Thru the Bible -- Acts of the Apostles

Devotional

 When the Church Was Young


The early days of the church was a unique season, full of wonderful stories of how God was growing His church. They had tremendous power because they relied on the Holy Spirit. 


The church now numbered about 25,000 saints. For a while, they successfully lived in a form of communal living but realized they needed hands-on organization to take care of their own. So, the church leaders appointed seven men to a new ministry role of deacon to handle the church’s logistics. Deacons needed to be above reproach and filled with the Holy Spirit. They also needed wisdom to look at things from a spiritual point of view.


Stephen was a great example of this kind of man. Wise, with true conviction, Stephen also was full of faith—both saving faith and serving faith. He also did many great wonders and miracles. He obviously had been given the sign gifts, proving he acted with God’s authority. 


All the while, the Word of God went out and many people responded in faith, including many priests who once served in the temple. All of this wonderful upheaval stirred trouble with the Sadducees. They hated what was happening in the church. So, they stirred up trouble. 


Because Stephen was a strong witness to the gospel, he caught their attention. At first, they twisted his words and tried to argue him down. But they were no match for Stephen’s wisdom and spirit. Finally, they paid witnesses to lie and frame Stephen before the Sanhedrin. 


While Stephen stood in court, everyone could see something marvelous in his face—he looked like an angel. When he was given a chance to defend himself, he made no attempt to clear himself. Instead, he rehearsed Israel’s history and gave a Spirit-filled description of how they resisted and rebelled against God. With unselfish courage, Stephen then charged the council with betraying and murdering Jesus. That, of course, stirred up their bitter hatred of everything related to Jesus. 


When the Sadducees heard Stephen say these things, they went crazy mad. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, hardly noticed—he only had eyes for God. “Oh! I see heaven wide open and the Son of Man standing at God’s side!” God opened heaven for Stephen to see Jesus standing, ready to receive His first martyr.


The crowd rushed Stephen and began to stone him. They gave their coats to Saul, their young protégé, to hold. Two young men—Stephen and Saul of Tarsus—both remarkable, are together here for the only time. They stand on the opposite sides of the Cross. God used them both to shape the course of the early church. 


Saul, the young Pharisee, thought he had everything. But when Stephen said he saw the heavens open, Saul didn’t see a thing; at the time, he thought it was foolish. But Saul/Paul never forgot what it was like to witness Stephen dying for the Lord. Stephen prepared Saul for that day in the near future when the Lord Jesus appeared to him on the Damascus road.


As they stoned Stephen, the young deacon called out to Jesus saying, “Receive my spirit!” and, “Lord, don’t hold this sin against them” (7:59-60). Does that remind you of anyone? 


Stephen goes into the presence of Jesus Christ, standing there to meet him. Stephen is the first martyr of the church, the first of millions to give up his life for the highest cause in history.


Next, the day Paul met Jesus.