“Begin Again”: A Weekly Devotional for a New Year, Week 13

‘Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue … who began to argue with Stephen. But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke.

Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, “We have heard Stephen speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.”

So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. They produced false witnesses, who testified, “This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.”

All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.’

Acts 6:8-15

Disagreement reveals who we are – especially when we discover that we are in the wrong. When the disagreement is significant, public, and then we find out that we were wrong, the great temptation is to protect ourselves at all costs. Sometimes, people stoop to the level of secret, personal attacks that impugn motives and character. And, apparently this is not just a modern problem – Cancel Culture is as old as our story about Stephen.

In some cases, a person does or says something that truly merits censure – that’s not “Cancel Culture” – it’s “Consequences”. But this is not what happened to Stephen. Stephen gained a hearing with people, who other people wanted to control. He gained this hearing, because he was known to be a person of good character, and someone through whom God was working – Stephen was “a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit… full of God’s grace and power.” (vv. 5, 8)

In other words, there was no way to bring Stephen down, other than to begin a whisper campaign: “He hates us. He hates what we stand for. He is determined to destroy what we hold dear. He has to be stopped, by any means necessary.” It is strange that this campaign, built on a lie, ‘succeeded’: Stephen is seized, and then stoned to death at the end of the next chapter.

The lie ‘won’ out, over this man of God, filled with his Spirit, who worked God’s “signs and wonders”. It would seem that if Stephen was the man Scripture says he was, he should simply go from strength to strength, blessing to blessing – no weapon formed against him, would prosper. That’s not what happened. So something else must have been true – another, more important journey must have been in store for Stephen.

Stephen was called to become like Christ. The faith, power, and grace that animated Stephen, was not meant to give him his better life, now. Stephen would become like his Lord: “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you.” (John 15:20) But why? Doesn’t this mean the defeat, and not the advancement of the Kingdom of God?

Christ’s Kingdom advances by the Cross. It is how He did it. It’s how He does it, through us. We find this out when our best laid plans, are laid spiritually bare. We learn this when businesses, governments, and churches are weighed in the balance and found wanting. We discover this when we see leaders brought low who looked like they were men and women of good character, filled with God’s Spirit, but had a wolf’s heart beneath lamb’s wool.

Christ’s Cross raises us to new life, but that birth is often painful and public. Our cross usually means the of ‘death’ of: our ego; long-held pleasure or power; or, in the case of Stephen, death death – the real thing. In every instance, that death is the beginning of eternal life.

Prayer: Lord, help me to see – clearly – what needs to ‘die’ in my life: Some power, pleasure, or purpose that I think is good, but has no place in your Kingdom. Father, guide me to become a person of good character – someone in whom your Spirit is pleased to dwell, so that when disagreement, public confrontation or ridicule come, I am ready to be your witness, like Stephen – a witness even unto death, because your life in me, is more precious than the whole world. Amen.

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