“Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him” (Acts 7:52).
If you have ever been scorned, ridiculed, tormented, or in any other way persecuted for speaking the Gospel, then know that you are in good company.
Stephen, “a man full of God’s grace and power” who “did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people” (Acts 6:8), paid the ultimate price for his witness concerning the Lord Jesus. While the apostles had recently rejoiced “because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41), Stephen now gains the distinction of becoming the first recorded martyr of the Christian faith.
Stephen and the other apostles discovered the hard way that sinful human beings don’t enjoy hearing God’s Word. We (all of us) become defensive when convicted by God’s just and righteous Law. We even resist the Gospel because it forces us to bear our souls before God and face our own wretched sinfulness. It leaves us helpless and vulnerable, reminding us that we are powerless to achieve salvation through our own works. We would rather exalt ourselves in the eyes of men than humble ourselves before the mercy seat of Almighty God.
Those who preach and confess the Word publicly are often met with resistance and hostility. For the apostles, it meant torture and humiliation. For Stephen, it meant death by stoning. For us, it sometimes means loss of reputation or even employment.
How are we to react when our testimony is met with hard hearts and stiff necks? We can take our cue from the great heroes of the faith who have gone before us. The apostles rejoiced that they were permitted to suffer for the sake of Jesus’ name. Stephen – like his Lord – forgave his murderers even as they carried out his death sentence. We too should try to recognize that those who revile us are prisoners of darkness who need our prayers and the Holy Spirit in their lives. God instructs us to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39) and to love even our “enemies” (Matthew 5:44). His exhortation to take up our cross and follow Him (Luke 9:23) reminds us that our ministry to others may require personal sacrifice on our behalf. Others undoubtedly sacrificed much to bring the Gospel to you and me, and Jesus sacrificed all to make that Gospel a reality.
In the midst of whatever suffering we are called to endure for the sake of Jesus’ name and whatever resistance we are met with, we must never forget that the Word of God is living and active. Though our own powers of persuasion may be feeble and faulty, God’s Word is at work doing what it says it will. In the time of Stephen and the apostles, scores of people were coming to faith in Christ Jesus – including many priests and influential Jews – despite the suffering and persecution of those who proclaimed the Gospel. In our time, the Holy Spirit continues to work in the hearts of those who hear the words we proclaim; even in those who seem only to scorn and revile us for our testimony. For this, we give thanks to God for His exceeding grace and mercy!
“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).
Prayer: Heavenly Father, give me the strength and courage to proclaim Your Word without fear or hesitation. Send Your Spirit to work in the hearts of all those who hear, that they may believe and live; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord. Amen.