Here’s the sermon notes for my sermon on Acts 7:53-8:3, preached at Cross of Christ Fellowship in Naperville. Audio here.
Stephen’s Death (Acts 7:54-8:3)
INTRO: Sometimes faithfully following Jesus will result in dying a bloody, painful death
-11 of 12 apostles, martyrs through the ages,
-Jim Elliott and friends in South America, today in N Korea/Nigeria
-V.O.M. : thousands per yearMI: Sometimes faithfully following Jesus will result in dying a bloody, painful death, but even that cannot stop God’s purposes from coming to pass.
RECAP: Book of Acts: tells us about the days of the Early Church after Jesus ascended to heaven
-Believers are filled with the HS and given a mission: be witnesses of Jesus
-Believers preach the gospel, those called by God respond in faith, and kingdom of God grows on Earth
-Luke tells us about an important event in the Early Church: the ministry and death of Stephen.
-Stephen recap: gospel ministry; opposition; false witnesses; speech
-Today is immediate aftermath of his speech: his death.
*TODAY’S PASSAGE: Death of Stephen, the scattering of church, and he introduces Saul.
Sometimes faithfully following Jesus will result in dying a bloody, painful death, but even that cannot stop God’s purposes from coming to pass.
1 Sometimes Faithfully Following Jesus Will Result in Dying a Bloody, Painful Death (7:54-60)
Not all Christians—or even most Christians—will be called to die for their faith, but some are. Some do. Maybe you.
-It was so for Stephen—the first martyr of the Christian church.
CONTEXT: Speech explaining story of Israel and exposing the sin of his hearers (rejected and killed Jesus)
-Crowd is Enraged (54) Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him.
-They were VERY angry about Stephen’s speech: grinding teeth is physical expression of rage.
-Stephen given reassurance from God (55-56) -In his final moments, God reassures Stephen—and us that Stephen was following God—by a revelation of Himself.
-“full of the Holy Spirit”: Stephen was doing and speaking what was right.
-Sometimes a Spirit-filled ministry will lead you in suffering and death!
-Vision of God’s glory and Jesus (55b)
-NOTE: TRINITY! (HS, Father [glory], Son)
-Stephen’s final witness (read 56): Crowd hears of vision (surely the part about Son of Man made them angry)
-Stephen Stoned (57-58)
-Crowd had enough, and in a frenzied mob rushed at him (57)
-Act of killing through STONING (58a)
-Brutal, painful way to die (Bruce Commentary: push into hole, stone dropped, and more stones thrown)
-Introduction to Saul (58b)
-This is the same person as apostle Paul, and here is first mentioned!
-‘laid garments at his feet’=present, approving (explicitly stated in 8:1a “approved of his execution”)
-At this point Saul is a fierce opponent of Christianity, not believing in Jesus and a persecutor of church.
-Stephen’s FINAL WORDS (59-60)
-Stephen is an example and encouragement to us: he died well—imitating and honoring Jesus.
-Trusted Jesus in his death (59) [Shows deity of Jesus, trusting one’s soul to him]
-Like Jesus’ words: Luke 23:46
-Extending mercy and forgiveness to his enemies (60)
-Like Jesus: Luke 23:34
APPLICATION: Stephen ministers to us
–Shows us the preciousness of Christ: even more precious than life
–Following Christ is better than a safe, secure, suburban life
-Jesus died for our sins, if we trust in him we will be forgiven and be reconciled to God
-Saved to know God, which is better than life itself!
-Sobers us: some Christians will die a bloody, violent death.
-All Christians will die daily to sin, self-love, and temptation.
2 Sometimes faithfully following Jesus will result in dying a bloody, painful death, but even that cannot stop God’s purposes from coming to pass (8:1-2)
Nothing can actually thwart or stop God’s plan from coming about: even Christians dying blood, painful deaths.
-Acts tells us that God is bringing about the expansion & establishment of his kingdom of Earth
-The death of His saints will not stop God from bringing this about His purposes.
-Persecution Arises Against the Church (8:1b) And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem
-There are times and places in history when this happens
-Here is a recorded example for us.
-Result of the Persecution: Scattering (8:1c-2)
-The church scattered! and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles
OBSERVE: God’s good purpose—the establishment and expansion of the kingdom of God on Earth—was NOT thwarted by the death of Stephen and increased persecution, but brought about!
-Remember Acts 1:8
-It is good they scattered, as they “preached the word” in these other places (Acts 8:4)
-John Stott notes: 1949 Communists took over in China, and 637 missionaries had to leave
-Looked like disaster, but they redeployed in South East Asia and Japan
-AND, local Chinese Christians stepped up to lead!
-NOTHING can thwart God’s good plans, not even death of his people.
-God’s kingdom will continue to be established and advance on Earth, for God’s glory and his people’s good!
BACK TO TEXT…
-Apostles stay in Jerusalem and devout men bury Stephen and weep over him (8:1d-2)
-Weeping at death is the normal and right Christian response to death: joy and SADNESS.
-ONLY JESUS can Give true hope in the face of death
-Romans 5:6-8; 1 Cor 15:54-57
1 Since it is true that, sometimes faithfully following Jesus will result in dying a bloody, painful death but even that cannot stop God’s purposes from coming to pass…
Let’s remember: fierce opponents of the gospel by God’s grace may become a great preachers of the gospel
3 But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.
-Don’t write off anybody who is still alive: pray for them and share the gospel with them.
-Richard Dawkins’ right-hand man recently became a Christian!
-Our family, and friends, far from God can become Christians too.
-God’s grace is beautiful, power, and life-transforming.
-Let’s pray for our non-Christians friends and family to experience it. 2 Since it is true that, sometimes faithfully following Jesus will result in dying a bloody, painful death but even that cannot stop God’s purposes from coming to pass…
Let’s faithfully share Jesus with those around us
-Faith comes by hearing the gospel (Romans 10:17): Let’s share the gospel!
3 Since it is true that, sometimes faithfully following Jesus will result in dying a bloody, painful death but even that cannot stop God’s purposes from coming to pass…
Let’s trust God with what we cannot see or understand—what looks like failure maybe God doing something unexpectedly great. àStephen’s death looks like failure, but actually it is not!
-His faithfulness unto death, brought glory to God, and strengthens Christians who read of it.
-His death led to Scattering of the Church was a great thing
-God is doing things right now we don’t understand, but we can marvel at him (Rom 8:28)
-Paul in prison is another good example (Phil 1:12)
-Whatever happens with bake sale, other events, and year ahead.
4 Since it is true that, sometimes faithfully following Jesus will result in dying a bloody, painful death but even that cannot stop God’s purposes from coming to pass…
Let’s treasure God above safety and security: He is better than a safe, comfortable life.
-Jesus saves us to see this great truth, a truth always under assault.