Acts Chapter 7 records the first martyr for the Christian faith: Stephen, a layman.
No one gives Satan more fear, or causes him more frustration than a Christian who is wholly sold out to God. Even Joseph Stalin is rumored to have said that his beloved Communism would topple if Christians behaved like Christ. But there is a high price to being sold out for God. When Satan has his back against the wall, he behaves like a cornered animal:
Acts 7:54 “When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth.”
Stephen’s brief life teaches several things that I must learn:
My effectiveness for God is not limited by my appointed position. Whether I have an official title in my church or not is really immaterial. The only title that really matters is “redeemed of God.” Stephen is proof of that. He was one of the seven appointed to help take care of the “daily ministration,” to wait tables in care of the widows in the church. If he’d have let himself be limited by his appointed office and just “done his job,” as he most certainly did, we might never have heard of him. But like the apostles, he understood he had more to do than just what was in front of him. His main goal in life as a believer was to advance the kingdom of God.
Anyone with a heart for God can accomplish great things for Him. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that Stephen was “just a deacon” in the church. Yet Scripture tells us he “did great wonders and miracles among the people” (Acts 6:8), just like the apostles did.
Standing up for God means I’ll stand out for Him, too. Jesus stood up for His Father. He paid the ultimate price for it, too. So did Stephen. The devil’s crowd has no love for God’s people. They might tolerate them if they “mind their own business,” but if a believer really takes a stand for God, not only does God notice, the devil notices too and seeks to destroy that person. (Job 1:7-12f)
(9) Then there arose certain of the synagogue, which is called the synagogue of the Libertines, and Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and of them of Cilicia and of Asia, disputing with Stephen.
(10) And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake.
(11) Then they suborned men, which said, We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses, and against God.
This study is not about the sermons of Acts; it’s about the prayers in Acts, so we cannot go into details about what Stephen preached, a sermon we could call “The Greatest Unfinished Sermon of All Time,” we need to focus instead on his prayers. He uttered three:
(55) 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,
(56) And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.
This is a prayer of recognition and praise. In most of the New Testament, we are shown Christ sitting at the right hand of God. But for Stephen, his work was so moving, even Christ Himself stood up and took notice.
Stephen addresses Him as the “Son of man” (Psalm 80:17), a title the Jews knew well as one referring to Messiah and a favorite title of the Lord for Himself.
Acts 7:59 “And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
This is a prayer of trust. He was confidently claiming his place before God in Christ. His prayer is not unlike the Lord’s own prayer to the Father when He cried out: “…Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit…” Luke 23:46.
His final prayer is one seeking mercy, not for himself, but for his attackers:
Acts 7:60 “And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.”
Pray for your enemies even when they are at their most ruthless, because you never know how God will answer. On the surface it looked like Satan had one a great victory and Stephen had lost miserably. But through his prayer, Stephen won the day. On the day of his death, someone very influential was in the audience:
Acts 7:58 “.…[A]nd the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul.”
Saul very likely heard Stephen’s final prayer on earth. More importantly God heard that prayer, and He answered when he converted Saul to Himself. Imagine if Stephen’s prayer had been one of vengeance instead of mercy? It might have affirmed Saul’s disdain for the followers of this new “sect.” Instead, God took it as the earnest plea that it was and robbed Satan of one of his most powerful advocates – and all Stephen did in the end was pray!
The takeaway: When it comes to God’s working in the lives of people, it’s still about the prayer!