I once read in one of Charles Spurgeon’s sermons a quote from the great scientist Sir Isaac Newton – “If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Perhaps there are a few people in life who are able to do it all on their own, but most of us need something or someone to help inspire and encourage us. This morning I want us to consider the impact one man has had upon Christianity and what it was that made this young man who he was. His name is Stephen and his name means – “victor’s crown.” His story is found beginning in Acts 6.
Last week we saw how the Spirit led the Apostles to establish a ‘Deacon Caring Ministry’ within the church. As the church grew in number, it also grew in need. In order to help meet these needs, the apostles had the church to select seven men whom they could appoint to oversee the Daily Ministration, or ‘Care Ministry’ of the church. Among these seven men was a man known as Stephen.
3 Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.
4 But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.
5 And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost …
Stephen’s ministry was not confined to within the four walls of the local church. Along with his faithfulness to perform the duties of a Deacon, Stephen was also used powerfully by God to witness to the lost.
9 Then there arose certain of the synagogue, which is called the synagogue of the Libertines, and Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and of them of Cilicia and of Asia, disputing with Stephen.
10 And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake.
There were many synagogues in Jerusalem at this time. A synagogue was a local meeting place for Jewish men to assemble for prayer and the reading of Scripture. It’s unclear what actually initiated the controversy between Stephen and the men of this particular synagogue.
- Perhaps it was the miracles he performed.
8 And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people.
- No doubt it was the message he proclaimed. As the church continued to faithfully carry out Christ’s Great Commission, they were met with growing opposition. At first it began as threats. Later it turned into beatings. Now with Stephen, it escalates into violent attacks and even death. Yet as Tertullian said many centuries ago – ‘The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.’ Persecution does not stop the cause of Christ. It only strengthens it.
I. Stephen’s Results for Christ
Verse 9 tells us that a part of this particular synagogue was made up of men from a region known as Cilicia. Located within that region was a town known as Tarsus. Among those who lived in Tarsus was a hot-tempered, passionate, young Jewish Pharisee known as Saul. We know him today as the Apostle Paul.
In Acts 22, we read some of Saul’s resume.
3 I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day.
We know from Scripture that Saul was present the day that Stephen was stoned to death and therefore most likely the main leader of the debate. The reason I say that is because Saul was not only very passionate about what he believed, he was also very proficient.
The city of Tarsus was well over 1/4 of a million in population during Saul’s day. It was a merchant city with one of its leading products being tents that were made from the hair of goats raised in the nearby mountains.
Tarsus was also known for its academics. According to the American Journal of Biblical Theology – “Educators from all over the Roman empire came to teach at the schools of learning at Tarsus.” Tarsus contained one of the few universities of Saul’s day and therefore there is a very good chance that Saul was a well educated young man. Perhaps he had an education equal to today’s doctorate degree. In addition to his secular education, Saul also had a strong religious education. He tells us that he sat at the feet of Gamaliel ,who Scripture says was a doctor of the Jewish Law. Saul had an education equaled to a PhD and a ThD. In addition to Saul’s education, scripture says that he was also ‘zealous toward God’. The word zealous means that he not only had a burning passion for the things of God, he was also ready to fight for what he believed. Paul uses that term also in the book of Philippians concerning his hatred of Christians before he himself became one.
Philippians 3:6 Concerning zeal, persecuting the church…
It’s also worth nothing that Paul carried that same passionate zeal into his Christianity. When Paul wrote, “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus”, the phrase ‘press toward’ means to pursue the same way he once pursued Christians with persecution.
58 And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: (Stephen) and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul.
What were the results of Stephen’s short ministry and tragic death?
1. For one thing, it incited those outside of the church to attack Christians more ferociously. They were like wild animals with a taste of blood in their mouths.
1 And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles.
3 As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling (dragging) men and women committed them to prison.
Later Saul himself became a Christian and no doubt, much of his decision to receive Christ happened because of what he witnessed in the life and death of Stephen. I’m sure that in many ways, Stephen was Paul’s hero.
Once Saul became a Christian, he himself suffered beatings, imprisonment and even death. Yet Paul learned something very valuable from Stephen’s martyrdom. As Joseph told his brothers who had sold him into prison – “What ye meant for evil, God meant for good.”While in prison for the cause of Christ, Paul wrote to his fellow believers –
12 But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel;
13 So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places;
14 And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.
What was it about Stephen that God used in such a powerful way?
A. Perhaps it was the wonders he performed.
B. Maybe it was the wisdom he possessed.
C. I’m sure that it was the words he proclaimed.
But there’s something else about Stephen that I believe that God used in a very powerful way.
D. It was the witness of God’s presence.
15 And all that sat in the council, looking stedfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel.
Is that true? Could it be true? How do we know that actually happened?
Who wrote the book of Acts? Luke, the physician did. How did he gain all of this knowledge. Some of it he personally witnessed and other details he was told by the apostles. Later in the book of Acts, Luke became a companion of the Apostle Paul who was present there the day Stephen was stoned. Paul, or I should say ‘Saul’, saw the face of Stephen and like all the others was totally amazed. I’m sure that Saul never forgot what he saw and later in life he shared his memories with Luke who recorded them for us.
The Bible does not say that an angel appeared along side of Stephen, nor does it say that Stephen himself became an angel. Scripture says that his face had the appearance like that of an angel. This was a common expression in Jewish writings to indicate someone who obviously had the presence of God with them. Did Stephen have the presence of God with him that day? Without a doubt he did. Something miraculous happened near the moment of his death.
55 But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,
56 And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.
Stephen saw the glory of God and Jesus, the Son of God, standing on the right hand of His Father. We can be sure that Jesus had His eye on Stephen and I believe that Stephen also had his eye on Jesus. The glory that men saw on Stephen’s face that day was not his own glory nor the glory of an angel. It was the glory of God!
2 Corinthians 3 NKJV
18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.
The Spirit of God puts the glory of God on the face of the child of God.
Wiersbe – Moses reflected the glory of God, but you and I may radiate the glory of God. When we meditate on God’s Word and in it see God’s Son, then the Spirit transforms us! We become more like the Lord Jesus Christ as we grow “from glory to glory.”
It is important that we reflect Christ?
16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
I said at the beginning of my message – “behind every great person is someone else who made a tremendous impact upon their life.” Who or what at this time in your life is having the greatest impact upon who you are and what you think? The reason some people can’t look into the future with a great vision is because they’re not standing on the shoulders of giants. What greater vantage point could anyone have on life than to look at it through the eyes of Christ the Creator?
Stephen’s resume is pretty simple.
5 … they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost …
The word ‘full’ means just what you think it means –
- filled to the brim,
- covered in every part,
- thoroughly permeated with,
- lacking nothing,
Stephen was full of ‘faith’. He was full of confidence and trust in the Lord Jesus. And he was full of the Holy Ghost. His life was in total submission to the controlling power and influence of God’s indwelling Spirit. What the men saw on Stephen’s face that day was only a reflection of the relationship he had with his Savior.
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One of the men who have had a great impact upon my life is Henry Blackaby, author of Experiencing God. I heard Dr. Blackaby speak several years ago in a men’s conference in Atlanta, GA. One of my favorite quotes from Henry Blackaby comes from his study – “The Man God Uses.”
“God is known for taking the ordinary and making it extraordinary. Throughout Scripture God used ordinary men to affect His kingdom in extraordinary ways. One thing, however, set them apart. If we look carefully we can see that they had something in common. Each man God used had a responsive heart ready to hear God and a life that was available to obey God. Each also possessed the integrity to honor God.
Talent and ability are not prerequisites to being used by God. Accomplishments, awards, and recognition will not ensure kingdom usefulness; a ‘broken and contrite heart’ does. The Lord looks at the condition of a man’s heart.”
Prior to the stoning of Stephen, Peter and John had been arrested for preaching the gospel. Scripture says that as they stood before their accusers –
Acts 4:13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.