is the culmination of the church’s witness to the Jews. After Stephen, the gospel would go out to the Gentiles and the known world.
The Sanhedrin and religious leaders hated Stephen and tried desperately to defame and discredit him through public debate, accusation, and ridicule. However, the wisdom and power he received from God couldn’t be matched by any of the scholars that rose to take him on. Stephen’s final speech to the Sanhedrin ended with this bold, fearless rebuke and proclamation of the truth of Jesus Christ. He said in verses 51-53:
“You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him—you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.”
The only alternative the enemy had to stop Stephen and the spread of the gospel was to eliminate him. So they dragged him out in the street and stoned him to death. Yet, even in death, the glory of God was on him and people standing by were impacted by what they saw. One of them was a man named Saul, who God would use at a greater level than the one he watched die. Verses 55-59 says:
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.” 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.
Stephen’s life and witness should serve as an inspiration and example of faith, commitment to God, and display of holy boldness in our mission. Even though the sufferings of the early church differ from ours today, we see an increase in Christian persecution worldwide and more opportunities for true followers of Jesus to step forward, lovingly communicate God’s truth, and let their light shine before all men.
God does not call everyone to be a martyr for the faith, but He does call us all to be His witnesses and make sacrifices for the gospel in our families, neighborhoods, workplaces, and the world. We never know how the Lord will use our witness to impact those around us. Perhaps another “Saul” or person that God will use for His glory is watching what we say and how we live. In light of that, we must aspire to all be witnesses like Stephen.
If and when you gave your life to Jesus, it is essential to ask what does that mean? Yes, we get so much out of that; peace, love, everlasting life, heaven on earth and so much more, yet we do have to give our lives to Christ in the process. What does it mean to you, and what does Jesus want from you?
These are questions for you to speak with Jesus about. Everyone has a different course with God. However, some things remain the same for everyone; it is all about giving and receiving, a flow of God’s love from your relationship with God, flowing through you to others, and being an excellent example of what a life with Christ looks like and how a son or daughter of God speaks and acts, even when times are not easy.
It is your calling to represent and to do it well with your life as led by Christ. Stephen is a good example, how about you?
Ken, you pose some great questions and provide some keen insight on living for Christ beyond the time we cross the line of faith. I appreciate the exhortation to not be satisfied to just be saved, as a child of God, but to do as Stephen and have an impactful life and witness for the Lord. This was my favorite line from your post:
Everyone has a different course with God. However, some things remain the same for everyone; it is all about giving and receiving, a flow of God’s love from your relationship with God, flowing through you to others, and being an excellent example of what a life with Christ looks like and how a son or daughter of God speaks and acts, even when times are not easy.
In reading Acts 7 this week, this is what God was saying to me: “To live in faith is to walk in My grace. In life, you will come across opponents who will lie and use secret strategies to bring you down and to cause you to doubt My plans for your life. Rest on My eternal word, and trust Me. If you spend time drawing close to Me, through worship and staying in My word, others will see Me through you, and be drawn to you.
At times, your partial obedience, which is disobedience, doesn’t take My promises away. The fulfillment of My promises in your life may be put on hold until you are ready to do what I have asked you to do. Trust Me, and you will grow in faith and obedience. I know how to take care of and protect My people. I will be with you every step of the way.”
What this said to me is I am to be open to God’s plan for me. “No weapon formed against me will prosper”, even the words, actions, and thoughts others have against me. I will only rely on God’s word, and not on what others or the world says or does to me. With all that is going on in the world today, I can take comfort that He will take care of me and my family.
Thank you so much for your post, Kathy. This is a bold but much-needed truth for us as individual followers of Jesus and corporately as the Church:
Your partial obedience, which is disobedience, doesn’t take My promises away. The fulfillment of My promises in your life may be put on hold until you are ready to do what I have asked you to do.
It is true, partial obedience is disobedience and God calls us to more in our lives and walks with Him. Yet, He is a sustainer and His promises remain true, vibrant, and effective even when we don’t remain committed to them. His kingdom and gospel always advance and we get the incredible honor and privilege to lead the charge and ride the wave in obedience.
What God put on my heart for everyone this week is: “When you love to know more about Me, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, you will want to spend time with us. You will take the time to know what we like, you will ask us to help you, then as you respond to our way of living, you will become like us more and more.
Like Stephen and all the people in the Bible that love us are full of us because they learned how much we love them. The more you desire to be like us, full of love, forgiveness, grace, and mercy, you will have our power living inside of you. My power is love. The Holy Spirit will help you, give you the ability to do what I have called you to do. Share what I have given you to others, so keep moving with us even if it looks like some people are not responding to us yet.”
What this means to me is hang out with God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit more and more so we can be just like them. So we can be full of love. Stay focused on what God has called us to do, and share His love through serving, sharing Jesus, and speaking the truth in love. Don’t worry if you feel someone throwing some stones at you because the Holy Spirit will help me through it.
Thank you, Heidi, once again, for always calling our attention to the importance of discipleship, spiritual discipline, and intimacy with God. As you pointed out, it was the life’s blood of the 1st century Christians in Acts (in fact, it was all they had) and it remains the key to an impactful life for God’s glory still today. This line stood out to me:
Like Stephen and all the people in the Bible that love us are full of us because they learned how much we love them. The more you desire to be like us, full of love, forgiveness, grace, and mercy, you will have our power living inside of you.
May we draw upon the power of the Godhead to express and live out His love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness in a world that desperately needs it.
This week, God gave me a song from Acts 7 called “Holy Spirit”:
We are blessed, blessed, blessed with the Holy Spirit
Being filled with God’s grace
Knowing the truth and being set free
Growing in the Spirit, growing in the Spirit
Let’s grow in His Spirit
Having the heart of Jesus
Knowing his kindness, hope, and love
We are blessed, blessed, blessed with the Holy Spirit. Amen.
God’s heart is full of so much love. I want to share His love with others.
I appreciate this post so much, Alma. In a couple of weeks, we are going to see in Acts 10 where the Holy Spirit is a gift. Not just the gifts He gives us but He Himself being a gift. That is what I thought about reading your beautiful song. We are indeed so blessed in so many ways with this Gift of the Holy Spirit from God.