On Sunday we will read of the stoning of Stephen, celebrated as the first martyr of the Christian Church. (Click here to read it.) Stephen was one of the seven deacons chosen by the disciples to oversee the distribution of food to the widows and orphans, in order to allow the apostles to devote themselves to “prayer and to serving the word.” (Acts 6:4)
Stephen is singled out among the deacons as “a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit” and “full of grace and power.” (Acts 6:5, 8) Stephen comes into conflict with the leaders of the local synagogue and is accused of blasphemy, hauled before the Sanhedrin council and stoned to death for his actions and his words in service of Jesus. His rather lengthy sermon to the council is wonderfully bold, but was unlikely to win him any supporters from among their ranks! (Click here to read it from Acts 7.)
There are many wonderful elements of this story: Stephen’s exemplary life, his fearless preaching, his humility in death, his offering forgiveness to his accusers and executioners (following the example of Jesus), and more. But I want to notice for just a moment what we might call “unintended consequences.”
Those who sought Stephen’s life sought to wipe out these followers of Jesus before they could even get going. But Acts tells us that “all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria.” (Acts 8:1) What was intended by some to stamp out the Christian movement was used by God to spread it far and wide, demonstrating that The followers of Jesus would never be silenced!
We may not always understand the plans of God, but we can be confident that whatever obstacles we face in our Christian service can be used by God to spread His work. This is not, by the way, a promise regarding personal difficulties we may face in life, but that the work of God through the church will not be crushed or silenced!
How sad that we so often nullify this promise by being fearful of offending or putting someone off. I don’t think Stephen worried about that, and, while we are to be wise as serpents and gentle as doves, I think we should worry a lot less than we do!
Take the example of Stephen and seize whatever opportunity God may give you to witness to His great work. Only God knows what may come from it!
This column appeared in the May 10, 2020 edition of St. John’s eNews. Click here for the complete issue.
If you are reading this at a different time, you may click here for the current eNews.