Stephen had proven himself to be one of the great heroes of the Gospel of Christ. He first comes on the scene as one chosen to “serve tables”—to assist poor widows among the thousands of new converts to Christ in Jerusalem (Acts 6:1-10). What is so inspiring about Stephen is the example he became for countless believers down through the ages.
He was a man who yielded to the transforming work of the Holy Spirit, in his life, before he had any title of leadership or position of influence. He was simply a man with a heart after God and His Word. Yet behind the scenes, God was preparing this man to one day become a mighty voice for Christ, and to end his life on earth as the first martyr of the church. Stephen had become recognized as a man of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit, wisdom, and faith (6:3, 5). The early church was not run by “clergy,” but by men and women like Stephen who were humble, sincere people gifted by God. It was a much more dynamic situation where many of the most effective servants of Christ did not make being “ministers” a career choice. They were common men and women who lived daily lives like everyone else while also serving fellow believers and proclaiming the Word of God powerfully in both word and deed (7:8-10).
In fact it was Stephen’s powerful gift—teaching about Christ with undeniable wisdom and knowledge—that so frustrated the religious elite. They found that the only way to stop his influence was to stone him to death. But even in his dying moments Stephen left his murderers with an unforgettable mark upon their souls with his prayer, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin” (7:60). And even after his death his influence could not be stopped.
As a floodgate of persecution opened against Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, many Jewish believers fled to southern Israel and central Palestine. Stephen’s influence and example strengthened these new believers as they preached the Word everywhere they went. What makes this so amazing is that they had just witnessed the stoning of Stephen. But rather than being silence by fear they were empowered by faith. In fact, we find one of Stephen’s fellow “table servers,” Phillip, boldly proclaiming Christ in Samaria following Stephen’s example of powerful teaching and powerful manifestations of the Holy Spirit. May the day come again when God’s greatest servants come from the ranks of those “serving tables.”