And he inclined unto me, and heard my cry.
He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay,
And set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings.
And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even
praise unto our God:
Many shall see it, and fear,
And shall trust in the LORD.
When we seek the Lord, we might be surprised to learn that these were not failures, we were in God’s testing ground, but we didn’t have any understanding of what God was doing. That is why it is so critical that we know scripture. How can we stand on something that we don’t know? Some will tell you that if you are having troubles, you are under attack from the devil, but that is not always true. Even the attack on Paul the Apostle by a messenger of Satan was allowed or shall we say planned by a loving God to keep Paul leaning on Him and keeping his pride from surfacing (II Corinthians 12:7-10). One thing we need to accept is that everything that happens to us is either sent from God or allowed by God to come into our lives if we are disciples. If we are not walking with Him, are in rebellion, or have walked out of His covering, you are making choices apart from Him, but He is just waiting for the believer to reach out, call out, cry out or run into His arms, and come home. God will use this, too, to turn what the enemy meant for evil into good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)
Is that not what II Corinthians 1:3-5 is all about? Our sufferings (seeming failures) will be used by the Holy Spirit to comfort someone else who is going through what you had gone through in the past, but God gave you His strength to bear it (I Corinthians 10:13).
Today we are going to meet Stephen in the Book of Acts. In chapter 6 we find that contention is getting pretty high between the Hellenistic Jews and the Hebrews. The Greek Jews felt that their widows were being overlooked and that the Hebrews widows were being treated more favorably.
First, and foremost, the apostles did not start “blaming” people for not doing their jobs or setting out to find a scapegoat. I admonish Christians in both secular and ministry positions to take note of the biblical stance when problems arise. There was no guilt trip put on the workers. The leaders quickly realized that they had failed to provide a healthy structure and they were not able, nor called, to do everything in the ministry. (If we look back at Moses and the children of Israel, Moses’ father-in-law instructed him to set elders in positions of leadership because he was not able to carry the load.)
Scripture mentions the seven men who were chosen to “serve tables”, but Stephen is the one that scripture says was a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 6:5). In verse 8 we read, “And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people.” These words paint a picture of one who fell in love with Jesus and was truly a disciple; not because of great wonders and miracles, but because he was full of faith and power. That describes someone who truly believed in every act God performed in scripture and had the faith to believe that God was still moving in power and signs and wonders and was an open vessel for God’s use.
What we see next is a spirit of destruction that still is in full operation today and can destroy the body of Christ. Stephen not only knew the truth but lived in God’s truth and that will always bring opposition. Some tried arguing with Stephen, but God’s wisdom and the power of the Holy Spirit were so strong that they could not even produce an argument that had any truth in it. So they “paid people to commit perjury” to bring Stephen before the Sanhedrin. (verses 11-14)
Oh no! Did Stephen fail? Was he disappointed that he hadn’t won over those who opposed him? This wasn’t the way it should be! Wait... Stephen knew he hadn’t failed, and he wasn’t disappointed, look at verse 15, “And all that sat in the council, looking stedfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel.” I looked up “angel” to make sure I didn’t misinterpret this passage and it stated, a messenger, one who is sent to announce or proclaim! Stephen was called to this place, at this particular time, to be God’s messenger!
Chapter 7, verses 1-53 is a testimony of the witness of God’s faithful who had gone before Stephen. He gave the Sanhedrin (who, by the way, knew the scriptures by memory) a history lesson of their forefathers. He testified of their obedience and their disobedience. He testified quoting God. He didn’t embellish the story, the Holy Spirit spoke concisely and directly to the accuracy of the scriptures, right up to the present moment. Let’s read verses 51-53 together, “You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did. Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One whose betrayers and murderers you have not become; you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it.”
While we would hope that these religious leaders and perjurers would be convicted by the truth, that isn’t what happened. Verse 54 tells us that they were, indeed, cut to the quick, they were convicted but there was no repentance, and they began gnashing their teeth at him. Scripture tells us that those in the Lake of Fire will be gnashing their teeth, it brings a picture of horror and hate. This was the response Stephen received to the testimony of God! But was he discouraged? Did he fail? No, let’s see what verse 55 reveals. “But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,” GOD WAS PLEASED WITH HIS SERVANT!!! Stephen knew the secret...the secret is obedience to Christ and allowing the outcome to be in Christ’s hands. We have no control over others.
Stephen continued in his witness and told them what he was seeing in heaven, “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” (verse 56) If anything should have gotten their attention, this was it! But instead they covered their ears and were crying out with loud screams and grabbed him and drug him out of the city and stoned him! (verses 57-58)
Dear one, God hasn’t called you to produce signs and wonders and to win others to Him. No, He has called you to be His son or daughter. He has adopted you as His. He wants a relationship with you, an intimate love relationship. Then, you, as His heir, will reflect Him and you become a vessel for the Holy Spirit. You be obedient to the call on your life, and the Holy Spirit will flow through you. The outcome is not in your hands. Remember, the Lord’s word will not come back void but will produce the intended outcome. (Isaiah 55:11)
I would like to close today with a couple scripture passages to give you encouragement and hope. I believe these were two of the foundations on which Stephen’s faith stood firm.
Isaiah 26:3-4, “The steadfast of mind Thou wilt keep in perfect peace, because he trusts in Thee. Trust in the Lord forever, for in god the Lord, we have an everlasting Rock.”
Isaiah 43:1-2, “...Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you.”
Thank You, Abba, for truth. You alone are our Rock. Forgive us for not looking unto You when we find ourselves in the miry clay. We desire to follow You and learn to walk in the life giving power of the Holy Spirit which was given to us upon salvation. Thank You, Jesus, for Your shed blood which cleansed us from all sin and made us new creations in You. We desire to be like You and walk in the power and authority of the Holy Spirit. Help us, Lord, understand that our life is not our own and this life on earth is a training ground for our eternal home! We bow our knees and worship You. You are great and greatly to be praised. We adore You and hunger and thirst for Your righteousness. We love You! Amen.