Friday, June 23, 2017

The Spirit of Grace Under Fire

Note from Jesus

Dear Believer,

Today I want to give you a glimpse of My servant, Stephen. In the verses below, you will see how he followed My example when faced with death:

  • He rested his trust in life after death in My hands; he said: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
  • As he died, he forgave those who murdered him and asked Me to forgive them: “Lord, do not hold this evil against them.”

As Stephen died, he was allowed to see Me in all My heavenly glory and know that his faith in Me was worth the high cost he was paying. He said:

Look, I see the heavens opening! I see the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.

Stephen had been one of those selected to help the neglected Grecian widows receive their needed food — neglecting these Grecian widows was a problem the early church addressed, and I visited with you about that problem yesterday. He was selected because he was “full of the Holy Spirit and full of wisdom” (Acts 6:3-5).

Notice in the verses below that the power and influence of the Spirit on Stephen and through him continued to grow as he lived for Me and ministered in My name:

  • The Holy Spirit gave Stephen such wisdom in responding to their arguments that they were humiliated.
  • But Stephen was filled with the Holy Spirit. Gazing upward into heaven, he saw something they couldn’t see: the glory of God, and Jesus standing at His right hand.

The Holy Spirit not only empowered Stephen but also brought him words to say in the face of those who opposed My message and brought him personal comfort as he faced his death.

Following My example as I went to the cross, Stephen faced death with courage and confidence. He ministered by the power of the Holy Spirit. Just as the Holy Spirit worked through Stephen in his life, the Spirit also worked through him in his death. The Spirit used Stephen’s death to take the flame of faith and spread its sparks throughout the region as My disciples were driven from Jerusalem. My death and resurrection became the foundation for the wonderful things that happened on Pentecost for the thousands of Jewish people who were saved. The Holy Spirit similarly used Stephen’s death as the initial impetus to spread My salvation outside of Jerusalem and eventually throughout the Roman Empire to non-Jews. What the evil one intended for harm, the Holy Spirit turned around and used for good. What the devil tried to use to snuff out the flame of faith, the Spirit used to spread that flame.

Verses to Live

Stephen’s death was brutal and jarring. Just as My disciples were gaining momentum and increasing in number, Stephen was martyred. So as you read this account of his death, remember how the Spirit used this tragedy to begin the spread of the gospel to all nations.

Saul, who was present when Stephen was martyred, later was called Paul and was the great evangelist, especially to non-Jews. The early believers were scattered, taking My story all around the surrounding regions to both Jews and non-Jews. The sparks of grace scattered after the death of Stephen become the spreading flame of grace to the Gentile world.

Stephen continually overflowed with extraordinary grace and power, and he was able to perform a number of miraculous signs and wonders in public view. But eventually a group arose to oppose Stephen and the message to which his signs and wonders pointed. (These men were from a group called the Free Synagogue and included Cyrenians, Alexandrians, Cilicians, and Asians.) The Holy Spirit gave Stephen such wisdom in responding to their arguments that they were humiliated; in retaliation, they spread a vicious rumor: “We heard Stephen speak blasphemies against Moses and God.”

Their rumor prompted an uprising that included common people, religious officials, and scholars. They surprised Stephen, grabbed him, and hauled him before the council. They convinced some witnesses to give false testimony.

False Witnesses:

This fellow constantly degrades the holy temple and mocks our holy law. With our own ears, we’ve heard him say this Jesus fellow, this Nazarene he’s always talking about, will actually destroy the holy temple and will try to change the sacred customs we received from Moses.

The entire council turned its gaze on Stephen to see how he would respond. They were shocked to see his face radiant with peace — as if he were a heavenly messenger.

(Acts 6:8-15)

Stephen:

You stubborn, stiff-necked people! Sure, you are physically Jews, but you are no different from outsiders in your hearts and ears! You are just like your ancestors, constantly fighting against the Holy Spirit. Didn’t your ancestors persecute the prophets? First, they killed those prophets who predicted the coming of the Just One; and now, you have betrayed and murdered the Just One Himself! Yes, you received the law as given by heavenly messengers, but you haven’t kept the law which you received.

Upon hearing this, his audience could contain themselves no longer. They boiled in fury at Stephen; they clenched their jaws and ground their teeth. But Stephen was filled with the Holy Spirit. Gazing upward into heaven, he saw something they couldn’t see: the glory of God, and Jesus standing at His right hand.

Stephen:

Look, I see the heavens opening! I see the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!

At this, they covered their ears and started shouting. The whole crowd rushed at Stephen, converged on him, dragged him out of the city, and stoned him.

They laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul, while they were pelting Stephen with rocks.

Stephen (as rocks fell upon him):

Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.

Then he knelt in prayer, shouting at the top of his lungs,

Stephen:

Lord, do not hold this evil against them.

Those were his final words; then he fell asleep in death.

Some devout men buried Stephen and mourned his passing with loud cries of grief. But Saul, this young man who seemed to be supervising the whole violent event, was pleased by Stephen’s death. That very day, the whole church in Jerusalem began experiencing severe persecution. All of the followers of Jesus — except for the emissaries themselves — fled to the countryside of Judea and Samaria. Young Saul went on a rampage — hunting the church, house after house, dragging both men and women to prison.

(Acts 7:51-60; Acts 8:1-3)

Response in Prayer

O Father, thank You for leaving Stephen’s story for my encouragement. I am thinking today of the thousands of fellow believers who are martyred each year. Please use this ultimate evidence of their faith as shown through their deaths to spread Your grace to those who do not yet know the story of Jesus. I am also thinking today of the untold thousands upon thousands who have been martyred since the beginning of the church. I pray that I can be as courageous and faithful. I pray that the Holy Spirit will use me to share Jesus’ story with others. Thank You for this great legacy of sacrificial faith and the assurance that, as an early church leader said, “[T]he blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.” To Jesus’ glory and in Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.


The quote in the prayer is from Tertullian, found in Wikipedia, which explains:

The 2nd-century church father Tertullian wrote that “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church,” implying that the martyrs’ willing sacrifice of their lives leads to the conversion of others.

‘A Year with Jesus’ is written by Phil Ware.

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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from The Voice™. © 2008 by Ecclesia Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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From: “A Year with Jesus”
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Category: Passion for Praise

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