We are going to spend the next few weeks talking about the life change that Jesus brings to our lives. In many ways, this is a continuation of what we were doing in our look at getting rid of the old you and moving forward with new clothes. But our text for this series will come from the book of Acts. You may remember when we started this series that Luke starts the book of Acts by telling that his first account (the Gospel of Luke) was all that Jesus began to do and teach. The point is that this book, the book of Acts, is all that Jesus continued to do and teach. So we are putting this lens on the book of Acts and looking at the life change that Jesus was bringing to his people. In Acts 6-7 Luke wants our attention to be turned to one of Jesus’ followers, Stephen. What we are going to see in Stephen is what it means to be a servant of Jesus.
Ready To Serve (6:1-7)
Acts 6 begins by telling us there was a problem in the church where Greek widows were being neglected from the daily distribution of food. The apostles point out that they have been given the task to devoting themselves to the preaching of the gospel and prayer (6:2,4). So we need to select seven men who can be trusted with the task of making sure that these widows are not neglected. But I want you to see the requirements that are given in verse 3. Choose men who have a good reputation or good standing, full of the Spirit, and full of wisdom. Now I do not want us to fly over these words because what the apostles say is really important. Find people who are ready to serve. Choose people who have a good reputation among you. Find people who show that they are full of the Holy Spirit. Find people who show that they have wisdom. You see that when a problem arose and there was a need for servants, there was not going to be long time waiting for someone to be able to serve. No, there should be people in the flock who are ready to serve now. They will not be ready to serve later. They are ready to serve now. This is how we are introduced to Stephen. He is someone who was ready to serve. He is someone who had prepared himself to fill the need when it came in the church. We have the tendency to do this backward. What I mean is that we declare that there is a need and then we hope one day that someone will grow into filling that need. Rather than this, we need to be preparing ourselves now for serving for whatever need that may arise. We have a need for teachers. We have a need for deacons. We have a need for shepherds. We have a need to workers. Are we preparing ourselves now for the future opportunity? All of us have something to contribute. All of us have ways to serve. But are we getting ourselves ready to help? Stephen, along with six other men, were ready to step up and serve. The life change Jesus brings makes us prepare to serve.
A Servant Goes Beyond (6:8-15)
What you see next is Stephen going around talking about Jesus. It is absolutely interesting to me that Stephen’s story does not talk to us about how he made sure the Greek widows were taken care of every day. Nothing is told to us about this work or how he did it. Here is the second thing I want us to see about Stephen that teaches us about servants. Stephen does not see his work in God’s kingdom as this single work of caring for widows and does nothing else. He does not only do what he was asked to do. He goes far beyond what he was asked to do. He did not need the apostles to tell him to go talk about Jesus in the synagogues. Not only this, he was ready to talk about Jesus. Opposition from all over the empire are coming to argue with Stephen but they cannot stand against the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke. What he is doing is so significant that finally the Jewish elders and scribes seize him and drag him to the council, the very council that had Jesus killed and the apostles imprisoned and beaten. It is important that we do not dismiss what Stephen is doing as an anomaly. We will see Philip, who was also one of the seven selected in this chapter, going around preaching in Acts 8.
The point is this: a person who is a servant of Jesus and who has been changed by Jesus wants to go far beyond what some would define to be the minimum. Why don’t Stephen and Philip just stay in their lane and take care of the widows? The answer appears to be because they knew they could do more and wanted to do more. Jesus had affected their lives to such a degree that they wanted to do more and more, not as little as possible. Doing as little as possible is not a display of love. We do not show someone how much they mean to us or how much we love them by doing as little as possible. If your Valentine’s Day speech that you penned on the card was “I bought you this card because it is Valentine’s Day,” you did not show or communicate love. A servant of Jesus does not leave the work to other people. A servant of Jesus does not say, “That is not my job” or “That is not my responsibility.” I want us to see this in these men who are going far beyond what they were originally tasked to do.
So Stephen is before the Sanhedrin. Strangely we are told that they saw Stephen’s face which was like a face of an angel (6:15). This is a reminder of the shining face of Moses after he would speak with the Lord in the tent of meeting. I think the point being made here is that Stephen is not defaming Moses, but reflecting the law in his teaching. When you look back to verses 13-14 we see that the reason Stephen was arrested with the charges that he was speaking about the temple and against the Law of Moses. He was saying that Jesus would destroy the temple and change the customs of Moses. Now all of those points are true. Jesus said those things. Stephen is representing Jesus as the fulfillment of the law, not the overthrowing of the law. So now Stephen is given the opportunity to defend himself of these charges (7:1)
A Servant Tells The Truth of the Gospel (7:1-53)
Have you ever noticed that if Stephen is defending himself from the charges that have been laid against him, then this is the worst defense ever given. Stephen never explains himself. Stephen does not clarify what he meant about Jesus destroying the temple or changing the laws. Rather, Stephen starts talking about Abraham (7:2). Stephen starts talking about God’s promise given to Abraham (7:1-8). But Israel rejected Joseph because they were jealous of him (7:9-16). Now remember that we learned in the gospels that the Jewish leaders were jealous of Jesus and were against him (cf. Matthew 27:18; Mark 15:10). Stephen then observes that the time was near for God to fulfill his promise (7:17). Moses was going to give Israel salvation, but Israel rejected him (7:25-29). Further, when God sent Moses back to save Israel, Israel rejected Moses again (7:35). In fact, Moses performed wonders and signs but the people of Israel refused to obey him and thrust him aside (7:39). So God turned away from them (7:42). Finally, Solomon built a house for the Lord, but the Lord does not live in houses made by hands, just as the scriptures say (7:47-48). So what is the point? The point is that the people always resist the Holy Spirit (7:51). You have always resisted what God is doing. In fact, when Moses said that God would raise up a prophet like him (7:37), who knew that what would make Jesus a prophet like Moses was that Israel would reject both of them! Listen to the final words of Stephen to the council in verse 53. “You received the law under the direction of angels and yet have not kept it.”
A servant of Jesus does not live life letting people think that they are in good standing with God. We cannot hide the truth of the gospel. The good news is that you can be saved because our Savior reigns. But if you can be saved, then that means you need to be saved from something. Stephen’s message was a message to show them how they have rejected the Righteous One by killing him (7:52). If we do not tell people the gospel message, then people will never know that they need to be saved or how to be saved. The apostle Paul said the same thing.
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:14–17 ESV)
Servants open their mouths about Jesus. I want us to see that Stephen does not really attempt to defend himself. Rather, he uses this moment to proclaim their rejection of Jesus’ salvation. A servant takes advantage of an opportunity to tell someone about the good news they have experienced in their own lives.
A Servant Is Ready To Die (7:54-60)
The response of the Sanhedrin was not positive. They were enraged against Jesus. They are grinding their teeth at Jesus. They are seething after what he told them about Jesus. I think this is important to observe. Stephen spoke about Jesus even though it generated a negative response. The council reaction to the confrontation of sin says a lot. We are called to tell people about sin and there are going to be negative reactions against that. People want to be told they are right in what they are doing. Jesus tells us that we are wrong and need to change our ways. But look at the contrast that is presented regarding Stephen. Stephen looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God. He saw Jesus standing at God’s right hand. The council drags him out of the city and begins to stone Stephen.
Please look at verse 59. As they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then Stephen falls to his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” He does not say that this is not right or not fair. He calls out for the Lord to not hold this sin against them. Stephen’s heart was so transformed that his last words echoed Jesus’ last words on the cross (Luke 23:34). A servant of Jesus is ready to die like Jesus and ready for forgive like Jesus. Please think about doing what Stephen did as a servant of God. Do not hold this sin against them.
Can we say this about what people have done against us? I know that we would not be able to say these words if we cannot have such grace and kindness and love toward those who do so much less against us. Yet we get so upset and so angry. How about this answer toward those who hurt us, harm us, or do wrong against us? Lord, do not hold this sin against them. This is sharing in the sufferings of Christ. We are ready to be wronged. We are ready to die. We are ready to give our lives. We are ready to offer ourselves up for the salvation of others. How much are we becoming transformed into the image of Jesus when we can stop thinking about ourselves to such a degree that we can say the words that Stephen said? This is the heart of a servant.
We have a song called the Servant’s Song that says,
“Make me a servant, just like your Son. For he was a servant, please make me one. Make me a servant, do what you must do to make me a servant; make me like you.”
“Make me a servant, take all my pride. For I would be lowly, humble inside. Giving to others with all that I do, in love for my brother; make me like you.”
“Make me a servant, filled by your might. And may all my labors, shine with your light. Show me your footsteps, and what I should do; for now and forever, make me like you.”
Being a servant means being ready to serve, going beyond what we have been asked to do, telling others about Jesus, ready to suffer and die for the good of others. Jesus changes lives and the first change is to be a servant of Jesus and a servant of others.