How will we respond to the truth of Jesus' message?
Good morning. I’m excited to be with you this morning. I really say that seriously because the last time I got to share with you was Mother’s Day. I had to take a little trip to Alabama this past week. I decided to fly home yesterday. In the midst of all of that, my flights got delayed over and over again. I kept praying, “Lord, I need to get to San Francisco. You’ve got to figure something out.” My first flight was from Birmingham and they canceled or delayed it, which meant I was going to miss my next connecting flight. I got on the phone with a Southwest agent and I said, “You don’t understand. I have to get to San Francisco. You’re going to have to figure it out.” He said, “Okay, well we can get you on a flight in Atlanta.” We drive to Atlanta and on the way there, my flight gets delayed. I’m thinking, “What am I going to do?” I get back on the phone and call the agent again. I said, “You’ve got to get me to San Francisco.” And I’m thinking, “Lord, you need to move some mountains. I need to get there.” The agent says, “Well, I have one that’s going to Oakland tonight. I said, “I’ll take it. I’ll take whatever I can get. Let’s go to Oakland.”
I flew in last night. I’m here with you this morning. I’m super excited to be here. I’m excited to share with you the final message of Rise. We’ve been going through the early portion of the Book of Acts together. Today we’re going to dive deeper into the life of Stephen. He’s the man who made a big, big impact. Pastor Lewis shared a little bit about this last week in his message. I want to remind you of something. Stephen’s message was really powerful. He’s the first martyr that we see in the Word.
What I want us to focus on is that Stephen is just a man. He was just a human. He was just a man, but he was bold and courageous. He was a man that echoed Jesus. My prayer today is that when we step into this Word each of us is challenged. I want us to be challenged today. I want us to be inspired to echo the name of Jesus wherever we are in our lives. We may be in a dark place. We may be in a great place. It doesn’t matter where we are right now in our lives, I want us to echo Jesus and leave behind a great legacy for those that are around us. The people that are in the room with us, the people that we live with, the people that we work with, the people we go to church with.
I’d like to share a little story with you from Alabama that happened to me as a pastor when I was there. I pastored for 13 years with a youth and children’s ministry at my dad’s church. He’s a great pastor there in Alabama. The youth ministry was the first place that I started. I was 19-years-old when I started in youth ministry and I had no idea what I was doing. It was awesome. I love teenagers. I loved caring for them. In the ministry there, I met a lady named Jessica. I meet a lot of interesting people as a pastor. You have the opportunity to engage with people on Sundays and even into their week and world sometimes. Sometimes you leave feeling blessed after you’ve been in their world. Sometimes people don’t let you in. Jessica kind of intrigued me. She was a little edgy and I thought that was kind of cool. She was a single mom, full of life, but bold as a lion. I thought, “This girl, we can do life together. This is going to be awesome.”
Jessica’s personality was nothing like mine, but her spirit was strong. This woman ended up leaving a lasting impact on me as a pastor, Christian, and believer. When I met Jessica, she was attending the church and was a mom to a sweet five-year-old boy. She brought her son to church weekly. Jessica had a close relationship with her son, but she didn’t have a real close relationship with Jesus. Mainly, she would bring her kid to church on Sundays, drop him off, and go into the service. We didn’t really know much beyond that.
Sadly, one morning while we’re getting ready for church, we get the phone call that her little boy named Branson has been bitten by a spider. It was a brown recluse spider and normally you can go to the doctor and get something for that. That was the plan and everything seemed fine. That evening around 11 o’clock, we get a phone call that Branson is no longer here, that he’s met Jesus. It was very sudden. It was very hard. I just remember thinking, “How can this be? How can this happen?” Matt and I were the kid’s pastors at the church. They wanted us to help host the funeral. This was hard. This was tough.
This was a five-year-old boy that loved Jesus with all of his heart, lifted his hands in preschool, and was the cutest thing. I just couldn’t imagine what Jessica was going through. I didn’t want to have to imagine it. It was just too heartbreaking. I remember seeing the tears stream down her face, they were constant. and didn’t stop. It was just heartbreaking to see. That’s really when I met Jessica and our paths crossed. As her little boy was an attendee of preschool, we were going through a series as a church. The series was called One Month to Live. That was the name, One Month to Live. The whole concept of that was if you had one month to live, what would you do with that one month, how would you live your life, and leave a legacy for others? While preparing for the funeral, I was going through pictures. I was going through all of those things, songs, and things like that. I found this picture stuffed in a drawer where we had taken Polaroid pictures of the children and of the church family members saying, “If I had one month to live. I would do this.”
Little Branson had taken one of those pictures and he said, “If I had one month to live, I would help people.” I took that picture and I sent it to Jessica. I said, “Jessica, I hope this helps you. I want to give this to you. I found this in my drawer and I believe it could be a help.” After that moment, after the funeral and all the things that happened that week, people started really rallying around the idea that Branson wanted to help people. We began to gather toys. Our community and church gathered toys. We sent those toys to Africa for Christmas in Branson’s name. In our kids’ ministry at our church at home, we actually built a whole new kids ministry facility. We named the entire hallway Branson Hall to remember what a life and legacy he lived. There was one thing about the whole situation though. I remember Jessica being far away from God. She was also pregnant with her second child. She was two weeks away from her due date when Branson passed. This was heartbreaking and I didn’t know how to help, only to be there.
I watched Jessica cling to Jesus. I watched her. I watched her grieve. I watched her cling to the Lord. I sat with her. I prayed with her. We did all that we could do. I remember when she looked at me and said these words. They left a lasting impact on me. She said, “Knowing Jesus is the only way I can meet Branson again.” Knowing Jesus is the only way I can meet Brandon again. That was an incentive. That was like fire in her saying “I am going to do everything I can to make it to heaven to be there to see my little boy again” and that echoed. Branson’s life was echoing to the people around him, even to the kids in Africa, but it was echoing in his mama’s heart.
Today we’re going to talk more about Stephen. About his death and how he gave up his life for Jesus. We are going to talk about the legacy that he left. That legacy still echoes into this very moment. I want us to focus on this time and what we have here today to reflect on the echo of our lives. What message are we sending? What are we leaving behind? How are we impacting the kingdom? An echo is a result. It’s a result of a noise that is no longer there, but it still resounds. It still resonates. It still impacts. It still moves us. That takes us to this man named Stephen.
I want to take you Acts 7:54. Stephen was stoned to death for the message he was sharing with the Pharisees. Last week, Pastor Lewis shared the message of Stephen. It’s called True Seekers. Stephen was bold in his message to the stubborn and lost. He was putting his life on the line. He had truth to share and did it without regret. Let’s take a look at Acts 7:54. It says, “The Jewish leaders were infuriated by Stephen’s accusation and they shook their fist at him in rage. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily into heaven.”
I want you to see that Stephen was focused. He was centered. He could see heaven and the glory of God. He saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand. That is the Jesus that we live for. He is the one who stands. Even in the midst of the chaos, pain, or whatever we’re going through, he stands. That’s where Stephen is. In verse 57 it says, “Then they put their hands over their ears and they began shouting. They rushed at him and dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. His accusers took off their coats and they lay them at the feet of a young man named Saul. As they stoned him, Stephen prayed, ‘Lord Jesus receive my spirit.’ He fell to his knees shouting, ‘Lord, don’t charge them with this sin, and with that, he died.” What an echo. A life that speaks even to this very day because in the last few moments of Stephen’s life he was full of the Holy Spirit. I want you to see this because it’s really radical.
In the last few moments of Stephen’s life, a man that was full of the Holy Spirit was empowered. He was enthralled. He was brimming with holy fear. His eyes were focused on the one. He had eyes on the master and God opened up a window for him. God opened up a window for him to see something inspiring, that Jesus was standing there. Stephen could see Jesus. In his last moments, the imagery of this moment just gives me a whole rush of energy. It just makes me super excited because this is so exciting. Can you imagine just looking into the clouds, looking into heaven, and seeing Jesus in your very last moments? These moments were tough. These moments were not easy. That reminded me that Jesus rises for us too. That is the Jesus we live for. That is the Jesus that stands for us.
He is prevision. He pays attention to us. He is in our corner. He is for us. It doesn’t say here in this passage exactly what caused Jesus to stand. I can only imagine. Since I’m a kids pastor, I am going to imagine. But I imagine Jesus saw Stephen giving his best message yet; putting his life on the line to defend that message. Heaven noticed, heaven noticed. Stephen had caught the eye of Jesus. Stephen had caused the heavens to open up. If I could just imagine, it’s like here’s the heavens and the clouds. Jesus is peering over the end into that chaotic scene. He’s saying words like, “Don’t give up.” This is my imagination. “Don’t give up. You can do this. I have something more for you. I’m with you, Stephen. I’m with you, Stephen.”
Stephen was pursuing the giver of life in the midst of the pain. He was focused. He was centered. What if this was our echo? What if we were focused? What if we were centered? What if we echo the glory of God? Who could it change? Who could it impact? Where could it go? It’s really that simple. Our life speaks. Stephen’s life and death spoke just like that little boy Branson. His life spoke and left a huge impact. So how can we do this? How can we echo Jesus? How can we do that at work? How can we do that at home? How can we do that in our churches? How can we do that on the street? How can we do that in traffic? How can we echo Jesus?
I want to share a few things with you this morning about Stephen that I noticed in his journey and in his last few moments. Things he was doing that echoed Jesus. The first thing is to live for the future, to live for the future. I want you to look right here at this moment because Stephen was looking closely at the present and that present is really important. The present we are composing is really, really important. Look closely at the present we are composing because it’s a reflection of the future. Stephen gazed into heaven, he saw the glory of God and he saw Jesus standing. Jesus was standing because Stephen had composed a life. They had a relationship. Stephen was not a Christian. He had not become a believer. He was really on fire, dedicated, and committed to God. He had a relationship with Jesus. He had composed a present that reflected a heavenly glorious future. His new future was going to be heavenly. Stephen knew that his future would be that way because of his relationship with Jesus and Stephen had this relationship that endured the suffering. He was okay with that. He endured the pain. He was okay with that. He even endured humiliation. He was okay with that.
I believe that that really gave Stephen peace, a peace to leave this world with such confidence because his present was a direct reflection of his heavenly future. In verse 55, you see Stephen full of the Holy Spirit gaze steadily into heaven, very centered, very focused and he saw the glory of God. He saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand. The present we compose is vital to what we echo. The present that we compose is vital to what we echo what our lives speak. We have to look closely at ourselves. We have to look closely. We have to look at our habits, the habits we create. Do they echo Jesus?
We have to look at the influences in our lives, media, relationships, friendships that we allow into our lives. Maybe even the influences that we have on others. Do they echo Jesus? The words we speak, do they speak life, or do they speak death? Do they echo Jesus? What about the moods? We have moods. Sometimes our moods are angry, sometimes sad and our attitudes are bad, but sometimes our attitudes are good. What about our moods and attitudes? Do they project life? Do they echo Jesus?
If our future is heaven, then our present has to speak the glory of His name in our words, attitudes, moods, influences we allow in, and how we influence others. Also, our habits, the things that we create daily. Like Stephen, we get the chance to echo heaven to everyone around us. We get the chance to live out of faith in a chaotic time. We get the chance to stand for truth. We get the chance to stand for grace. We get the chance to make an impact. We get the chance to see a heavenly legacy to leave one for those around us. We can do that by creating those habits, influences, words, and attitudes that echo Christ.
Wherever we are, we can compose a present. A present that reflects the goodness of God and that was Stephen. He had this on lockdown, he had this. He had this completely down. His present was evidence that his future would be glorious. His present attitude was Christ-driven. His heart was aligned with the heart of God because the future, He came to us. Jesus came to us and Jesus wants to be in your present. He wants to be in our present. All we have to do is keep Him in the center of our lives. We catch that heavenly reflection. We catch the goodness of God. We can leave behind a life that impacts and gives us glorious strength as we develop in our relationship with Christ.
The next thing I began to see about Stephen is he was bold. He was courageous, kind of like Jessica. She was super bold. She was edgy. She intrigued me. There was a fire in Stephen. He lived with a fire and that’s important to live with a fire. This was a really intense moment. You’re going to find out here in just a moment. It was a very intense moment. While stoning him, he forgives. I want you to hear that. He forgives. He forgives his accusers just like Jesus did before he gave up His spirit on the cross. This is a tough thing. This is where I really see the fire really showing up in his life.
What’s the greater miracle here, that he saw Jesus or that he forgave in the midst of the stoning? That he forgave his enemies. He had a strength that was fearless. Stephen was living with this fire, this passion. He’s a great example of a man of God in his time who was sold out. He was on fire for God and his actions speak to it. His actions speak to it. The forgiveness, his actions speak to it right here in verse 58-60. It says, “They dragged him out of the city and they began to stone him and his accusers took off their coats and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they stoned him, Stephen prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.'” In verse 60. “He fell to his knees shouting, ‘Lord, Lord, don’t charge them with the sin. Don’t charge them with this sin.’ With that, he died.” Now that is fire. That is straight passion knowing that this is his last moment. He did not react back. He did not turn away from his message and said, “I’m sorry for saying all of that. I didn’t mean it.” Instead, he had compassion on his accusers just like Jesus.
Stephen shows us that when we have faith in Christ, He will call us beyond our self-imposed limits because we like to play it safe, but God wants to expand us. For Stephen was expanding right there in that moment by saying forgive those that have hurt me. His attitude was motivating. It was inspiring. It was ambitious. He was living out the words he had just preached. It wasn’t about him. It was all about Jesus. He was caught up in the presence of God. His heart was filled with the Holy Spirit. He was being led by the spirit of God, not the man inside of him. He could see glory. He could see more. His perspective was compassionate. It was sincere. It was forgiving.
Yes, he was hurt. Yes, he was bleeding. Yes, he was embarrassed. He was wrongfully accused, but that didn’t matter anymore. These people stoning him were cared for by the one they were beating on. As Stephen was standing for God, he could see that Jesus was standing for him. What a glorious moment. When we live with a fire, we are expanding beyond what we think we can do into the depths of what God can do with His glorious purpose for our lives. When that flame is activated, it causes us to have power in the midst of our weak areas so we can walk confidently in the promise of God, even past those limits that make us feel weak.
The bravest thing we can do in our life is to know and echo Jesus with passion and fire because we have a burning love for Jesus. Stephen had a fire that was so passionate that he didn’t even notice. He didn’t even focus on the ones who were stoning him. He was stoned. He was bruised. He was broken. But beyond all of that, he didn’t even notice the physical pain. Nothing could stop him from losing his focus on Jesus. There was a fire inside of him.
That leads me to my next thing. He lived out the mission. In Acts 8:1-4, this is after he’s passed. It said, “Saul was one of the witnesses. He agreed completely with the killing of Stephen and a great wave of persecution began that day sweeping over the church in Jerusalem and all the believers except the apostles were scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria. Some devout man came and they buried Stephen with great mourning, but Saul was going everywhere to destroy the church. He went from house to house dragging out both men and women to throw them into prison. But the believers who were scattered preached the good news about Jesus wherever they went.”
This relationship with Jesus cost Stephen his life, yes, but it impacted so many others. Our lives lived out for Jesus have a ripple effect. His life had a ripple effect. Let’s think about Saul just for a moment. Saul, the one who was persecuting Christians as his job. He saw true faith up close and personal. Maybe even him forgiving his enemies was one of the most powerful things Saul had ever seen. Later on you will find out that Saul is on the road to Damascus and has an encounter with God. A divine encounter where God changes his name to Paul. He became one of the greatest preachers and teachers in the New Testament.
You never know who you’re impacting. Let Stephen’s life and death encourage us to live a close relationship with Jesus that is driven by the spirit of God. Not our wants, not our desires, but driven by love because we get to choose. We get to choose what we leave behind. Our life speaks. When we remind ourselves of the mission, we know the why behind the sacrifice. A spiritual mentor of mine, Jeanne Mayo says it like this. “There are two important days in everyone’s life, the day we were born and the day we discovered why.” The day we were born and the day we discovered why.
Here at Cornerstone, our mission is to live out our faith in Jesus and to invite others into life with Him. That is the mission we are created for as believers. This causes Jesus to rise, to stand. Let me encourage you to be a Stephen, bold and courageous enough to stand for the truth. Live for the future. The heavenly one. Compose our present that reflects the glory of God. Live with a fire that causes you to be brave and courageous past the hurdles and trials, and possibly even forgive your enemies.
Be passionate in your relationship. Ignite the flame. Live out the mission of Jesus. Echo it, share it, believe it, and stand for it no matter the cost. Don’t be afraid to leave a life-changing message, a legacy that impacts those around you because someone is depending on you to be that echo. I shared with you at the beginning of this message that I went to Alabama for a couple of days. This was an unexpected trip for me. It was a bittersweet trip on Monday. I was at work here and I got a message that one of my students that I pastored as a youth pastor had had a serious car accident.
I just remember, “Wow, this is a lot.” I began to get myself together, got out of here and left. About an hour later, I got the phone call that she didn’t make it. Her name was Britney. I met Britney when she was 12. She was 19 when she went to be with Jesus. Britney was a beautiful young lady who loved Jesus with all of her heart. She gave her heart to Jesus at a spring retreat that we had as a youth group. After that, she jumped right in. She jumped right into ministry. She was worshiping on the worship team. She was leading as a dancer in our dance group that we had. She had all of these things, gifts and talents. But one of my favorite things that she did when she served in the children’s ministry was she would get up in front of the preschoolers and teach them about worship. She was a beautiful worshiper. This past week I had to watch five, six, and seven-year-olds say goodbye to Britney.
I had to watch their moms and the family; the mom, dad, and the family weep and cry. It was hard and it was tough. I was heartbroken. Her life when I looked out across that funeral home on Friday, there was an echo. There was an echo to those little kids. There was an echo to her youth group. There was an echo in the church. There was an echo to everyone around us. She was leaving a life that lived for Jesus. It echoed it. I want to encourage you with this last quote.
“God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” This quote inspires me. It inspires me to echo Jesus to leave a legacy to make an impact that speaks life. It also makes me feel safe and whole knowing that as long as I’m close to Jesus, He is being glorified through my life. I want to remind you that Jesus wants to stand. He is a provision. He pays attention. He’s in our corner and He is for us. Let us echo. Let us echo love. Let us echo truth. Let us echo grace. Let us echo boldness. Let us leave something behind.
If I had one question I would leave with you today, it would be; If you had one month to live, what would you echo? What would you echo? I want to encourage you to echo Jesus wherever you are. We’re going to have our closing song and our time of giving. This closing song is really special to me because I believe it’s really Stephen’s song. If he was here, he would probably sing this one. We’re going to pray over the word and believe that we are going to live out our faith. We’re going to live for the future. We’re going to live with the fire and we’re going to live out the mission.
Lord, we thank you for this amazing time that we’ve had. God, we thank you that we get to come here and worship you. Lord, we pray right now at this moment, help us to be strong, help us to be bold, help us to be courageous in our faith just like Stephen. Help us to leave an echo for the ones around us in our habits, our influences, our words, our actions, and our moods. They all speak life, Lord. Let them speak life. Let us live for the future, live with a fire, and live out the mission all for you in Jesus’s name. Lord, if we don’t know you get, I pray that we would find you, and then we would echo you in Jesus’s. Amen.
Let’s make loving one another the highest priority and refuse to be offended.
Guest Speaker David Brickner encourages us to live boldly and humbly in times of struggle.