Heroes of the Faith: Stephen
“Behold, I see the heavens opened up . . .”
What does mightily serving the Lord and waiting tables have in common? One would think, “Not much.” Actually, there is a compelling corresponding connection, and one individual links these seemingly disparate functions together in decisive fashion. The flash from Stephen’s evanescent snapshot in the New Testament seemingly came and went, but left a penetrating portrait for the ages.
History: Stephen’s “Everyday” Life (Acts 6:1-7)
The Biblical record provides little of Stephen’s life, but what Luke records is worthy of emulation. As the early Church was exploding and expanding, concerns arose that the Hellenistic (“Greek-speaking”) Jewish women were being neglected of domestic services. The Twelve determined to delegate deacons, or table waiters, to assume these responsibilities, and not obstruct the Apostles’ tasks of prayer and preaching. They recruited seven men, and heading the list (6:5) was Stephen. These men were to be “. . . of good reputation, full of the Spirit, and of wisdom” (6:3). Luke chronicles that table waiting was vastly beyond serving food and drink!
Heritage: Stephen’s Earthly Labors (Acts 6:8-7:53)
Stephen seems to be unique among his fellow deacons, recognized foremost as “full of grace and power” and “performing great wonders and signs” (6:8). To Stephen (“crown”), the Gospel was a non-negotiable absolute for his people; and when apprehended by the religious elite, he declared a no-holds-barred message, taking no prisoners in the process! Referring to his captors as “stiff-necked,” “uncircumcised,” and “betrayers and murders,” this young man was unashamed of the Gospel. His firebrand message was incisive and intractable; it also provoked his apprehenders to instigate mob actions and a spontaneous death sentence--by stoning!
Horizons: Stephen’s Enduring Legacy (Acts 7:54-8:1)
As the hardened propellants were pillaging his body and quashing his life, Stephen did not hurl invective horizontally. They may have destroyed his body, but not his spirit! Instead, he looked vertically, and “saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God” (7:55). Having the “face of an angel” (6:15), Stephen lost his earthly life that day, but began his heavenly reward--his “crown”. Among the assailants was “a young man named Saul” (7:58), who was “in hearty agreement” with the punishment. Saul’s own day of reckoning would come shortly thereafter (read Acts 9), and the work begun by Stephen would be forged further by Paul. For such a time as this, Stephen was the catalyst for transitioning the Church from the native Jerusalem moorings to Her worldwide new-birth mission. As the first “witness” (from the Greek, “martus,” read=martyr), Stephen’s legacy propelled the household of faith to “upset the world” (17:6) for the cause of Christ. Far more than merely waiting tables, Stephen catapulted Christ’s body into a crusade of eternal ramification. The work of Gospelling the world today is encountering all that the world, the flesh, and the devil can leverage and litigate. One lesson from Stephen’s courageous testimony is the power of the new birth to withstand attacks from all directions. Can we stand firm, like Stephen, and behold the opened heavens?
Recommended Reading For Further Focus:
Metzger, Tell the Truth: The Whole Gospel to the Whole Person by Whole People (IVP, 2002).
Packer, J. I. Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (IVP, 2008).