Friday, December 15, 2017
Men of the Bible - Stephen
His name means: "Crown"
His work: After Pentecost, Stephen was one of seven leaders chosen to be the first "deacons" to serve the needy.
His character: He is a model of readiness and untold courage in the face of his adversaries.
His sorrow: In addition to the rocks that came hurling down on him, Stephen must have been struck by the utter lostness of those who should have known better—the religious leaders of his day.
His triumph: The privilege of representing, serving, and dying for his Master.
Key Scriptures: Acts 6-7
A Look at the Man
There are only a few men in Scripture of whom you might say to your son, "When you grow up, be exactly like him." Stephen is such a man, a tender and gracious leader with a brilliant mind, a crisp tongue, and a humble yet disarmingly confident air about him.
For the Jewish leaders of his day, Stephen was not a good man to have on the other side.
Because of Peter's triumphant Pentecost sermon and the spread of the gospel throughout the region, people were converted from many different cultures. Many converts in need came to other believers for food and daily provisions. Generosity prevailed. Primarily accustomed to native Israelites coming to Jesus, the disciples were challenged with the right way to handle Jews from other nations who embraced the faith. Some of the Greek-speaking believers were overlooked.
"What we need are committed men who can help these people," a group of believers said to one another one evening. "Is there anyone here who speaks Greek?"
Seven men stepped forward—Stephen and six others. The leaders were familiar with Stephen. A man known for his faith, his oratory skills, and his Spirit-filled power, Stephen's ministry was widespread. He had even performed miracles in Jesus' name. This was one very gifted man.
But there was no glamour in the assignment for which Stephen was volunteering. He would be responsible for distributing food and supplies to Greek-speaking widows and caring for the disabled. Here was a man who was well versed in history and the law and could command audiences with his words. Now he would quietly be taking care of the needs of people who were incapable of taking care of themselves.
To the Pharisees and Jewish leaders, Stephen was a monumental threat. He was winning the minds and hearts of the people, and many were being converted. So they collared a few men who were willing to take oaths and lie about Stephen.
"What do you have to say for yourself?" they demanded of him after the false charges had been presented before the Sanhedrin.
It would have been completely understandable if Stephen had taken the opportunity to defend himself. Point by point he could have summarily disassembled the charges against him and the reprobates who had perjured themselves. But he didn't.
Instead, Stephen took the whole council on a walk through history. He identified their heroes—Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, and Solomon. Stephen acknowledged how God's faithfulness had sustained and prospered these patriarchs. He reminded them of how each of these men had been obedient in spite of terrible odds. This was not the speech they expected, and they were drawn to Stephen's message.
The Sanhedrin leaned forward in their seats, waiting for Stephen to identify them as members of the grand sequence of great Jewish leaders. But it wasn't to be. Imagine their horror when Stephen announced that they, like others of God's adversaries, had deliberately tried to thwart his providence—that they were the enemy.
Stephen must have known that he had pronounced his own death sentence—that the cost of his courage, of telling the truth before this powerful assembly, would be the loss of his life. Still, Stephen willingly paid the price. He didn't know that his sacrifice would plant a seed in the heart of a man who heard his stirring address and stood there, watching and approving of his brutal assassination—Saul of Tarsus—who later became the transformed Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles.
As selflessly as he waited on the needy, Stephen gave everything he had in service to the risen Lord. As a result, God took his obedience, multiplied it, and eventually the church of all nations was born.
Reflect On: Luke 23:44–49
Praise God: For his grace.
Offer Thanks: For the words of Stephen as he died, innocent, at the hands of bloodthirsty men. Thank God for Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins and his unfailing love for us, the guilty ones whose sins sent him to the cross.
Confess: Any eagerness to receive applause for your obedience rather than to be completely satisfied with God’s approval for your service—public or private.
Ask God: To give you the discipline to be prepared for whatever special commission he has for you—to have your mind and your heart properly prepared.
Today's reading is a brief excerpt from Men of the Bible: A One-Year Devotional Study of Men in Scripture by Ann Spangler and Robert Wolgemuth (Zondervan). © 2010 by Ann Spangler. Used with permission. All rights reserved. Enjoy the complete book by purchasing your own copy at the Bible Gateway Store. The book's title must be included when sharing the above content on social media.