If you want to be a faithful witness, be prepared to have your faith tested. Todd preaches from Acts 7:54-8:1 about Stephen, a man of honor and faithfulness, who was tested and ultimately put to death for the message he delivered. Despite the criticism, Stephen saw, appealed to, and trusted Jesus. He was a faithful mailman delivering a faithful message about God. Likewise, we are here to suffer and serve the world, not to be celebrated by it.
Stephen…a Faithful Mailman Who Saw Jesus
How to Destroy a Shadow: Stephen’s Masterful Defense of Jesus Finished Work
Hellenistic Lives Matter (And So Does the Ministry of the Word)
The Gospel is NOT a Fad
Beauty and the But
Where Does That Come From?
Living Bolder as We Grow Older
What Makes a Man Fit for Judgment, Ministry and a Ready Response - Acts 4:7-23
The Beginning of Persecution and the Proper Reason for It. - Acts 4:1-12
The First and Enduring Attributes of Christ’s Church
The First Savior Exalting Sermon of the Church
The Gift of Tongues Part 2
Baptism of the Spirit, Tongues of Fire and the Beginning of the Church
From Judas to Matthias: How to Choose Leaders and Find Hope in Failed Ones
The King’s Orders for the King’s New Men
The Story Before the Beginning of the Story: Genesis - Acts 1
Good morning. Welcome to Watermark. We are glad you're here. Plano, Fort Worth, and Dallas, we're all happy to be together. We are making our way through the book of Acts, and we are ending Act One today. The reason we have behind us in the book of Acts, Act One, Act Two, and Act Three is because of the way the book is laid out.
If you're not familiar with the acts of the Holy Spirit in the apostles, it is the historical record of the fulfillment of what Jesus said he would do, which is the work he began would be continued through his spiritual body, the church, through his people, who would have a relationship with the Father through the finished work of what Jesus did.
This book is showing you how it happened, and we're paying attention to it, because the things the early church did to be faithful are the things we need to do to be faithful. All of the things that happened to them won't happen to us, because that's a book written during a time of transition where God is beginning to show himself as working through this institution, this divine work called the church, which is a gathering of people who have come to understand that Jesus is exactly who he said he was.
What you're going to find out is that that church received power when the Holy Spirit came upon them, and then they were his witnesses, first in Jerusalem, and we're going to find out why it expanded from Jerusalem into Act Two, Samaria, and then the uttermost parts of the earth. We're going to finish today the focus on Jerusalem. We come back to Jerusalem in chapter 15 when there is a council that tries to decide if the gospel really should be preached to those who aren't Jews, but the guy who understood that first was a man by the name of Stephen.
He was a racial Jew who had now come to live in Jerusalem from having been a part of a heritage that had been taken captive by previous Roman rulers who took some Jewish people slaves, dragged them back maybe to help rebuild Rome or to establish the Roman Empire throughout Asia and the Roman world at that time, and then some of them became free, and as they became free, many of them stayed where they were, and they were called Hellenized Jews. In other words, they had become influenced as much by Greek culture as they were their old Hebrew roots.
Some of them would still make their way back home to the homeland of their forefathers, and when they got there, some of them stayed, and some of them actually formed a little synagogue called the Synagogue of the Freedmen. It was a bunch of guys from all over what used to be Asia…Northern Africa, Cyrene, Alexandria, up in Asia where modern-day Turkey is in a region called Cilicia where there was one little town called Tarsus, where a guy named Saul was from.
So these Greek-influenced Jews who had gone back to Jerusalem hung out together. One of them, a guy named Stephen, came to understand that all of the prophecies to the Jews had been fulfilled in one man, Jesus Christ, and he became a follower of Jesus. As we studied in the book of Acts, chapter 6, he was a man who was filled with the Spirit. He was a man of integrity. He was honest. He was respected. So when there was some racial conflict in the early church because there was this idea that the Hebrew Christian Jews, if you will…
The early church had some conflict, because as they were caring for one another, they felt like there was preference being given to the gals who had grown up in Israel and had been culturally more associated with the leaders of the church, whereas the Hellenized widows weren't getting as much attention. So a couple of times ago when we were in the book of Acts we saw how they resolved that. They appointed a bunch of respected Jewish Hellenized Christians to take care of all of the widows, and the mystery went away.
This guy named Stephen is a guy you don't hear very much about. All he does is care for widows and give one message, and then he is gone. What I want to talk about today at the very end of Stephen's life… After chapter 7, you don't hear Stephen mentioned again except reference to the fact that he died, but I want you to learn something from Stephen. I think this is going to really encourage you.
You may not like the role in God's play that he has called you to participate in. You might be an individual who goes, "You know what? I want to be somebody who really makes a difference, really makes an impact. I want to be around all the way through all of the acts of the Holy Spirit throughout the book of Acts." That's not Stephen. He shows up, distinguishes himself as a man of honor and faithfulness, cares for widows, gives one message, and he's killed. You might be like, "What in the world?"
Let me just put a little note right here. I'm not just going to talk about guys who have a short life temporally. Some of you guys have been written into God's program and plan, and you maybe don't like who you are physically. You don't like the fact that maybe God has called you to play a role… Like in the Watermark News this week we have our friend Randi Wideman, who when she was a godly 28-year-old, a new mama, had severe breast cancer and then some problems with infertility after that. You might go, "I don't like it."
You might be like my buddy Brandon or my sister Angela or others in this body who are blind or who had dystonia from their early days and can't run and jump like others, and you might go, "I don't like the way God made me." Like my buddy David who has spina bifida or Owen or other members of our body who are in wheelchairs their entire lives. You might say, "I don't like this, God. What are you up to? Why did you choose to deal me this hand?"
I think you're going to learn something from Stephen today. I think you're going to really be encouraged. Let me just say you can't ever determine obedience by the temporal outcome. It is a mistake to look around, see some temporal circumstance, and determine from that that God must not be in it. In fact, as it relates to human suffering and physical disability, Jesus rebuffed that. When they came up and said, "Hey, why is this guy blind? Is it his parents' sin or his sin?" Jesus said, "Neither, but so that God might be glorified."
You're like, "I don't want God to be glorified by giving me some physical disability," or you might say, "I don't want God to be glorified by having me show up, speak up, and be subbed out." I was talking to a good friend of mine whom I encourage you to learn from. His name is Russell Moore. He is the leader of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission within the Baptist world. Russell was with me this week, and he said, "Todd, what are you teaching on right now?"
I told him I was just wrapping up the book of Acts, chapter 7, and he goes, "Oh man, I love Stephen. When I preached on Stephen back when I was in a pulpit on a regular basis, I titled my message, Stephen: Stoned but Not Wasted." I wish I lacked integrity, because I'd just claim that as my own and entitle my message that, but I can't. But I go, "That is too good." Sometimes you're going to look at a person's life and go, "Man, that is not a great circumstance," but I'm going to tell you God doesn't waste anything.
I don't know what you're unhappy about, maybe an unfaithful spouse, maybe extended singleness, maybe your life is going to be cut short by some terminal disease, maybe you are being ostracized and criticized by your world. Not killed, but so criticized you want to bail out. I'm going to tell you God is at work. God is always at work, and especially that is the case in the midst of suffering. So tune in. Let's see if we can't learn something.
Father, would you teach us this this morning? Would we be strengthened by this faithful servant who spoke up, did right, lived right, and trusted you? Would you make us Stephens of our day? We may not like the role you have written into the play of your redemptive history and your God-glorifying work, but I pray that we would see that you're always doing more than we can imagine. Teach us. Strengthen us. Amen.
Let me just start by mentioning a few names. Have you guys ever heard of Hudson Taylor? He pretty much changed China as a faithful missionary. Have you ever heard of David Livingstone? He's renowned for the way he pretty much changed Africa as a missionary. Have you ever heard of John Wesley, George Whitefield, or D.L. Moody? They changed England and changed America. Have you ever heard of Billy Graham?
Here's the thing about all of those guys. Every single one of them are people who are just monoliths of faithfulness, usefulness, and fruitfulness to God, and every single one of them had somebody to love them and share the gospel with them and pour into them whose name you don't know. I believe when we get to heaven some of the people God is going to celebrate the most are individuals whose names we never heard, not the guys you podcast every week.
You guys don't know Paul Frazier, who I knew as a guy called "Grandpa." Paul has spent pretty much his entire life as a guidance counselor. We called him "Grandpa." Paul was about seven years older than me, but his nickname was "Grandpa," because he was one of those guys who start shaving in the sixth grade. You know what I mean? Not just early-onset puberty. Just like direct descendant from cavemen kind of a guy. Paul was bigger than everybody else in sixth grade and then just topped out. He had a lot of facial hair.
Paul is a career guidance counselor in high schools throughout the Midwest. When this kid was in high school, Paul was a volunteer with Young Life. That guy, along with a few others, reached out to me, poured into me, and shared with me the gospel of Jesus Christ. Everything I'm doing is a little bit of his down-line of faithfulness. That is a name you'll never know, except that guy in his faithfulness and being yielded to the Spirit did something that God is using in ways we can't know.
I mentioned to you that Outreach magazine asked me a little bit ago to do an interview with them because of your faithfulness of which I am a part in walking with Christ with you in this city, and they see that this is one of the fastest growing and largest churches in America. I was reading in that magazine, because they sent me the articles that were in there, because I was in it. I was reading about a young man who started a church in San Antonio, which was apparently the fastest growing church in America last year. It started with a couple hundred. Now it's over 1,200, so it was explosive growth.
They asked him what changed his life. He said, "I was in Jordan, and I was hanging out with a Bedouin shepherd. What I had been doing had been a lot of this church growth stuff and barking at people and telling them what to do. This Bedouin shepherd I hung out with for two days gave me one of his sheep and said, 'You love that sheep. You feed him. You go chase him. You walk with him. You protect him.'"
He said the Spirit of God used that moment to completely change the way he thought about what he was doing back there. He was telling his sheep what to do so his church could grow, and he went back and began to be a shepherd and care for people, and it changed him. We don't know the name of that Bedouin shepherd, but God used him, and God is going to use you. I hope the folks who are in our children's area today listen to this message. I hope some of you all who don't like your circumstance listen to this message, because God is up to something.
By the way, one of the questions that Outreach magazine asked me… I mentioned several of them a couple of weeks ago, but I want to share another one right now. They said, "Todd, as things grow, you're going to get more of two things: criticism and praise. What have you learned about handling criticism and praise?" Let me tell you what I've learned. My response to them, by the way, was that Paul and Solomon knew what they were talking about. That's what I said. That was my answer to the question in the interview.
Then I said, "If you guys want to know why I said that, you can look up these specific verses." Let me give you some little truth from this little section. First of all, let's deal with praise. When you're praised for what God is doing in your midst… Proverbs 27:21 says, "The crucible is for silver and the furnace for gold, and each is tested by the praise accorded him." In other words, if you really want to test a man, you don't make him suffer. You just start to bless him, and you're going to find out where his heart grows.
That's why Solomon when he prayed said, "Lord, give me neither poverty nor riches. Don't give me riches, lest I get all big-headed and blaspheme the name of my God, like this is all my doing and I'm the reason things are going well, and don't give me poverty that I might steal and profane your name." If you think it's one thing to be tested by suffering, it's another thing to be tested by real prosperity.
In fact, when I talk to my friends around the world who are experiencing real persecution and suffering, they say, "Hey, tell the people in Dallas that we're praying for them. We marvel at their faith." You kind of look at that and go, "What are you talking about? You marvel at our faith? Look at all that's going on in your land. You're losing opportunities to get educated and career. You're losing family members. Some of you bear the scars of real persecution."
They go, "Let me just tell you something. It's easy for us to need Jesus. We have nothing but our hope in the eternal. When you guys are blessed and are in the current of being faithful, and in the midst of that you're having some sense of ease and prosperity and you still love God and live for a greater reward, that tells us something." That's their view of us living with faith in the midst of a fruitful, easy life. Are you living faithfully?
By the way, when people ask me, "Todd, what do you think about what's going on at Watermark?" I go, "Oh, I'm not surprised." That's not because I think I'm uniquely gifted or any of the guys I'm doing this with are uniquely gifted. It's just because God always has been in the business of wanting to do something to further his name, and we've just said, "Lord, if you're willing, why not with us?"
We've always just said, "God, let's go. Here I am. Use me how you want." God doesn't always do amazing things the world notices when people say that, but he likes to. It says in 2 Chronicles 16:9, "For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His."
I know this. When Jesus told a story about what makes something happen… In Mark, chapter 4, he said, "The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil…" Like a farmer, he goes out and casts seed. Now this isn't the parable of the sower. That was earlier in Mark 4. This is Mark 4:26-29. He said, "Hey, this is what happens in the kingdom of God. There's a guy who goes out and scatters his seed and then goes to bed. He rests in the sovereign, predetermined kindness of God. He gets up by day, and the seed sprouts and grows. He doesn't know how."
I was given a bean sprout just like you were in elementary school. I put a little bit of soil in a Dixie cup, and I had no idea how that seed went in there and germinated and died and broke open, and the roots went down, and it came up, and all of a sudden there was a little bean there. I have no idea how an apple seed turns into an apple tree. I just know it does, and I know it's my job to do everything I can to prepare the soil of my heart to receive the seed when it goes in, to pray for the soil of your heart, and to be faithful with the seed.
By the way, that's why when folks come up to me and want to say, "Can you believe what God is doing through you?" I go, "All I'm doing is throwing the seed." I'm like the mailman. That's what I am. I deliver the mail. That's what the job of every faithful pastor is. That's what your job is. It's what Stephen did. He just delivered the mail.
Some of you all, through me, received a letter that said, "Your life is about to change," and abundant blessing, grace, mercy, forgiveness, strengthening, hope, and restoration came through a message you heard me deliver, but I don't expect you to follow me the rest of your life. I don't expect you to go, "Oh, Todd! You've changed my life." No. What you should say to me is, "Todd, you were a faithful mailman. You gave me the letter of redemption, grace, forgiveness, and power from God."
You might kiss me on your porch and say "Thank you," but I'm just doing my job. I don't want to hang around out front acting like you should follow me the rest of your days. What you should do if your life has been changed is live a changed life and become a faithful communicator of that life change as well.
That's why Paul said in 1 Corinthians 3:7, "So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth." That's why Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4:5, "For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord…" That's why Paul said, "The light has shone out of darkness." All I am is a vessel, an earthen vessel that has a treasure, and I'm carrying it to you. That's how you handle praise. You know that all you are is a mailman, and you don't get any big head about it.
Secondly, how do you handle criticism? This is where we have to focus. The reason I'm doing this is I want to set you up for what we're doing today. How do you handle criticism? I said Paul and Solomon had it right. Solomon said in Proverbs 27:3, "A stone is heavy and the sand weighty, but the provocation of a fool is heavier than both of them."
What that verse means is you're going to be criticized if you live your life faithfully. You'd better brace yourself for it. You should not be surprised about it. If you think it's hard to fill up a backpack full of rocks and hike up a 14,000-foot mountain or you think it's difficult to run a marathon with a 25-pound bag of sand on your shoulder, just try and be around a fool who is constantly provoking you.
What do most of us do when we're provoked? We lose our temper, and we often become a fool to answer a fool. That's stupid. You don't ever want to do that. Why? Because if you become a fool to argue with a fool he'll just drag you down to his level and beat you with experience. You don't want to do that. You have to be really careful and make sure you're being faithful.
It says, " [Love] does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered…" What you're going to see today is Stephen being stoned and not provoked. What you're going to see today is Stephen being murdered young and not bitter. He has a part in the play that none of us would want, but I'm going to tell you something about Stephen.
I think he's a bigger deal than the guy we pick up with starting in the next couple of chapters, who was part of the Synagogue of the Freedmen, I believe. His name was Saul. He was from Cilicia, a town called Tarsus, and he watched Stephen die faithfully. I think the seed Stephen planted in his heart, in Paul's little computer brain that he had been so gifted… Even if he didn't want to receive Stephen's message, it was embedded in his heart.
I know that, because in Acts 13, when Paul was talking to Jews like Stephen was in Acts 7, you're going to find Paul used basically the same outline Stephen did. When Paul was talking to a bunch of non-Jewish people up there at the Parthenon in the Acropolis in Athens in Acts 17, he references something Stephen references in Acts 6. Stephen, much more even than Gamaliel, is the one who laid the seed of truth in Paul's heart.
Do you want to know who is, I think, the father of the greatest missionary who ever lived? It's this guy who was here and gone. He is the very first death. Do you know this about Stephen? His message is so important. It is the longest preserved message in the book of Acts. Nobody is given more attention to what he said than Stephen other than Jesus in the New Testament. Stephen's is the only death that is described in detail other than Jesus'. You might want to be like him, so we're going to try and learn from him.
You're going to get criticized. You shouldn't be bothered by it. You should be one who might even expect it, and we want to be a guy who can learn. By the way, Stephen was ready. He was a guy who when he received this criticism just said, "Hey, look, man. You guys want to kill me? That's fine. For me to live is Christ and to die is to gain. If I want to continue to live, it's going to be fruitful labor for me, but if I go on to heaven, that's going to be awesome. I don't know which one I want to choose. It's better for you that I stay, because I'm the mailman and I'm bringing you the message of God's love."
Is that true of you? If you hang around, are you going to get richer and more comfortable and more popular or are you going to become more faithful delivering the mail? Let me just say we are here, bottom line, to suffer and to serve the world, not to be celebrated by it. If your goal is to be celebrated by this world, you're not paying attention.
I have said this to you now many, many weeks. When you're criticized, make sure you're being criticized for the good you are doing in Jesus' name and not for the foolishness you are capable of when you don't walk with Jesus. You're going to be hated by the world, and you shouldn't be surprised by it. You should be ready.
I'll just share this with you. You guys may have heard that I wrote a little op-ed this week for the Dallas Morning News. It was on why we love and care for each other. We talked about that last week, what love, care, and correction looks like. People can put comments down there when you get done writing, and somebody was kind enough to screenshot a few of those and send them to me, make sure I saw them.
This is funny. This is the second comment that showed up about my article where I talked about what love looks like, and this is what it said. "This article mentions that homosexuality is a sin no greater or worse than any other sin. I think that's wise if you choose to believe that homosexuality is a sin. I don't, but you may make the choice to believe that. However, among the other listed sins there is pride and pornography (which I agree with), but what I don't understand is that you also say that heterosexual infidelity is a sin.
Is it really a sin for a woman to not be able to conceive? Maybe it isn't the woman's fault at all but rather her partner who has some bad sperm. I don't know if there's really a term for that. I didn't go to medical school, but I can't possibly think how someone would believe that that is a sin. People grieve over infidelity, and you want to call them sinners for that? That doesn't seem very loving or logical." That made me laugh.
It reminds me of the fellow who wasn't very literate who went to the doctor because he and his wife couldn't have kids, and he came home driving a brand new Lincoln Continental, wearing a three-piece suit and a big old hat with a feather in it. He got out and slammed the door. His wife goes, "What in the world are you doing?" He said, "I'll tell you what I'm doing. The doctor said I was impotent, so I'm going to start acting impo'tant."
There were other criticisms that were a little more thoughtful than that one. We've all made mistakes. I'm not poking fun at "DH8823." They took that down after about 15 minutes, but somebody captured it and said, "You might want to read this. It'll make you laugh." Sometimes criticism doesn't make you laugh. Sometimes it just hurts, doesn't it? I want to take a second before we get into Acts 7:56-60. That's the part we're going to look at. I just want to say something to you guys. You just need to know something.
If you want to be a faithful witness, you need to prepare to have your faith tested. We get that right out of the chute. If you want to be a faithful witness, prepare to have your faith tested. In fact, the more faithful you are, the more areas of testing you can expect. Y'all get that? This is what my Bible says. Second Timothy 3:12: "Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted."
Satan doesn't waste much time with people who aren't troubling him. He just leaves them alone. If you want to be an individual who is faithful, you should prepare yourself to have your faith tested. This is what Jesus said in John 15:18-21. I'm just pointing this out. It's great that it shows up early in the book of Acts. Church, don't be surprised.
"If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world [to know me, that you might deliver mail back to the world] ,because of this the world hates you." Because it doesn't always like to get some letters.
People are going to do one of a couple things when they hear about God's presence, goodness, and kindness and when the Spirit of God, through you, convicts them of sin, righteousness, and judgment. They might rejoice that there is provision that has been made or they might get angry that you're bringing it up. They might thank you for that letter, kiss you on the lips, or they may hate you.
He says, "Remember the word that I said to you, 'A slave is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name's sake…""They'll think they're serving me when they do it." "…because they do not know the One who sent Me."
Let me just remind you that the guy who suffered more than anybody else… This was his bio. This is Job. "There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job; and that man was blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil." God said, "You see Job? You see how faithful he is?" Then the Enemy in Job 1:10 said, "Well, of course. You made a hedge about his house. All you do is give him ease. You bless the work of his hands, and his possessions have led to nothing but increase. You let Job suffer, and he'll bail out on you."
God said, "Oh, no, he won't. You can do everything you want. Just don't kill him, so you can see he doesn't love me because of what I do for him; he loves me because of who I am." That's what faithful people do. They don't love him because he's Brad Pitt playing some leading role the world marvels at. They love him because they know he is the divine and good Director, and if they get a bit part, if they're the gaffer, if all they do is something in the editing room that no one ever sees, they love him, because they love his story and they love his goodness.
It's worth noting that God had only one Son on earth without sin, but there's never a son of God without suffering. As I already told you guys, we're not here to be celebrated; we're here to suffer and serve. In fact, there are only two places in your Bible that talk about Jesus doing something as an example for us. One is in John 13 when he washed the disciples' feet. He said, "I did this as an example for you, that you should also serve one another."
The other one is in 1 Peter, chapter 2, when it says, "…Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously…" Just like Stephen.
Christian, right here at the very end of Acts 7, when this guy preaches and is about to be subbed out… It is a fact that truth sets people free, but you also need to know truth divides. Truth gets people killed. In Luke 12:49-53, this is what Jesus said about himself.
"I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished! Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth?
I tell you, no, but rather division; for from now on five members in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law."
Mailman, your job is not to unite; your job is to do right and deliver the mail, and you do it well and do it kindly. It is true, gang. The Spirit of God unites people. When the Spirit of God is in somebody, he brings us together. We should be diligent to preserve the union of the Spirit, but truth always divides. Our job is to yield to the Spirit, to walk in the Spirit, rejoice in the Spirit, and suffer in the Spirit. I want to remind you you cannot judge obedience by the outcome.
Acts, chapter 7. A bunch of his buddies… This is what you do. When Stephen trusted Christ, he went back to the Synagogue of the Freedmen. He went to his buddies and started telling them, "Hey guys, we don't need to be at the synagogue anymore. God set us free." His whole message… We taught this the last time we were in the book of Acts.
When Jesus said he was going to destroy this temple in three days and build it back up, what he was talking about was that there's no longer a need for us to pursue God through the sacrificial system of the temple. That was just a shadow. Now the reality, that which caused the shadow, has come, so it has been done away with. Jesus' work finished anything that was necessary for us to have faith in anything else, that God was, as it says in Romans 3, temporarily looking over the sins of man in his forbearance until the fullness of time had come.
That's why it says it's impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. They're just finite animals being sacrificed as an acknowledgement of your sin until God provides a perfect sacrifice, Jesus. "Behold, the Lamb of God who has come to take away the sins of the world." "I'm going to go and suffer for you that you might live." Stephen understood this, and he went back to the synagogue and told his buddies that.
When your entire existence is centered around the temple, and when you are a rabbi and you care about people continuing to acknowledge that system, you don't like people who are criticizing it. So they dragged him before the leaders of the day. It's called the Sanhedrin. It says at the very end of chapter 6, "And fixing their gaze on him, all who were sitting in the Council saw [Stephen's] face like the face of an angel." Which is a messenger, like a happy mailman.
They said, "Stephen, are these things so?" He responded in chapter 7, verse 2, by saying, "Hear me, brethren and fathers," and then he just let it go, from verse 2 all the way down to verse 53, and he taught them some truth. Sitting there, you're going to find out, holding the coats, was a guy named Saul.
A little bit later, the one Stephen was talking about would have a conversation with Saul, and he would be reminded of all that Stephen said, and he would change the world when he became a witness. As the Holy Spirit dwelt in him, he had the power to change the world. Acts 7:54: "Now when they heard this…"
Meaning the people who heard Stephen communicate the message we studied the last time we were together in Acts. "…they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him." That is not a reasonable response to a message of redemption. "But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God…"
I love that. The Scripture says in Luke 12:8, "…everyone who confesses Me before men, the Son of Man will confess him also before the angels of God…" What do witnesses do? Witnesses stand up and go, "I have a word I can declare. I saw what happened." I think Jesus, who was seated at the right hand of God, was standing for two reasons. First, he was saying, "Let me testify. That's my boy delivering the mail, being faithful." I'll tell you why else he was standing.
That was his sheep, and I think he was ready to have the clouds rolled back like a scroll and show how great he is and say, "You do that to one of mine, you do it to me." In my own little perverted Todd Wagner theology… I grew up watching The Flintstones, and whenever Fred wanted to go somewhere he would start to run, but before he'd run his little legs would make that sound. You know what I'm talking about?
I believe that since that moment it's like Jesus has been ready to go, and God has him by the scruff of his robe. "Not yet, not yet. There are going to be other parts of your body, other lambs who are going to suffer like Stephen, just like you suffered for my glory, because I want more to know me."
I think your Savior is watching, and you be faithful. I think he has been standing since that moment. I think he was seated because the work of God is done. I think he's standing to honor those who have been faithful and are being faithful today. I think he wants to come, and he's ready to take you home. You just do your job.
It says then Stephen looked up. After I was done looking at this, I was doing some other reading around, and I came across a guy by the name of Charles Spurgeon. He is called the "prince of preachers" for a reason. When Russell Moore taught this text, he titled it as perfectly as you could title it. When Charles Spurgeon taught this text, he made an observation I just didn't make, so I'm going to share it with you.
If you want to get an outline for how to handle suffering and why you can handle suffering, this is how right here. In verse 56, Stephen said, "Behold, I see the heavens opened up…" Underline I see. This is Jesus seen. He looks up and sees the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God. That's a very important phrase, Son of Man. It was Jesus' favorite name for himself.
One of the things Stephen just got through saying is, "He's not just a son of David, not just a son of Abraham, not just the one who's going to save the Jews. He's the Son of Man." That phrase is only used by Jesus and Stephen, and it shows back up in the book of Revelation when all judgment is about to come. It comes from Daniel 7:13. This is what's true of the Son of Man. "The Son of Man has been given dominion, glory, and a kingdom, and all of the people and all of the nations…"
That was the point of his message. "Hey, friends! We don't need to keep continuing with one mind in the temple. We don't need to keep going up to the Temple Mount at the ninth hour," which is the time of prayer. That is Acts 2:46 and Acts 3:1. That's what the early Hebraic Christians were doing. Stephen was saying, "We don't need to keep going to the temple. God saved the whole world. The temple has been destroyed, in a sense, by the finished work of Jesus Christ. Let's go tell it on the mountain."
The Jews didn't much like that, and the Hebraic Christians were going, "I'll be. Maybe he's right." What's really interesting is what God does is with Stephen he scatters the church, because there is an increase now in persecution, and God is using this to push the Word out. God is always at work, especially in the midst of suffering. Jesus was seen. That was Spurgeon's first observation.
"But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears and rushed at him…" If you want to understand what Luke is observing right here, that word rushed is the exact same word that's used in Luke, chapter 8, when the Gerasene demoniac, a man who was filled with a legion of demons… Jesus had cast the demons out into a herd of pigs, and it says those pigs rushed. A bunch of demon-possessed pigs that ran together.
Like a herd of violent, wild, demon-possessed animals. That's what those guys were coming at Stephen like. It's also the word used of an army, like in Braveheart. After William Wallace goes out and picks a fight, he lifts up his little Scottish skirt and goes, "Let's go!" and he goes running at them. That's the word.
But Stephen is filled with peace. Why? I think it's because he saw him. I think he saw that this one they hated was right where Stephen said he was and right where that one they hated said he'd be, seated at the right hand of God with all dominion, glory, and kingdoms given to him. He was doing something Stephen didn't really understand. He just said, "I'm just going to let him do it." Are you convinced of that?
It says they cried out with a loud voice and covered their ears. "I don't want to hear what you're saying. I don't want to read that mail." " [They] rushed at him with one impulse. When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul." **From Cilicia, Tarsus."They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord…"**
That's the second observation Spurgeon made. Jesus seen in his sovereignty, glory, and love, and when Jesus is seen, Jesus is invoked. I would say in modern-day English he is appealedto. Stephen cried out to the sovereign God who loved him, and he said, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!" In other words, "Hey, I don't love my body; I love you. I am trusting you with my today and my tomorrow."
Jesus seen, Jesus appealed to, and Jesus trusted. That's the third observation Spurgeon made. This is how you get through it, people. Do you see him? Do you know him in all of his glory? Are you convinced whom you have trusted? Is your Jesus just some idea or is he the beginning and the end?
If you're not sure, you're going to really care what people write about you in the Dallas Morning News or in your little neighborhood or at the office, and you will not be one that Jesus goes, "There's my boy. That's my girl right there. You see her be faithful? She is not doing anything but living for an audience of one. She is entrusting herself to the one who will judge rightly, and she doesn't care what her life looks like on earth."
Some of you guys are in a wheelchair. Some of you guys have cancer. Some of you guys have been abandoned by an unfaithful spouse, and you are staying faithful. He says, "There she is. There's my little girl. Watch her. She's not bitter. She's true." Jesus was seen, Jesus was appealed to, and Jesus was trusted. Now watch this. "Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, 'Lord, do not hold this sin against them!'" Jesus is imitated.
What were the last words of Christ? "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." If you want to know how you can be a man of peace, love, and grace in the midst of death, the answer is you know Jesus, and you have the power because you call on him to live the way he lived. You trust him, and you know vengeance is his, and you say, "Father, if your vengeance was poured out on these enemies who do this to me, even with the horror I'm watching them do to me, I wouldn't want you to do it. Father, forgive them."
That's a man who has a clear vision of heaven and a right understanding of hell, and he's willing to suffer that folks might know the way to get out of one and into the other. "Having said this, he fell asleep." I'm not going to teach on this, but if you wanted to study the doctrine of thanatology, which is, in effect, the doctrine of death, you could study it right here. The word sleep is used of the body. A believer when he dies is peaceful. He's full of assurance that he will rise again, so he is not nervous in the evening.
It says, "Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem…" We're about to move to Act Two, because some of these Hellenized Christians began to move up to Samaria. Watch this. This is important. This is a significant observation. "…and they were all scattered…"
Luke uses a very specific word there. It's diaspeiro,which doesn't mean anything to you. It didn't mean anything to me until I studied it. There are two words in the Greek. One is skorpizo, which means to carelessly fling things everywhere. The other one is diaspeiro, which is to place meticulously for the purpose of fruitfulness. That's the word used for scattered. It's like a farmer scatters his tomato seed. It is for the purpose of sowing that they may grow.
God is at work, people. He's always at work, more than you can imagine, even in the midst of suffering. He scattered Randi into doctors' offices to get chemotherapy. He scattered Jennifer Lewis into hospitals all across this city because of her breast cancer. He's scattering my friend Brandon Landis into places purposefully, and he's scattering you all throughout the regions he sends you.
I have a buddy. He has preached here with me. His name is Nick Vujicic. Nick was born… Not because his mom was a user. His mom and dad are faithful Christians. Nick was born with no arms or legs, a very rare disease. He was suicidal when he was a kid. You can imagine going to elementary school and junior high and things kids say. But somebody loved Nick and eventually led him to Christ. Nick has written five books, one a New York Times best seller. He has preached in 57 countries.
Four hundred million people have heard Nick deliver the mail. That doesn't sound like a mistake to me. Joni Eareckson Tada when she was 17… Joni is going to be with us here in April. I've asked her to come. I love this gal. I've known her for 30 years. When she was 17, she dove into a sandbar with her sister and snapped her vertebrae between the fourth and the fifth cervical column and has been paralyzed ever since. Four decades in a wheelchair. She has been to 50 different countries talking about Jesus, that he's enough.
God is up to stuff, folks. I don't know if you get subbed out quickly or not. He's going to use you if you are his. If you see him for who he is and cry out to him and trust him, you'll be able to imitate him, but you'd better fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith, or you will bail out and you will not be filled with peace and won't go to sleep well until you die, and when you die you won't sleep easy; you'll be a nervous wreck. God is always at work.
Stephen and what he did is the beginning of the great evangelism that led to you and me coming to know who Jesus is. God scattered him very fruitfully, purposefully, to have that fruit spread out. I love this story. You don't know this guy. His name is Edward Kimball. In the 1850s, he was teaching Sunday school up in the Northeast. He had a bunch of kids who didn't know the Lord, and he was zealous for them. He said there was one especially. He wrote in his diary he had never seen somebody so dark and so unwilling to talk about the things of God.
So he decided to go and visit all of those kids. This one kid he was talking about was a shoe clerk, and he went and visited him. He said he put his hand on his shoulder and his foot on the shoe box so he couldn't stack it, and he said, "Listen. You work too hard. You're tired. You sleep through every lesson when you come to Sunday school with me, so I'm coming to tell you about the goodness of God. You need to know about him."
This man Edward Kimball said when he left that he had not done well. He wrote that that night, but the guy he shared Christ with went home and said, "Jesus, you must be something if this man doesn't just do something for me on Sundays but he comes and finds me." He trusted Christ. His name was D.L. Moody. He had a fifth-grade education, but he became one of the greatest evangelists who ever lived.
He started Moody Bible Institute. He was asked to go preach all over the world. When he went to England, they weren't really fond of him because he was unlettered, and yet he had been with Jesus. There was a guy over there named Frederick Brotherton Meyer. Is that not a snotty name? Frederick did not like D.L. Moody, but then he heard D.L. Moody talk about what God had done through Edward Kimball, and it touched him.
Just like that Bedouin said something to that pastor and it changed the way he did ministry, he heard D.L. Moody talk about Edward Kimball's ministry, and it changed this highfalutin theologian to be a tender pastor. Moody eventually asked Frederick Brotherton Meyer to come over to New England and preach, and his little brogue caught the attention of others, including one guy named Wilbur Chapman who worked in a YMCA. At the time, YMCA had a lot of ministries like FCA.
Wilbur Chapman's life was changed through Frederick Brotherton's preaching. He reached out to a professional baseball player by the name of Billy Sunday. Billy Sunday is the guy who became most famous for saying, "Going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than going to a garage makes you an automobile." That's the way he preached. He was just kind of a crass, "grab you by the throat and tell you the way it is" guy.
In 1924, a bunch of folks in Charlotte, North Carolina, had him come down there and preach, and it started a little fire, and they started the Billy Sunday Layman's Evangelistic Association. They hung around for eight years, and they finally said, "Let's bring somebody else back." So they prayed and brought a guy named Mordecai Ham down there. Mordecai Ham shows up, and the night before he says, "Lord, I'm discouraged. I don't feel like you're doing much with me. Would you start a revival in Charlotte?"
That next day when he preached, a 16-year-old by the name of William Graham showed up and heard the gospel, and the world has never been the same, all because a little faithful Sunday school teacher cared for a shoe clerk, a name you'll never know, Edward Kimball, but faithfulness led to faithfulness led to faithfulness led to faithfulness led to that. You play your part, Christian. You may be out at Acts 7. Your name may not be known, but the one who needs to know it knows it.
Father, I pray we'd be faithful. I pray we would be like Stephen and not care about the part that you give us. If ours is to serve widows food and be men of integrity, let us serve. If ours is to preach once and get stoned, let it not be wasted. Would you glorify yourself in us? I pray for those who aren't just stoned once but are strapped to wheelchairs or health problems, who are caring for nurses and doctors, who are living faithfully before family members who maybe see them and will live the next 40 years differently because they watched the way they suffered well.
Lord, would you use this church, every single one of us, with our unique story, with our unique gifting, to be faithful, and may we know that you are with us always until the end. For the glory of Christ I pray, amen.
God is seldom early, but he is never late. I don't know what your story is. I don't know if you're going to be here and gone. I don't know if you're going to suffer long. I just know my God is faithful always. When you really see him in all of his love, when you see him in all of his glory with all dominion, authority, and power given to him, and you live to be faithful before him and to carry his message forward, he's going to use you.
Stephen had no idea who was listening and what God was going to do with that, but he did it. So you love those little ones in your Sunday school class. You love those folks in your office. You love those kids you're raising in your home. You love your neighbor. You suffer well, and you go to sleep peacefully, ready to hear, "Well done, good and faithful servant." Don't you worry about their criticism. You're not here to be celebrated; you are here to serve.
So let's go. Let's encourage each other day after day as long as it's called "today" so we wouldn't be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin, and let's deliver the mail. Amen? If you're here and you don't know that Jesus is good and that he can be trusted so that you can imitate him and experience all the fullness of life that he intends for you in your walking with God, would you come? If you know him, would you go? Have a great week of worship.