In the sixth and seventh chapters of the book of Acts, we read the story of Stephen, an early Christian. We are told that he was strong in the faith, that he was full of the Holy Spirit (Acts 6:8), and that he powerfully refuted some of the Jewish freedmen of the area (Acts 6:9-10). Such power and ability did not go unnoticed, and these Jews brought Stephen to the Sanhedrin, the governing body of the Jews, on trumped up charges of blasphemy (Acts 6:11-14). When asked to answer the allegations, he preached Christ Jesus and His relation to them (Acts 7:2-53). Enraged, the Jews stoned Stephen to death, but only after he saw Christ and the Father sitting in glory on High (Acts 7:54-60). What can we learn from Stephen’s example?
He suffered wrong. It is made clear in Acts 6:11-14 that the “crimes” that Stephen was accused of were completely bogus. When this occurs, however, what does Stephen do? Does he complain that his rights have been lost, and that he is innocent? By no means! He takes the opportunity given to him to preach the Gospel. He is not concerned about his own health or life as he is about the souls of the Jews, and he was willing to suffer the wrong done him in order to preach the Gospel. Would we ever do such a thing? Would you ever give up your “unalienable rights” so that the Gospel could be preached to those who will probably not hear it?
He preached not expecting a return. The Sanhedrin was a most Jewish organization, filled with Pharisees and Sadducees. The former half denied the Christ vigorously on account of His teaching when He was alive; the latter did not even believe in the resurrection! Does Stephen thus give up before he begins, thinking to himself that no one would be converted, and so why should he waste his time and endanger his life? No! He preaches the Gospel anyway, even highlighting the negligence of the Jews in keeping God’s law! Would we do such things? Will we preach the Word even though the odds are completely against us being able to convert even a single soul?
He was not ashamed of the truth and preached it boldly. We read in Romans 1:16:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
Stephen was unabashed in preaching the Gospel, and he did not shrink away from the truths presented in it. He was given the opportunity to speak to the most Jewish of the Jews, the Sanhedrin; did he “sugarcoat” or “water down” the Gospel? By no means! Instead, he spoke out with great boldness concerning the errors of the Jews, and how they had yet again killed a man that God had sent them, and that being more than a man, His own Son, Christ Jesus. Would we be as bold as Stephen? Would we try to tell a different Gospel to the Sanhedrin, one that would be more pleasing? Or would we speak the truth boldly, letting all know of the need for repentance?
He showed great love toward these Jews. We read concerning the account of his stoning in Acts 7:60 the following:
Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!”
Having said this, he fell asleep.
Even though these Jews showed Stephen nothing but hate, Stephen showed the light of Christ by asking for their forgiveness at his moment of death. Do we, even though we are not in as dire circumstances as Stephen, still ask for the forgiveness of those who sin against us? If Stephen was able to forgive those who were stoning him as they performed the deed, why are we not able to forgive people, our own brethren along with those of the world, for their comparatively insignificant offenses against us?
Finally, Stephen’s example as a whole gives us a human mirror of the life of Christ. Many on their Christian walk complain about the harshness of the path, fully understanding that Christ has been down that road, but feeling that Christ cannot truly understand because Christ was always God, and there is a great divide between what man can do and what God can do. Stephen, however, is our great example that even mortal men can act as Christ did. Stephen, like Christ, was young, well-versed in the Scriptures, able to powerfully refute the Jews, brought to trial on erroneous, trumped-up charges, condemned following an unfair trial, and yet asked for the forgiveness of those that were killing him. We should take great solace and encouragement in the example of Stephen, seeing clearly that man can share much of the love of God.