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Stephen’s Defense (4)

We noted previously that we know nothing about Stephen beyond the detail given us in Acts 6 through 8. As we know little about the public man we also know little about his private or personal side. We do, however, know more than might be visible at first glance. For instance, we know he was a married man and likely a father too. Further, we know that he wasn’t some caricature; some hollow and crafted invention of a pen. He was a family man who lived and died for his belief in the one and only God and in His Christ. He had dreams and cares and troubles just like you and me. He had daily obligations to meet, both through work and in living and caring for a family, just as we do. Do you suppose that he was not afraid of what was set before him and for his friends and his family as he stood alone before the maddened crowd? Certainly he feared men less than he feared God – but that doesn’t mean that he was blind to what these men might conspire to do later to his family and to his friends.

Though no “Mrs. Stephen” is mentioned, there should be no doubt in your mind that she was flesh and blood, and that obviously she was a believer and disciple too. I wonder, was she a 100% supporter of her husband and his turn in all of this? Stephen was chosen servant of the church based on what we know to be the qualifications for deacons and that allows that we also then know something about her. If he was properly chosen (and certainly nothing suggests that he wasn’t) then she too had to have been of similar character for the qualifications state: “Likewise their wives must be reverent, not slanderers, temperate, faithful in all things.”

It is sure that she too was godly, but godly or not, perhaps she folded under the pressure as Job’s wife had long before her. Then again, maybe she was at home minding the children or with some other Christian women in the market or next door teaching someone when the hateful events occurred. Worse yet, maybe she was present for the proceedings. Then again, perhaps she learned after the fact that her husband had been taken in a feint by crooked men. These things we simply cannot know. In all things godly we should stick to what we can find in the word of God. But know one thing – there was a woman behind the man.

In truth not one word is said of her or further of their family or of any reaction by them to the events that day. We can only make reasonable conjectures. But we do know that they could not know the end from the beginning just as we cannot know those things. We can understand the sorrow he held for his own family mixed in contradistinction to the joy he had in standing for the truth and in glorifying God. Things may not go nicely but ending up on God’s side is a much greater reward than is life itself.

Yet, what a price was paid by all: by Stephen first, then by his family, and finally all of the saints there, not to mention the price to be paid in time by those at whose hand the servant of God was felled. Stephen was the first recorded martyr to the body of Christ and was an example to all of godly character and living and dying for the truth; the effect of following the word of God to whatever end there may be. The saints became an example to all in their response to his death. The Sanhedrin lost the battle and would in time lose their position and title.

Look at the outcome following his death as it concerned the church as was noted in Acts 8: 1 – 4.

At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison. Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word.

Those devout in the cause of Christ took his body and with great care, in sorrow and in steadfastness to the truth and with a reliance to follow his example (if need be) they laid his mortal remains down. So with boldness they entered upon a new chapter – Stephen’s death served to spread the gospel as nothing had spurred it before, for it states, “they went everywhere preaching the word.” They now knew that they might even be called upon to die for God and this changed forever the call of Christ. They went out as if time might itself be taken from them.

Stephen’s murder also served to embolden others to commit more crimes against the Christians and against the cause of Christ. Although we did not point specifically to that part of the passage a moment ago – as you read, the record says that a fellow named Saul (his Hebrew name) was consenting to the death of Stephen. That means he approved of the proceedings and was at the ready to assist, so much so that he held the men’s coats so that they might take better aim and more accurately throw their rocks and pile up hateful death upon God’s servant. Saul didnt stop with that, as the record continues that he went down the street chasing and hauling as many as he could before more rigged courts and off into the putrid squalid prisons of the day, leading some others, we can surmise, to a similar fate as had been suffered by Stephen, those that had done no more than to believe in God and in salvation. Saul thought that he was a fine sort and only doing godly things — just as many people do today. Yet at this point in his life he was altogether wrong, and a perfect example that thinking that you are okay is just not enough. He later set things right and went on to become known as the apostle Paul (the Greek version of the same name), apostle to the nations and servant of God.

I hope that no one reading this has ever had the thought that by silencing the disagreeable forcibly that things will go well. That has certainly been tried in history and never with any lasting success. Such thinking is altogether out of the limits of reason. By silencing Stephen, did the rulers accomplish what they sought? The end product was that now more than before the word of God was sent out to the surrounding areas. Men and women taught whomever they could gain in audience. They were now both strident and zealous even more than they had been previously. God’s will was done. The truth would have its day and the light of the gospel of Christ began to shine into many dark and foreign places.

Is the truth of God and his word something that you will not have into your life? Are there parts of God’s word that simply do not appeal to you and that you therefore will not adhere to, will not listen to, or simply will not follow? Then you are no different than were those members of that Sanhedrin council who chucked those rocks on that day. You may not have murderous intent in you or something in your hand, but when you reject God or any portion of his will, he will treat it exactly the same as if you did.

So you see, there is so much to learn from the example of Stephen. There is much that might aid us in understanding how deeply we are to root our faith within ourselves, how seriously and totally we are to “put on Christ.” In looking in four parts at this life and the example set, we only barely scratched the surface of the lessons on following after the example of Christ in both life and if required, in death – just exactly as Stephen did.

We know nothing today of this type of persecution and sorrow. Here in the United States we have been born into, or have come to, a land where yet that we can worship God in spirit and in truth without fearing if the stones of persecution and murderous intent will be cut loose upon us. We should all pray that it will long remain so.

I beg you to seek first the Kingdom of Heaven, to believe in Christ, to put on his holy name and to be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins, to study to show yourself approved of God, that you to may have the peace and demeanor of Stephen should the day come that you need stand and announce to men that there is but one God and His Christ, and that no other will do, and that those that “will not hear him will be cut off from among the people.”