Here is a brief talk for the morning service in our sermon series on Acts. But first, the PowerPoint:
I was on the bus home from secondary school one day. Several of us used to take the same bus each day.
Clifford spoke up, with a sneering voice. “I hear you had a spiritual experience last weekend,” he said to me.
“No,” I said, hurriedly.
But Clifford was right. I had been away on a youth weekend, and had felt much closer to God. Yet when Clifford raised the issue and I knew he was going to make cruel remarks about my faith, I denied it.
I wasn’t much like Stephen in our story today. He had had a spiritual experience. He had become a follower of Jesus and Luke has already told us he was filled with the Holy Spirit. Because of that spiritual experience, Stephen had started serving the poor and boldly telling people about Jesus.
The thing is, Stephen didn’t have to cope with someone who would mock him for his faith. He had to deal with a crowd of people who wanted to do far worse to him. They hated him, because all his talk about Jesus showed that what they believed about God was wrong. So they made up some lies to get him into trouble. The biggest trouble of his life.
Unlike me, Stephen was brave. He knew this mob could have him killed. The same group, more or less, had stitched up Jesus and had him crucified. He could surely expect no better. In fact, there are lots of parallels in Stephen’s story with the trials and execution of Jesus.
What would you do if you were on trial for your life? Think about that for a moment …
Here’s what Stephen did: ‘his face was like the face of an angel’ (verse 15). What does that mean?
‘The point of this expression is to convey the idea of a person reflecting some of God’s glory and character as a result of being close to God and in God’s very presence.’
Stephen was close to God, and that made him reflect more of what God is like to people. He clearly stayed close to God at this bad time. That helped him to be brave.
But he is facing something terrible, something most of us don’t face due to our faith. He could die because he loves Jesus! It’s wrong! It’s unfair! Why doesn’t God come down from heaven and beat up these evil people?
I think there is one other thing that helps Stephen to be brave. Just as there are so many parallels between what is happening to him and what happened to Jesus, he knows what put Jesus’ story right: God raised Jesus from the dead. Stephen knows that one day, God will raise him from the dead, too, and make all things right. That is the second thing that helps him to be brave. Even if things go wrong now, even if bad things happen to him, God won’t let evil have the last word. He will raise his people back to life. He will judge the world and put all things right.
So here are two things to help us be brave in standing up for our faith in Jesus when people don’t like that:
- Stay close to God. That means praying, reading the Bible, spending time with other Christians, worshipping, and living as much like Jesus as you can with the help of the Holy Spirit.
- Remember the resurrection. God put things right for Jesus, and he will do the same for us one day.