Here’s the link to Acts 7.
Preaching about Jesus is usually a safe activity in our present culture. Whether we’re doing it as we should or not, there is virtually no risk in sharing our faith in Canada. For the most part.
Not so in other places around the world. Think of what it must be like as a follower of Jesus in China or North Korea. That’s a much different story. The risk of arrest and persecution looms large in these and other non-Western nations.
Even in the days of the first Christians, in the first century Jewish world, you could get in trouble. We saw this already with Peter and John. Opposition was rising against the nascent church. This opposition reached something of a crescendo because of a disciple named Stephen.
By connecting the history of God and the people of Israel with the recently crucified and risen Jesus, Stephen was essentially accusing the members of the Sanhedrin–the ruling Jewish council–of resisting the work of the Spirit, of rejecting the very Messiah they had been waiting for God to send. He doesn’t mince words: You stiff-necked people with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are always resisting the Holy Spirit.
They were neither impressed nor repentant. Instead, infuriated, they dragged Stephen into the street and stoned him to death. Stephen’s last words echo those of Jesus on the cross: Lord, do not hold this sin against them!
Is it any wonder that Jesus told his disciples to wait for the Spirit before they went about witnessing and preaching? Is it any wonder they prayed for boldness? No one preaches like this on their own power. No one gives witness to the risen Jesus like this apart from being filled with the Holy Spirit.
Not only that, but only with a larger vision of Jesus, with a solid, sure hope of resurrection, would anyone dare to preach like this. And Stephen had that. Moreover, he was even given an even greater glimpse of his hope, his Savior, moments before he was killed. Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven. He saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. He said, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!”
It was his sharing of this vision that caused the anger of the Sanhedrin to reach its boiling over point.
And some of Stephen’s final words also echo the last words of Jesus. Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!
For Stephen, there was nothing in this present life more valuable than one’s faith in Jesus. Nothing in this present life could possibly compare to eternity in the presence of God.
I’ll be frank. I don’t think I have Stephen’s courage or boldness or faith. It could be that circumstances haven’t demanded it of me. It could be that in the moment when I need it God will supply the courage and boldness and faith I require to be a faithful witness. I pray this is so. I pray that my faith will come with increasing courage and boldness. I pray that the strength of my witness to the risen Jesus will only grow with time. Because the time may come even in my lifetime where more courage will be needed.