Pastor Chuck DeVane
Special to The Sentinel-Record
And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison. Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.
-- Acts 8:1-4, ESV
This text in its entirety (Acts 6:8-8:4) tells a story you can see, the bold witness and brief life of one of the first church deacons, Stephen. It tells a story you cannot see, the unseen hand of God in every detail. And, it tells a story you will see, the story of your life as it unfolds going forward.
Stephen was part of the first wave of Christianity that came to shore on the sands of Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost. He found himself stuck there with the other early Christians as they awaited the push needed to send them with the gospel onward to Judea, Samara, and the uttermost parts of the earth.
Stephen was a man of sterling faith. Stephen was a man of exemplary courage. Stephen was a man of complete obedience. This is what you get when you combine genuine Christian faith with obvious spiritual courage, you get what pleases God the most, obedience.
When God said repent and believe, Stephen faithfully, courageously, obeyed. When God said serve My church, Stephen faithfully, courageously, obeyed. When God said witness the gospel, Stephen faithfully, courageously, obeyed. When God said forgive your enemies, Stephen faithfully, courageously, obeyed. When God said lay down you life for "the Righteous One" who laid down His life for you, Stephen faithfully, courageously, obeyed.
Stephen found life in Jerusalem, yet did not leave Jerusalem alive. Yet he lives, still, with God and the saints and the angels, and in the living pages of the word of God. He shows us the quintessential Christian ingredients of faith, courage, and obedience, and helps us see the unseen hand of God, from whence they come.
Let's take a moment and do the math. Jesus never did anything wrong, and was executed in His early thirties. Stephen did everything right, faith and courage and obedience, and was executed at the same age, if not younger. Jesus plus Stephen equals a God who is not fair.
God is not fair, at least as we humans reckon fairness. God is much more. God is sovereign. God has decreed, designed, and is directing a master plan to redeem certain persons, known to Him as the elect, save them from their sins, grant them everlasting life, and spend eternity with them in a yet-to-be-realized new heaven and earth. Everything that happens on earth, every life, every death, every joy, every sorrow, is part of God's sovereign plan of salvation.
God's sovereign plan can be traced through the Old Testament and comes to fruition in the New Testament, with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the birth of His church. Christ died for sinners all over the world, and He told the church to go tell everyone, beginning in Jerusalem, through Judea and Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth.
God's sovereignty invents the plan. God's providence involves the people. It required Stephen's life, and death, to move the church out of Jerusalem into Judea and Samaria. It required Saul's conversion, into the Apostle Paul, to take the gospel to the uttermost parts of the earth. God's sovereign plan is carried out by God's powerful providence over the lives, circumstances, and even the deaths of God's people.
God's sovereignty, providence, and commandments are the grounds of Christian faith, courage, and obedience. Stephen proved he was on good grounds with God by his sincere faith in Jesus Christ, his spiritual courage in living and preaching the gospel, and his obedient faith, even unto his death by stoning. At the end, he even caught a glimpse of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, smiling with approval and assurance of Stephen's eternal salvation. What will the Lord see in you, when you see the Lord?
We know, from the Scriptures, where Stephen stands before God today. Will you stand with Stephen? Will you stand with the Lord Jesus Christ? Will you stand with God, today, and trust His sovereignty, providence, and commandments to give you faith, courage, and obedience?
Chuck DeVane is the pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church. Call him at 501-525-8339 or email [email protected].