Kingdom Sign and Outpost: Acts 6 and 7 (7)
Pray Psalm 61.1, 2.
Hear my cry, O God;
Attend to my prayer.
From the end of the earth I will cry to You,
When my heart is overwhelmed;
Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
Sing Psalm 61.1, 2.
(Quebec: Jesus, Thou Joy of Loving Hearts)
Lord, hear my cry, heed my complaint! Hear, for my distant heart is faint.
When from the end of earth I sigh, set me upon that Rock on high.
Read again Acts 6 and 7; meditate on Acts 7.57-60.
1. How many ways did Stephen bear witness to his love for Jesus?
2. How did the Lord Jesus respond to his witness?
Early in the third century AD, an African lawyer named Tertullian wrote to the Roman emperor an appeal to cease persecuting Christians and instead realize the great boon they were to his realm. He explained that the effort to stop the spread of Christianity by harassing, jailing, and even killing Christians was doomed to fail anyway, because, as he explained, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”
The blood of Stephen that stained the guilty earth of Jerusalem, contained the seeds for a rapid and far-flung expansion of the faith into Judea, Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth, precisely as Jesus had promised (Acts 1.8). That expansive stage of the ongoing work of Christ will take up the next phase of our study of the book of Acts.
Not to be missed, as this first stage concludes, is the passing reference to Saul of Tarsus (v. 58). Saul – who became the apostle Paul – carried the memory of Stephen’s courage and convictions, and of his own guilty participation in his death, to the end of his life (cf. Acts 22.20). My sense is that Saul’s conversion to Christianity began here, though only later would he profess faith in Jesus, and later still before his ministry began.
The word “martyr” derives from a Greek word which we translate as “witness”. Jesus has appointed all His followers as His witnesses, and that means we must all be prepared for whatever sacrifices, loss, trial, or difficulty that calling might entail. But who knows how many Sauls of Tarsus will be affected by our patient endurance and faithful witness for the Lord? Stephen did not live to see the fruit of his witness in the life of him who would become the apostle Paul. But it didn’t matter. He saw that which was by far more beautiful and more enduring (vv. 54, 55), and which is the eternal reward that awaits all who sow the seeds of faith by their lives of self-denying love.
We are His witnesses. Let us follow in Stephen’s footsteps, whatever that may require.
Treasures Old and New: Matthew 13.52; Psalm 119.162
Stephen and his brothers and sisters in Christ presented a united front. They were together in all their thoughts and actions.
“These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication…” (Acts 1.14).
“Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common…” (Acts 2.44).
“Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul…” (Acts 4.32).
The opposition couldn’t agree about why they hated Stephen, but they were united in their murderous rage against him. “Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord…” (Acts 7.57).
Our job as Christians is to be united in Christ’s love. Because, sure enough, the opposition is united in their hatred toward us.
Paul, who was witnessed to by Stephen, later in his life wrote these words: “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4.1-3).
And Jesus prayed to His Father, asking Him to bless His disciples then, and those of us who would follow:
“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have love Me” (Jn. 17.20-23).
The enemies’ accord leads to death; our accord leads to life. And discord among believers annuls our faith and our witness.
But being united in Christ, with one accord, loudly proclaims to the world, united against us, that God sent Jesus into the world so that we, and they, will not perish, but have everlasting life (Jn. 3.16). If we believe in Him.
United we honor the Lord Jesus Christ, and all our martyred brothers and sisters, seeds of the Church, who have gone before us.
1. What’s the primary lesson from Stephen’s witness for you?
2. Why is it so important that Christians labor to maintain one accord in our mission?
3. What “seeds of the Church” will you sow this week?
We see how Stephen leaneth not unto the judgment of the flesh, but rather assuring himself, even in very destruction, that he shall be saved, he suffereth death with a quiet mind. For undoubtedly he was assured of this, that our life is hid with Christ in God, (Colossians 3:3). John Calvin (1509-1564), Commentary on Acts 7.59
Pray Psalm 61.3-8.
Thank God for His renewing and sustaining grace. Renew your commitment to follow, obey, and serve Him, come what may. Offer the day ahead to Him, and yourself as a living sacrifice to praise Him in all you do.
Sing Psalm 61.3-8.
(Quebec: Jesus, Thou Joy of Loving Hearts)
You are a Refuge, Lord, for me, towering o’er my enemy!
Let me find shelter ‘neath Your wings, dwell in Your tent eternally.
Lord, You have heard what I have vowed; You have on me Your grace bestowed.
You will prolong my years, my life, keep me alive ‘mid trial and strife.
I will with You e’ermore abide; let lovingkindness take my side.
Let truth preserve me all my days; I will forever sing Your praise!
T. M. and Susie Moore
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Except as indicated, all Scriptures are taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. For sources of all quotations, see the weekly PDF of this study. All psalms for singing are from The Ailbe Psalter (Williston: Waxed Tablet Publications, 2006), available by clicking here.