My Musings

Amazing Grit (The Story of Stephen)

Amazing Grit (The Story of Stephen)

Things were going so well.

The Holy Spirit was poured out on Pentecost and 3,000 believers repented and were baptized (Acts 2:41). There was “gladness and sincerity of heart” in the newborn church (2:46).They had “favor with all the people” (2:47) and were held “in high esteem.” (5:13). Their growth was explosive. Soon, another 5,000 heard the good news and were added (4:4). In fact, “multitudes of men and women were constantly added to their number.” (5:14). Many were cleansed and healed as well (5:15-16).

A legitimate complaint rose over the treatment of needy widows in the church and the apostles turned to seven young men to step up to the challenge.

Here we meet Stephen, one of the most valuable assets the early church had, both for the way he served the saved and reached out to the unsaved. He was the first man named to help care for the widows (Acts 6:5). In a nutshell, here’s what Stephen meant to the early church:

  1. He had a “good reputation,” much “wisdom,” and was “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.” (6:3-5).
  2. The church counted on him as a capable administrator and servant of others (6:5). His effectiveness, along with others, resulted in the spread of God’s word and “the number of disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem.” (Acts 6:7). Even many priests obeyed the gospel.
  3. Stephen was charismatic, “full of grace and power.” He performed great wonders and signs among the people (6:8).
  4. He knew the Scriptures and excelled in debate and speech (6:9-10).
  5. He even had the “face of an angel.” (6:15).

Alas, his many virtues attracted hostility and he was accused of blasphemy against Moses, God and the temple. On trial for his life, Stephen spoke to the Sanhedrin of God’s promise to Abraham, God’s provision through Joseph, God’s guidance through Moses, God’s judgments against idolatry, God’s deliverance through Joshua, God’s favor for David, and God’s “house” built by Solomon. Perhaps knowing his fate was sealed, he indicted his judges as “stiff-necked” and “uncircumcised in the heart” (7:51). He likened them to those who scorned and persecuted the prophets of old — treacherous, murderous and disobedient to God (7:52-53).

The Stoning of Stephen, illustration by Joel Solliday

Outraged, they screamed, covered their ears, and rushed at Stephen to take him outside the city and stone him to death. A Pharisee named Saul was in hearty agreement with this sentence and he presided at the stoning.

There was loud lamentation when Stephen was buried. Imagine the distress throughout the church when one of their best and brightest was so brutally executed by the leading men of the city. What a devastating blow to a fledgling movement. And this was just the beginning! Listen to Luke:

    “And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.” (Acts 8:1).

Adding insult to injury, this thug Saul began ravaging the church entering house after house dragging Christians off to prison (8:3). So the heartbroken and discouraged church gave up and Christianity was nipped in the bud.

Wrong! The next verse explains why the church survived and stands forever as encouragement for anyone facing tragedy with no visible light at the end of the tunnel. Luke wrote:

    “Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.” (Acts 8:4)

It’s like they hardly skipped a beat. That’s grit at its greatest. In fact, it’s amazing!


About the Author:

Joel graduated from Pepperdine University with a B.A., completing two majors: Art and Religion. He went on to earn the Master of Divinity degree from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. The views expressed on this blog are personal and belong to Joel Solliday unless otherwise stated. They are not, intended to characterize the views of the Lewiston Church of Christ or other organizations to which I may refer.