First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Sermon Notes (Sunday, June 20, 2021)
Rev. Dr. Mouris A. Yousef, Pastor
“Lessons from the Life of Stephen!”
The book of Acts gives us a historical and detailed account of the birth and expansion of the early Church. Acts not only speaks of the small and humble beginnings of the movement of Jesus of Nazareth, but it also speaks about the victory of the Christian faith in transforming an entire culture. According to the book of Acts, the Church began in Jerusalem with a few believers, yet less than thirty years after the resurrection of the Lord, Christianity reached Rome, the most important city in the ancient world, with thousands of people who had already been converted to the Christian faith.
When we approach the book of Acts from that particular perspective, we can say that through his narrative in Acts, Luke invites us today to be a people of hope; simply because God can give shape and form to the shapeless and the formless. God can bring out great things out of nothing. That’s why I believe that Acts has so much to say to the 21st century American Church and I am glad that we have the chance to scan some of the great lessons this summer.
Our journey in Acts this morning takes us to chapter 6. In Acts 6, we are introduced to the story of a faithful man of God named Stephen. I think it’s a great story for Father’s Day. So what I would like to do this morning is to briefly introduce Stephen and them share a couple short lessons from his life.
Who Was Stephen?
We don’t know much about the personal life of Stephen—his parents, his siblings, or whether he had a wife or children; however, what is known about him is what is truly important.
Acts chapter 6 tells us that Stephen was one of the seven deacons chosen to be responsible over the distribution of food to widows in the early church after a dispute arose and the apostles recognized they needed help. In Acts 6:8, Luke tells us that “Stephen was full of God’s grace and power, and he performed great wonders and signs among the people.”
Opposition arose, but the people who argued with Stephen were no match for the wisdom given him by the Holy Spirit. So, they decided to falsely accuse Stephen, labeling him a blasphemer and having him arrested in Acts 6:11-14. Stephen condemned to death in 35 AD and became the first Christian martyr, but right before the angry mob stoned him, Stephen gave a long testimony in Acts 7, which is perhaps the most detailed and concise history of Israel and their relationship to God of any in Scripture. So as we look at Stephen’s life this morning, I want to underscore two important lessons for our lives today.
First: God Does His Greatest Work through Ordinary People
The first lesson we get to remember as we reflect on Stephen’s life is that God does His greatest work through ordinary people. This theme comes up again and again and again in the book of Acts. It’s not the famous apostles who primarily spread the gospel to the ends of the earth. It’s the average, everyday Christians. We’ve got to remember this, because it’s easy to look at Acts and think, “Yes they did some amazing things, but they were apostles!” Actually, the heroes in Acts are the ordinary people. It’s because of common guys like Stephen—much more than through the apostles—that the early church grew. Let me give you one example.
One of the people who watched Stephen being stoned to death was a young man named Saul of Tarsus. Listen to what the book of Acts says in Acts 7:58, “They dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.” Acts 8:1 also states, “And Saul approved of their killing him.” I truly believe that the death of Stephen was a turning point for Saul. It left a mark on Paul’s life. I also believe that the apostle Paul owes much of his exposure to the gospel of Jesus Christ to the sermon that Stephen preached in Acts 7.
Stephen was an ordinary man with an extremely short ministry. He doesn’t seem to have had a very long career. In fact, this is the only sermon that we have recorded that he ever preached, yet, not only he left a mark on Saul’s life, but his life was the catalyst that caused the church to move in the next step of the Great Commission. Acts 8:2 states, “Those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.” God does His greatest work through ordinary people.
Second: Following Jesus Means Giving our Everything to Him
Stephen becomes the first martyr in the New Testament. You may be interested to know that the word “martyr” and the word “witness” come from the same Greek root. In Acts 1:8 Jesus said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses (my “martyrs”) in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When we become true witnesses, we should be ready to be martyrs.
Sadly, in our modern culture, we seek an easy religion. We want some sort of a cheap grace. We want a faith that costs us nothing. We don’t mind having Christ in our lives, but we are not willing to let Christ be the captain of our ship. We don’t mind having Christ in our lives if Christ doesn’t interrupt us. A lot of people don’t mind a god who demands an hour a week, but are we ready for a God and faith that asks us to surrender all? Stephen’s life reminds us that following Jesus means giving our everything to God.
Friends, Stephen’s life challenges us in such a profound way today. Stephen’s life—and even more so his death—should be an example of how every believer should strive to live: committed to the Lord even in the face of death; faithful to live and to proclaim the gospel boldly. Are we ready and willing to be opposed, persecuted, and ostracized by our own community? May we be such people who even when rejected and even when persecuted rise above it. And may Christ be seen through us as we give glory to Him in life and in death. In the Name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!
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