Become The Miracle
Pastor Steve Wellman, New Hope Church, 200 E. New Hope Road, Goldsboro
Although people refer to me as “Steve,” my actual name is “Stephen.'”
Take notice this is with a “ph” and not a “v.” By the time I was of an age capable of understanding, I was told my name was inspired by a character in the Bible. Stephen means “One who will wear a crown.” It sounded like an inspiring name until I discovered the character I was named after was executed for preaching a sermon people didn’t like. Over the years, I have grown to appreciate this character and what it means in Scripture to “wear a crown.” Revelation makes the promise that those who will enjoy the crown are the ones who have lived as “more than conquerors.” They are the ones who are faithful even unto death. Stephen could have avoided the trouble he faced by compromising his faithfulness. He wasn’t interested in obtaining earthly crowns. At least in this life, the crown he wore was a crown of martyrdom. These days there’s a temptation to compromise the Christian message to attract attention from the culture at large. Stephen realized it does people no favors to deliver a watered down message. A weak Christian message isn’t strong enough to give us what we need. Nothing less than a faithful demonstration can produce faithful deliverance. The person who witnessed this demonstration was none other than Saul, the one who would become Paul. Of course, Stephen didn’t know it at the time, but his faithfulness would carry an impact that would far outlast his lifetime. Faithfulness looks past the immediate moment to the larger purpose of God’s story.
It’s at the moment of Stephen’s execution that something profound occurs. Stephen has a vision of Jesus rising from the throne and standing. Not only does Stephen recognize God’s glory, but even better, Stephen radiates God’s glory. Amid this evil, Stephen offers a prayer much like Jesus prayed on the cross. Stephen intercedes on their behalf. The prayer was needed because Paul supported what took place at the time. Long before Paul would have an encounter on the Damascus Road, Paul would have an encounter with the character of Jesus through Stephen. Before Paul saw the wonder of Jesus, he would encounter the witness of Jesus. No one can deny that Paul’s encounter with Jesus on the Damascus Road was an intense defining moment. However, the encounter Paul had with the witness of Stephen is no less dramatic. It would serve as a reminder for Paul never to underestimate a witness. Nowadays, it’s easy to conceal our faith over the concern that someone could reject us, so why bother? Why give witness to those who are aggressively resistant? Stephen had every reason to withhold words to that hostile crowd, but he offered a prayer on their behalf. Paul overheard the prayer and later showed the fruits which would arise from those seeds. Our witness changes things.
Stephen encountered a glimpse of glory because he concerned himself with faithfulness and left outcomes in God’s hands. Too often, we attempt to predict whether something is worthy based on our expectations of success. If it thrives, we will do it. If it appears hopeless, then we will avoid it. Stephen was faithful, come what may. God brought forth something marvelous in conditions that looked entirely contrary and utterly useless. We talk about taking a stand for Jesus. In this passage, we see Jesus taking a stand for us. Those who are faithful gain the honor of our Lord and provoke His pleasure. There’s an interest people have in experiencing an encounter with God’s glory. “If I could only see into heaven, then I would believe.” In this story, we see that more than an encounter of glory, there is an expression of glory. Instead of merely observing a miracle, we become vessels of God’s miracle. There were two miracles when Stephen died, one was the miracle of Jesus appearing to Stephen and the other was Jesus appearing through Stephen.