We have heard it said, “I will love the Lord, even unto death”; Peter said something similar to that; even as the Lord told him “You will deny Me three times”.
My reading this morning was in Acts 6 through chapter 15. These events give us some details of the work of the Holy Spirit at work in people’s lives. Even the life of a young Pharisee who was intent on killing those Christians has his life dramatically changed when he meets Jesus Christ as he is on his way to Damascus to capture, chain and return to Jerusalem with them for trial and death (Acts 9).
Stephen was one of the men who were chosen in chapter six by the church to be a servant, feeding the Greek widows among them. Stephen was also an evangelist proclaiming the word of God, the gospel of Jesus Christ and showed his love for the Lord even unto life.
Hear what Luke writes in his accounts of the work of the Spirit of God –
“And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people. Then there arose certain of the synagogue, which is called the synagogue of the Libertines, and Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and of them of Cilicia and of Asia, disputing with Stephen. And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake. Then they suborned men, which said, ‘We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses, and against God.’ And they stirred up the people, and the elders, and the scribes, and came upon him, and caught him, and brought him to the council, and set up false witnesses, which said, ‘This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words against this holy place, and the law: for we have heard him say, that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered us.’ And all that sat in the council, looking stedfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel.” Acts 6:8-15 (KJV)
Stephen was full of faith and power, by the Holy Spirit. He stood strong for the gospel even though it could mean the loss of life for him. His love for Jesus Christ and the gospel was stronger than his love for this world, and the life he now had. He stands in chapter seven with conviction and proclaims the word of God from the Old Testament; and they fall under conviction.
Do we know what “conviction” is today? The conviction I speak of is where you feel some guilt for your sin; and shame for your behavior; there is repentance; and you are drawn to see that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the living God; and that through Him alone there is forgiveness, peace and eternal life. Sometimes this conviction, with those who hate God, will cause them to do cruel, evil and vile things; in rebellion against God and His children. Just as it happened with Stephen.
Luke records the sermon Stephen preached, and records these final words,
“Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers: who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it.” Acts 7:51-53
This was the final straw for this rebellious crowd. They were “cut to the heart” then they ran upon him, and Stephen saw “Jesus standing on the right hand of God” (v. 56). In the home going of Stephen we can see traits of the Lord Jesus in him. As he is being stoned by the mob he says, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (v. 59). Then as he breathes his final breath on earth Stephen cries out with a loud voice, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge” (v. 60).
There is another who loved not their life unto death, and that was that young Pharisee; who has now become a Christian, preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. His name was Saul and he was from Tarsus. His name became Paul and he has written 14 of the New Testament Epistles.
In a place called Lycaonia Paul and Barnabas were believed to be gods, because they had healed a crippled man, but Paul and Barnabas rejected the worship and tried to convince them they were not gods, but only men. When some Jews came from Antioch they stoned Paul, dragged him out of the city, believing him to be dead;
“And there came thither certain Jews from Antioch and Iconium, who persuaded the people, and, having stoned Paul, drew him out of the city, supposing he had been dead. Howbeit, as the disciples stood round about him, he rose up, and came into the city: and the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe.” Acts 14:19-20
The apostle Paul did not quit; nor did he soften the gospel message. He got up from where they left him, went back into the city, shook the dust off his feet (Matthew 10:14; Mark 6:11; Luke 9:5), and went on preaching the gospel; loving the Lord unto life.
Let the Christians of our day Love the Lord unto Life. Eternal life.
-Tim A. Blankenship