Stephen was a deacon in the early Church and was, “full of grace and power“, who was “performing great wonders and signs among the people“, (Acts 6:8) But as he was ministering, members of the Jewish “Synagogue of the Freedmen” who opposed Stephen’s faith in Jesus as the Messiah, tried to publicly argue against Him. Frustrated because they were, “unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking” (Acts 6:10), the members hired false witnesses who charged Stephen with speaking blasphemous words against Moses and God. And as a result, Stephen was taken into custody and questioned before the council of the synagogue.
As Stephen stood before the Jewish leaders, he did something unexpected. Instead of providing a defense for himself, he gave a testimony filled with the history of Israel beginning with Abraham, and ending with the fulfillment of God’s promises through Jesus. He reminded the council that just like they were rejecting Stephen, Israel had a pattern of rejecting and persecuting the messengers and prophets of God. He spoke of Joseph, whose brothers betrayed him; Moses, whom their ancestors refused to obey; and Jesus, the “Righteous One” who, as Stephen charged, was betrayed and murdered by the council themselves. He finished by insulting the council, comparing them to uncircumcised Gentiles in their stubbornness to receive Christ as their Messiah.
The council not only rejected Stephens’s testimony, enraged they dragged him out into the courtyard and stoned him to death. I believe that in his heart, Stephen knew when he entered that temple his fate was already sealed. Yet he didn’t beg for his life. He didn’t plead his case. Instead he stood behind his testimony. For Stephen knew that the greatest calling we have as Christians is to give our testimony. To share with others how the Lord has worked in our lives, why we place our faith in Him and how they too can know Jesus as their Savior. 1 Peter 3:15 tells us we must always be ready to, “make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.”
Yet as Stephen shows, it’s not always easy being messengers of the Gospel. And I too have at times felt disheartened, discouraged, and rejected because of my faith in Christ and the lack of faith of others. But I find hope in the words of Jesus who says, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matt. 5:11-12)
The Bible tells us that Stephen was so full of faith, that as he testified all who looked upon him saw the glory of God. And he gave a testimony so powerful, it forever changed the life of a young man named Saul. I want to be like Stephen. I want to be that full of faith. And so even if I have times of feeling disheartened, discouraged, and rejected, I will keep spreading the Good News. I will keep working for God. And I will keep proclaiming Jesus as my Lord and Savior. For who knows, there may be a Saul in the crowd listening nearby.