Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Standing for Christ

I've always been so intrigued by the story of Stephen in Acts, chapter 7. He was a man so full of Jesus and so full of His love that the Pharisees (religious leaders) just hated him. They accused him of blasphemy and even stoned him to death as he preached to them out of the overflow of love he had for them. He desperately wanted them to know the truth about Jesus. He knew their eternity was at stake. He knew that without Jesus, they would be eternally separated from God. So he poured his heart out to them with one of the most beautiful sermons in the New Testament.

But they wouldn't listen. Instead, they stoned him.

A young man named Saul was there, cheering them on with every blow. Yes, the same Saul that later became Paul - the Apostle whom God used to pen about two thirds of the New Testament! Jesus can change even the hearts of those we think are beyond hope; the ones who are so against Him that they persecute and even kill Jesus' followers! Nobody is beyond His grip of grace.

It is very clear in the Bible that Jesus is seated at God's right hand, yet in this story Stephen sees Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father. He mentions it twice. I've always believed it was because when we stand up for Jesus, we can be assured that He stands up for us. Our faith brings Him to His feet!

As I read this morning in Beth Moore's book Paul: 90 Days on His Journey of Faith, tears fell down my face. I realized after I read it the third time that I wanted to share it with you because it perfectly describes what Jesus may have felt as He watched Stephen and Saul that day:
Remember, Christ was up on His feet at the time (see vs 56). Can you imagine the alloy of emotions He must have experienced as He looked on the two key players in the Kingdom that day? One FOR Him; one AGAINST Him. One covered in blood; the other covered in prayer shawls. One who could not save himself from men; the other who could not save himself from sin. One dead in body but alive in spirit; one alive in body but dead in spirit. One loved by God; the other loved by God. Grace, grace, God's grace. 
Just a day in the life of Stephen. A shooting star. He had one brief performance. One chance on stage. But it was absolutely unforgettable. As the curtain fell on his life, he received a standing ovation from the only One who really mattered. I have a feeling that seconds later the two of them hadn't changed positions much. Christ was still on His feet. Stephen was still crumpled to his knees. How sweet to imagine the first heavenly words that day: "Welcome, Stephan's, My joy and My crown."
I wonder if seeing Stephen die for his faith had an impact on the heart of Saul (who later becomes the Apostle Paul?) Right before Stephen passed away, he asked God to forgive those who were stoning him! My heart tells me you cannot watch something so powerful without having something happen in your heart. What an encouragement to know that even when we don't realize it, people are watching. Our stand for Christ could plant a seed in their heart that could eventually produce beautiful fruit!

May we all have courage to stand for Christ, even in the most difficult of circumstances. I believe our days here on earth are going to get harder and harder and it will take a lot more courage and faith for us to stand for what is right and for what we believe as Christians as the days grow darker. Our love for people and for Christ can compel us to do the right thing and this true story about Stephen can give us a glimpse of the grace that God will give us in those difficult moments.

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