Acts 7 - Be a Witness
Acts 7 – August 5
Let’s consider five applications from this bitter-sweet passage about the first martyr.
- You cannot be a Witness to something you have not Witnessed
To be a martyr literally means that you are a witness. Imagine a courtroom. A witness is called to the stand to give a testimony of the crime that has been committed. The witness gives many details, but when asked by the cross-examiner, “Did you see this crime being committed.” He says, “No. But I heard about it.” Then the lawyer presses further. “Did you hear the crime take place?” “No, but I heard about it from a friend.” “Were you anywhere near the crime when it happened?” “No.” The witness would be immediately dismissed because his testimony is not valid. He is not actually a witness to the event. His testimony is just hearsay. You cannot be a witness to the King unless you have encountered His grace. You cannot live for the Lord unless you have been saved by Him.
- You cannot die for someone that you won’t live for.
It is no coincidence that Stephen was able to stand in the midst of this trial, even unto death. In the little that we learned in the last two chapters, we know that Stephen was a man who loved the Lord and studied His Word. He could not defend the gospel against all of those accusers unless He knew the Scriptures! His sermon was a summary of the entire Old Testament. Dying for Jesus is not merely an event that happened at the end of Stephen’s life. He had been laying down his life for others on a consistent basis. He had made himself a servant for the church. (The word deacon is literally the word servant in Greek.) He had laid down his life for the body as he served them. He evangelized the lost with great zeal. Stephen picked up his cross daily. I don’t want to say that it made it easy for him to stand up to the Sanhedrin, but I do think it was natural for him at that point because it was the constant pattern of his life. If you cannot stand unashamed for Jesus daily, picking up your cross every morning and carrying it throughout the day, you will not carry it when the cost becomes even higher.
- You cannot lose when the world fights against you.
Everything that happened to Stephen in this chapter is unjust. There is no manner in which this can be viewed as good from an earthly sense. But in God’s economy, He even plans the most extreme of trials for our Good and His glory. Please let this soak percolate in your mind for a while. Stephen is not currently upset that this is how he went out. Stephen is not in heaven thinking, “I just wish I had a few more years down there.” The world can’t take anything from you! You are promised that you will have hard days, but if you are in Christ, you will never have another bad day. This is particularly true because death has lost its sting.
The hymn “abide with me” by Henry Lyte reminds us,
I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless
Ills have no weight, tears lose their bitterness
Where is thy sting death? Where grave thy victory?
I triumph still, abide with me.
God is for you. Literally, nobody can succeed against you. Even if you end up like Stephen, lifeless on the ground in a pool of your own blood, they can’t take anything from you. I love the Jim Eliot quote, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Knowing these truths will help you live fearlessly in the face of mounting pressures. “Be still my soul, the Lord is by my side.”
- You can only forgive insomuch as you have been forgiven
Stephen continued to show his Christ-likeness by praying for the forgiveness of those who were literally killing him at that very moment. How often do we pray for those who we consider enemies? The only way that you can display this kind of forgiveness is if you recognize that your sins against the Lord were even greater than the sin being done against you, yet you were forgiven. He who has been forgiven much, loves much. True disciples love their enemies and do good to those who persecute them. That is a distinctly Christian value because it requires that you have first experienced forgiveness. See God’s forgiveness, and turn to forgive others. In fact, Jesus goes so far as to explain that those who cannot forgive others give evidence that they have never been saved at all. So, search your heart, and recognize the debt that has been paid on your behalf. That will result in a heart of forgiveness.
- God Answers Prayer
I want you to consider for a moment the fact that God did answer this prayer. There was a man standing there, holding the coats of those who were throwing stones. This man, this self-righteous Pharisee, would become the scourge of the church. He would pursue Christians and seek to have them completely eradicated. But the Lord answered Stephen’s prayer and brought at least one of those men into the Kingdom. And Paul became the most influential Christian who has ever lived. From this point forward, the rest of the book of Acts, and the rest of the NT for that matter will move its attention away from the city of Jerusalem. This event, the horrific martyrdom of Stephen, proved to be the greatest cause for stimulating the growth of the kingdom up to this point in the book of Acts. That is why Tertullian would eventually write that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”
This great evil done against Stephen was certainly part of God’s plan to build His kingdom by spreading His people out from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria, and even to the uttermost parts of the world. Martyrdom is still common today. There were more people killed for their faith in the past 100 years than there were in the first 1900 years of the church combined. I strongly encourage you to regularly read about and pray for the persecuted church around the world. The best materials out there are probably from Voice of the Martyrs. Do not take for granted the freedom that we have to worship. So, let’s move forward, faithful to carry our crosses, as aliens and strangers in this world, even unto death.