Jumping Hurdles is the name of our message series. In this series, we’re looking a great stories from the Bible about people who overcame great obstacles or hurdles in their lives. These hurdles are tests that God allows into our lives. God’s purpose is that with His help, we jump each hurdle and pass the test. When we recognize that God has allowed a hurdle in our life, how should we respond?
James 1:2-3 (ESV) Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.
We are to respond to these hurdles or trials with joy. Why should we consider a trial to be something to rejoice about? Because we realize that God has allowed it into our lives for our own good. James goes on to say that the purpose of trials or hurdles is to test our faith. As we continue to trust God in the trial, it produces steadfastness or endurance. We are strengthened by each hurdle that we jump in life.
Today’s message is entitled Badge of Courage It takes courage to be an overcomer, to jump the hurdles in our lives. Now, the hurdles that God allows into our lives are not all the same. Some hurdles are fairly easy, while others are much more difficult.
Revelation 2:10 (ESV) Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.
This verse gives us additional insight into how to face hurdles. We are not to fear, even though the devil seeks to take advantage of these trials. The last phrase speaks of the hardest hurdle, being faithful unto death. Where being faithful to the Lord may result in death. Those who lose their lives for their faith are called martyrs. The Greek word for witness, martus, also means martyr. Being a witness for Jesus will usually result in some form of persecution. Let’s watch a video about the Wurmbrands, Jewish Christians during World War II in Nazi occupied Romania.
Matthew 16:25 (ESV) For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
What does this verse, spoken by Jesus, mean? If you seek to save your physical life denying the Lord, you will lose eternal life. But if you choose to lose your physical life for Jesus, you will find eternal life. The Wurmbrands risked everything and Richard spent more than a decade in prison. He wrote a well-known book called Tortured for Christ.
What does this have to do with us today? We are not in peril of losing our physical lives by witnessing for Jesus now. I believe God wants to inspire us by those who have risked their lives for the Gospel. If they risked their lives for Christ, we ought to lay down whatever keeps us from being a witness for Jesus. Today, we’re going to be looking at a story about the life of the first Christian martyr, a man called Stephen. Let’s see how Stephen …
Acts 6:5 (ESV) … and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit,
The story begins with a church conflict between the Gentile widows and the Jewish widows regarding food distribution. The apostles decided to appoint seven men to oversee the food distribution and restore harmony. The first one on the list of those were going to serve the widows was Stephen. Stephen was full of faith and full of the Holy Spirit. Even though he had these wonderful spiritual qualities. Stephen was also willing to serve in a role of meeting physical needs.
Acts 6:8 (ESV) And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people.
Now we read that Stephen was full of grace and power. So, serving the widows did not stop Stephen from seeking God’s power. This verse says that Stephen was doing great wonders and signs. Perhaps Stephen was ministering to the needs of the widows and that ministry was expanding. As Stephen was willing to serve God in a way that was out of the spotlight, that ministry opened the door for more of God’s power in his life. So we see, as Stephen was faithful to help out in ministry, God opened the door for further growth. But when God is using someone in power, what always happens? There is opposition.
Acts 6:9-10 (ESV) Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue … rose up and disputed with Stephen. But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.
Some of the Jews who belonged to the synagogue began to argue with Stephen. What did they argue about? As we’ll see, the focus point of Christianity is Jesus, the promised Messiah. The Jews of that day, nor the Jews today, do not accept Jesus as the Messiah. Even though they argued with Stephen publicly, they did not prevail. Why? Because of the wisdom that the Holy Spirit gave to Stephen. The Holy Spirit had worked miracles through Stephen and the Spirit was now anointing the words that he spoke.
There are some important lessons for us today to learn from the life of Stephen so far. We so a progression in the challenges or hurdles that God allowed into his life. First of all, Stephen, a Jew, accepted Jesus as the divine Messiah and became a Christian. He was filled with the Holy Spirit and his faith grew as he learned from the apostles. When Stephen was asked to help oversee the food distribution to the widows, he accepted the responsibility.
But his spiritual growth did not stop there. He sought for more of God in his life and began to do signs and wonders through the power of the Spirit. The next hurdle was opposition from other Jews who began to argue with him. Once again, he relied on the Spirit to give him answers to their arguments. In the same way in our lives, God prepares us in advance for the next hurdles that are coming our way.
As we seek God’s help to meet the challenge of the next hurdle, He helps us to jump it. As God is at work in our lives and in our church, we must expect that there will be opposition. Opposition can take many forms. Some opposition is conflict with people who are not Spirit-filled. Other opposition happens when people simply do not obey what God is calling them to do. Whatever form opposition takes, God will help you overcome that hurdle through the power of the Spirit. All of this, prepares you for the battle. Next, Stephen was faithful to …
Acts 7:1-2 (ESV) And the high priest said, “Are these things so?” And Stephen said: “Brothers and fathers, hear me. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran,
Since those in opposition couldn’t refute Stephen’s teaching, they falsely accused Stephen of committing blasphemy. Blasphemy was a serious charge that had a penalty of death. Stephen was apprehended and brought before the Jewish Sanhedrin for trial. Stephen, in his lengthy speech, is going to trace God’s work in Israel down through the centuries, beginning with Abraham. Stephen was not concerned with defending himself against the blasphemy charge. He spoke the truth boldly for all who would listen.
Acts 7:51 (ESV) “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you.
Stephen finishes his message with a bold statement about the resistance of the Jewish people to the Holy Spirit. With these statements, inspired by the Spirit, Stephen was making it clear that he had no fear of death. He was going to speak the truth boldly, no matter the cost. He goes on to say …
Acts 7:52 (ESV) Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered,
Stephen concludes his message with talking about Jesus, the Righteous One, the Messiah. He brings conviction to those listening for the betrayal and crucifixion of Jesus. Old Testament history confirms that Israel repeatedly persecuted the prophets who spoke of the coming Messiah. The conclusion of Stephen’s message is very similar to the conclusion of Peter’s message on the day of Pentecost. But the immediate results will be very different. Thousands got saved on the day of Pentecost, but the response of the crowd in front of Stephen will be nothing like that. Stephen gives us an example of laying down his life and speaking the truth boldly no matter the cost.
God calls each one of us to speak the truth about God to those around us. Our witness should always lead to a discussion of who Jesus is. As Stephen witnessed, Jesus is the Messiah, the divine Son of God. Secondly, our witness should lead to a discussion of repentance. It is not possible to be saved without admitting your sin and turning away from it. Now, it may take quite a while in a relationship to get to these truths. Or, it may happen more quickly.
We learn from Stephen’s example to speak the truth boldly. Not worried about what people will think of us or any possible negative consequences. We all need the Holy Spirit’s power in order to be the witnesses that God calls us to be. Is there someone in your life that you know you should talk to about Jesus? If so, begin or continue to pray for that person.
Pray that God would give you opportunities to be a witness about Jesus to them. Then grab hold of every opportunity and share the Good News. Speak the truth boldly.
Acts 7:55 (ESV) But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.
In case you wondered if Stephen was too hard on his listeners, this verse gives the answer. Stephen was full of the Holy Spirit who had inspired the words that he spoke. God then gave Stephen a vision of heaven, seeing both God the Father and Jesus. Normally, Jesus is seated at the right hand of God, but now He was standing. Standing, I believe in honor of Stephen’s bold witness for Him.
Acts 7:58 (ESV) Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.
While Stephen was at peace, receiving visions of heaven, the mob was enraged. They ground their teeth and screamed at him and began to stone him. The false witnesses who had charged him with blasphemy laid their cloaks at the feet of Saul. Saul, obviously, was in agreement with the stoning of Stephen. The mob was breaking the law, as it was not legal for them to carry out capital punishment.
Acts 7:59-60 (ESV) And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
As Stephen was dying, he called on Jesus to receive his spirit. And he asked the Lord to forgive those who were killing him. These words were the same words that Jesus spoke on the cross as He was dying. Truly Stephen was following Jesus’ example even to the death. He had chosen to lose his life for Christ.
So, what does it mean for us to lose our lives for Christ, if we are not facing death as a martyr? In another Scripture, Jesus spoke of denying yourself and taking up your cross to follow Him. To lose your life for Christ is something that God wants us to practice every day. It means to not do the things that you want to do, but only the things that God wants you to do. God had a plan for Stephen and it was for him to give up his life as a martyr. Thousands of years later, Stephen’s example still speaks to and encourages us on.
To lose your life for Christ is to do everything out of love for Him. To serve Him and others, even though you’d rather do something else. To give of your time, resources and talent so that others could hear the Gospel. To think of how you can seek God’s kingdom first, not your own comfort or pleasure. As we lose our lives for Christ, we find true life, eternal life in greater measure.
God put Stephen’s story in the Bible to encourage us and teach us what commitment to Jesus is all about. As Stephen followed Jesus in the rather mundane ministry, he was preparing for an unknown future battle. Our obedience today, prepares us for the future. When opposition arose to Stephen’s witness, he didn’t stop talking. He spoke the truth boldly and without fear.
All the while, from the very beginning, Stephen’s source of power was being filled with the Holy Spirit. In the same way, we need the power of the Holy Spirit to be witnesses for Jesus. Every believer is called to be a witness, to share the love of God.
Finally, Stephen made the ultimate sacrifice, losing his life for Christ. As we ponder his example of following Christ, we are inspired to follow Jesus with the same passion. Stephen didn’t know what the future held as he was serving food to the widows. Nor do we know what the future holds for us. Yet, we do know the one who holds the future in His hands. As we lose our lives for Him, we will gain true life with Him that lasts forever.