Stephen was “a man full of faith” (Acts 6:5), and where did it get him? It got him killed! (Acts 7:57).
Loved ones would have gone to bed that night asking why Stephen endured such a violent death. Some would have thought that he had been brainwashed into saying the crazy things that enraged the crowd. Others would have appreciated his convictions but wished that he had just toned it down a bit.
A critic from another time accused the churches of Christ of being known more for the things that they “don’t believe” than anything else. I have always wondered if Stephen’s critics may have said the same thing.
When recounting Israel’s spiritual journey in his sermon, Stephen was expressing his shared faith in the God of Abraham. If he had ended his sermon with a polite invitation, instead of telling his audience that they had “betrayed and murdered” Jesus, he may have lived to preach another day.
Something inside of me wants to hide away when I think about the faith and courage of Stephen. Believers like him are rare. He stands with the men and women of faith who chose torture and death for the spread of the Gospel; “the world was not worthy of them” (Hebrews 11:38).
If staying quiet in the face of persecution is a ‘silent denial’ of our faith, we must confess it, and deal with it now. Jesus gives us a glimpse into his continual conversation with the Father about our confession of him:
“Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33).
Jesus’ message is a rescue plan. To accept it is to, like Stephen, invite the world to accept it too. Even if it sets their face against you:
“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34).