People Who Were There
Message #11 in a series on New Testament Personalities

Stephen

Read : Acts 6:8-15; 7:54-60

Text : Acts 6:10 (KJV) And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake.

Theme : Because Stephen served Christ faithfully in life, and in death, his influence continued even after death.


Introduction:

As we examine the account Stephen, today, we will discover many important facts about his life.

He was the first deacon in the church.

He was the first martyr in the church.

He preached the longest sermon in the New Testament!

These are things that are peculiar to Stephen, and cannot be applied to our lives. None of us can do these things, as Stephen has already done it!

However, Stephen teaches us some powerful lessons that DO apply to our lives today. He was a faithful servant of His lord, whose influence continued beyond this earthly life.

Let's see what we can learn from him, this morning.


I. Who Stephen Was

QUESTION - Describe Stephen - Who was he? What characteristics of his life are seen in our scripture?
 
A. Stephen was a Christian.
QUESTION - Would anything else that happened here have any significance apart from this? (In other words, would his death have brought grace? favor with God? Of course not. He was saved by faith in Christ, just like we are. Eph. 2:8)
B. Stephen was a deacon. (6:1-7)
QUESTION - What do we learn about the ministry of deacons from this first mention of the position? (ANSWER - It is a ministry of SERVICE, waiting tables.)
C. Stephen was a witness. (6:9-10)
QUESTION - What were they "disputing?" What was it that they "could not resist?"

Heb 4:12 (KJV) For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

D. Stephen was falsely accused. (6:11-14)
QUESTION - Does this happen today? Can you share examples?
E. Stephen was divinely defended (6:15)
QUESTION - What do you suppose the second half of this verse means?

QUESTION - Does this happen today? Can you share examples?

F. Stephen was a preacher. (7:1-53)
QUESTION - What do you think of the sermon he preached? Too long? (longest in NT) Too short?

QUESTION - Was his sermon effective? How many responded to his invitation? Was it a successful sermon?

QUESTION - What effect did his sermon have on his audience? (7:54, 57)

QUESTION - Was anybody effected in a positive way? (7:58?)

G. Stephen was a martyr. (7:59)
QUESTION - What similarities exist between Stephen's death, and that of Christ? What differences? (ANSWER - Stephen died for a cause, making him a martyr. Jesus died in our place, making him a savior. Jesus' death was substitutionary. Stephen's was not.)
H. Stephen was forgiving. (7:60)
 

II. What We Learn From Stephen.

A. There is a price associated with Christianity.
 
B. We do not always see what our life accomplishes for Christ.
QUESTION - What success did Stephen SEE in his life?

QUESTION - What did Stephen accomplish, that he never saw?

Acts 8:4 (KJV) Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word.

Acts 11:19 (KJV) Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only.

QUOTE - Gregory of Nyssa "From this point began the Apostles' journey through the entire world, and their preaching. If it were not for [Stephen's] murder and the Jews' rage against the Apostles, perhaps the grace of the Gospel would have been confined to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Having been driven out by the Jews to another nation, the teaching of the [Christian] mysteries expelled the devil from the world."

QUESTION - Which accomplishments were greater? (i.e. those in life, or those in death)

C. We never know who is listening to our testimony.
QUESTION - What was Stephen trying to accomplish with his message?

QUESTION - How did God use his message? (ANSWER - Saul of Tarsus?)

QUESTION - Would Stephen, in his wildest dreams, have foreseen that his life would come down to influencing this one person for Christ?

ILLUSTRATION - The story is told of a young preacher who was asked to preach in a certain town. As the evening of the service arrived, the preacher was distressed to witness one of the worst snowfalls the region had seen. He determined to honor his commitment, however, and battled his way to the church. He was the only one, though. He looked from the pulpit out upon the empty pews, and decided to fulfill his obligation, whether or not anyone had come to hear him. And so, he preached his message, just as God had laid it upon his heart. He closed his Bible and left the empty building, discouraged and wondering at why God had called him here. Years later, a man approached him after a service, and confessed that he had been saved one snowy night many years earlier, when a young preacher had preached to what he thought was an empty church, but which in reality had contained one soul, a young boy, hiding in the back to escape the cold.

NOTE - God's word ALWAYS WORKS, whether it see it work or not!

Jer 5:14 (KJV) Wherefore thus saith the LORD God of hosts, Because ye speak this word, behold, I will make my words in thy mouth fire, and this people wood, and it shall devour them.

Jer 23:29 (KJV) Is not my word like as a fire? saith the LORD; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?

Ezek 37:7 (KJV) So I prophesied as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to his bone.

Rom 1:16 (KJV) For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.

Heb 4:12 (KJV) For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

D. Death is glorious for the Christian.
Psa 116:15 (KJV) Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.

QUESTION - How did Stephen die?

QUESTION - What do we learn about death from his experience?

QUESTION - Was his death painful? What do we learn from this?

QUESTION - what is significant about verse 7:55?

ANSWER - Jesus is standing. Contrast this with the following verses, which show Jesus as sitting:

Mark 16:19 (KJV) So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.

Luke 22:69 (KJV) Hereafter shall the Son of man sit on the right hand of the power of God.

Eph 1:20 (KJV) Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places,

QUOTE - John R. Rice "He who notes the fall of every sparrow and keeps a record of every hair of a saint and has His angels always around us, would not let His faithful martyr die without a glad sense of His presence."

QUESTION - Did God provide anything to help this Christian through death? What? How does this give us hope?

QUESTION - Why was his death referred to as falling asleep?

ANSWER - Because to a Christian, that is all death is!

John 11:11 (KJV) These things said he: and after that he saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep.

1 Cor 15:6 (KJV) After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep.

1 Th 4:13 (KJV) But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.

E. Influence continues, even after death.
QUESTION - What ends with death?

ANSWER - Opportunity to trust Christ, and opportunity to serve Christ here.

QUESTION - How does our influence continue after death?

QUESTION - Can you share examples of people whose influence continues after their death?


Conclusion:

Acts 6:10 (KJV) And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake.

Because Stephen served Christ faithfully in life, and in death, his influence continued even after death.

May we be encouraged to know that we, like Stephen, can have a testimony that impacts others long after we pass from this life, if we live a faithful life while we have the opportunity.


Please direct questions, comments, and submissions to William E. Johnson
Copyright 1997 William E. Johnson.