Trial | The first martyr was a deacon – not a disciple, missionary or preacher. Stephen was a man “full of faith and of the Holy Spirit”  and “full of grace and power” . Yet, his opponents hated him. When they took him to trial for opposing God , he defended himself with a story – a long history of Israel’s repeated rejection of the Lord and His prophets. Then he concluded: “You stiff-necked people … you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One” . In other words, in embracing Jesus as Lord, he wasn’t the one rejecting God; they were!
Grace | For Stephen, that speech led to execution. For us, it’s an encouragement and a warning. It’s an encouragement because it shows how patient God is. He won’t turn away because we’ve sinned once or twice … or even seventy times seven times . If we repent, He’s eager to forgive. Yet, his speech is also a warning because it shows that God disciplines the unrepentant. It may seem harsh to talk about His punishment, but it’s actually loving and gracious. It awakens our hearts to the truth that we must worship Jesus as Lord. In fact, one man heard Stephen’s speech of warning and never forgot it – Paul. Just days after he approved of Stephen’s execution, Paul received the outpouring of God’s grace when Jesus appeared to him. And he never “got over” it. He never stopped preaching about God’s great and long-suffering mercy to him – the chief of sinners .
Prayer | Lord, Stephen’s words of encouragement and warning are filled with grace. Today, if we will repent, you are eager to pursue us – no matter how sinful we may be or how undeserving we may feel. As David – another great sinner – sang, “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love … as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” . Amen.