The Ripple Effect

Hello, my friends!

Have you ever felt like you were standing alone, defending your faith against a world that just doesn't understand? Well, today I want to share with you the incredible story of a man named Stephen who found himself in that exact situation. His tale is a powerful reminder of how God can use us in unexpected ways, even when everything seems to be falling apart around us.

Stephen was described in the book of Acts as a man full of faith, wisdom, and the Holy Spirit. He was chosen to be one of the first deacons in the early church, helping to care for widows and those in need. But Stephen didn't just stick to practical duties – he took every opportunity to boldly share the good news of Jesus wherever he went. And that's when things started to get interesting!

You see, not everyone was thrilled with Stephen's message. Some religious leaders started arguing with him, trying to trip him up and discredit what he was saying about Jesus. But here's the amazing part – they couldn't match his wisdom or the Spirit by which he spoke. It reminds me of Jesus' promise in Luke 21:15, “For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.” Isn't that incredible? When we step out in faith, God equips us with exactly what we need!

But Stephen's opponents weren't about to give up easily. They brought false charges against him, accusing him of speaking against the temple and the law of Moses. It's funny how people can twist the truth when they feel threatened, isn't it? They claimed Stephen said Jesus would destroy the temple and change the customs Moses had given them.

Now, if I were Stephen, I might have been tempted to backpedal or soften my message. After all, who wants to face angry religious leaders? But not Stephen! He used this opportunity to give one of the most powerful sermons recorded in the Bible. He took his accusers on a journey through Israel's history, showing how God had always been working outside the confines of a physical temple or a specific location.

Stephen started with Abraham, reminding them how God called him in a far-off land, long before there was a temple or even a promised land. He said in Acts 7:2, “The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Harran.” Stephen's point? God's presence isn't limited to one place or building.

Then he moved on to Joseph, rejected by his brothers but used mightily by God in Egypt. Stephen emphasised how God was with Joseph in a foreign land, far from the future site of the temple. He recounted in Acts 7:9-10, “Because the patriarchs were jealous of Joseph, they sold him as a slave into Egypt. But God was with him and rescued him from all his troubles.”

Stephen then turned to Moses, showing how he was initially rejected as a deliverer but later became the one through whom God gave the law. He pointed out how God appeared to Moses in the wilderness, saying in Acts 7:33, “Then the Lord said to him, 'Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.'” Stephen's message was clear: wherever God is, that place is holy. It's not about a building or a specific location.

But Stephen didn't stop there. He boldly declared in Acts 7:51-52, “You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him.”

Wow! Talk about speaking truth to power! Stephen's words cut to the heart of the matter, exposing the religious leaders' resistance to God's work throughout history. He wasn't trying to win a popularity contest – he was fighting for the truth of the gospel, even if it cost him everything.

As you can imagine, this didn't go over well with the council. They were furious! But even in the face of their anger, God gave Stephen an incredible vision. He looked up and saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God! Can you imagine the comfort and strength that must have given him in that moment? Stephen declared in Acts 7:56, “Look, I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

Sadly, Stephen's accusers couldn't handle the truth. In their rage, they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. But even in his final moments, Stephen followed the example of Jesus. He prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,” and “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:59-60). What an incredible testimony of faith and forgiveness!

You might be wondering, “What's the point of all this? Stephen's life was cut short – how is that a victory?” But here's the beautiful thing about God's economy – nothing is wasted. Stephen's bold witness and martyrdom became a catalyst for the spread of the gospel. Acts 8:1 tells us that after Stephen's death, “a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.”

At first glance, this scattering might seem like a defeat. But look at what happened next: “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went” (Acts 8:4). The very thing intended to crush the church ended up spreading it far and wide! It's like trying to stamp out a dandelion – you end up spreading the seeds and causing more to grow!

So, my friends, what can we learn from Stephen's story? There are several powerful lessons we can take away:

First, when we stand firm in our faith, God will give us the wisdom and words we need. We don't have to be afraid of opposition or difficult questions. Just like Stephen, we can trust that the Holy Spirit will guide us and give us the right words to say at the right time.

Second, our lives can have an impact far beyond what we can see or imagine. Stephen probably had no idea how his faithfulness would spark a movement that would reach the ends of the earth. We might not see the full impact of our witness in this lifetime, but God is always at work, using our faithfulness in ways we can't even imagine.

Third, let's remember that our ultimate allegiance is to Jesus, not to human traditions or institutions. Like Stephen, we're called to point people to the living God who can't be confined to a building or a set of rules. Our lives are meant to be living temples, showcasing God's love and grace to a world in need.

Fourth, Stephen's story reminds us of the power of forgiveness. Even in his final moments, facing a brutal death, Stephen chose to forgive his persecutors. This echoes Jesus' own words on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). When we choose forgiveness, even in the face of injustice, we demonstrate the transformative power of the gospel.

Fifth, we see in Stephen's life the importance of knowing and understanding Scripture. His defence before the council was rooted in a deep knowledge of Israel's history and God's word. This reminds us of the value of studying and internalising Scripture, so we're ready to give an answer for the hope we have (1 Peter 3:15).

Lastly, Stephen's story challenges us to consider what we're willing to sacrifice for the sake of the gospel. While most of us may not face martyrdom, we're all called to lay down our lives in service to Christ. This might mean sacrificing our time, our resources, or our comfort for the sake of sharing God's love with others.

So, the next time you feel alone in your faith or wonder if your witness is making a difference, remember Stephen. Stand firm in the truth, trust in God's bigger plan, and know that your faithfulness can have ripple effects you may never see this side of heaven. After all, as Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 15:58, “Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.”

Be blessed today, my brothers and sisters. May we all have the courage to be like Stephen – bold in our faith, full of the Holy Spirit, and always pointing others to Jesus. Who knows? Your witness today might be the seed that grows into a bountiful harvest for God's kingdom!