Big Idea: Sometimes the Church of Jesus is victorious in what looks like defeat.
Today’s reading marks the first great tragedy of the church at Jerusalem. They had been beaten and rejoiced, they had faced sinners within and overcome, and they had dealt with division and emerged stronger. Yet in Acts 7, we read about one of the first deacons who gave a bold testimony for Jesus and did not find himself rescued by an angel. No one stood up and talked the crowd down. After Stephen summarized the whole history of the nation, to show how Jesus and the people’s rejection of Him was the culmination of the whole Bible, they grew furious instead of convicted. Stephen was given a special vision: he saw Jesus standing at the right side of the Heavenly Throne, and told the people so. They stuck their hands over their ears and screamed to drown him out. In a mob, they pushed him out of the city, picked up stones, and threw them at him until he died. His crime was blasphemy, for suggesting a man who had been crucified could be at God’s throne. The witnesses took their outer robes off to participate in the stoning and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul, who we will meet again.
After such a string of victories, was this finally the end of Jesus’ assembly’s success? No. It was through defeat that they would triumph. Stephen, even in His death, prayed for Jesus to receive Him and to forgive those who killed him. He overcame them, even in death, by refusing to crumble into sin. He overcame them because his prayer would be answered dramatically when the man overseeing his execution would be forgiven and used by God to write more books of the Bible than anyone else. In a powerful imitation of His Lord, Stephen was most powerful when he appeared the weakest.
How should this affect our understanding of success in work or ministry? Clearly God’s definition of success and mine might be miles apart. But it is God’s understanding which matters. When we go through suffering with our eyes on Him, our suffering may be our greatest victory yet. Have you been betrayed? What a chance to be like the one who was sold out for thirty pieces of silver. Have your health and possessions been ripped away? The One who owns the cattle on a thousand hills had his very clothes divided among the soldiers and rose victorious. It is time for a new point of view. One of the men I respect the most has recently had his name pulled through the mud when he entered what he described in the traditional language of, “dark night of the soul,” but he used it as a chance to show love and mercy, just like his Lord. What about you and I?
Discussion Idea: How can not defending yourself sometimes accomplish more than defending yourself? How does God make good out of a bad situation?
Prayer Focus: Pray about a difficulty in your life, and ask God to use it to advance His Kingdom, no matter what the consequences for you personally.