This morning I listened to the section of Acts this includes Stephen’s great speech (Acts 7). This is the longest speech in Acts and well worthy of studying. Obviously it was a unique situation and not a planned sermon for Sunday morning in church. Nevertheless, here are some basic thoughts to nudge us in our ministry:
1. Stephen preached for a response. While the response was not what we would prefer Sunday by Sunday, there is no doubting that he went for it. He knew it was do or die – either they would be cut to the heart or his life would be cut off. He didn’t hold back but boldly proclaimed God’s message.
2. Stephen preached for Christ’s glory, not for his own comfort. He was in a legal situation where every natural instinct would be self-preservation, but instead he lifted Christ very high.
3. Stephen knew his Bible. If this message was not prepared (it may have been, but that doesn’t really change the point here) then he clearly knew his way around the Hebrew Bible. Not only could he tell the story of Israel, but also…
4. Stephen carefully selected material. Too many summaries of this sermon skim over the body of it with a statement like, “Stephen reviewed Israel’s history.” Not so simple. Stephen reviewed Israel’s history with God in locations other than the temple mount. He reviewed Israel’s history with rejecting God’s messengers. He carefully selected his material to fit this particular message.
5. Stephen knew his audience. He knew the people, their pride, their antagonism, their recent history with Jesus. That is why it was do or die … this was not the time for gradual seed sowing, he knew what they needed to hear, and he probably knew where it would lead. Which is why we can also say….
6. Stephen knew his audience of one. He knew that the only listener that ultimately mattered was the one standing to receive him into glory. If only we could always preach with an overwhelming sense of our ultimate audience!
7. Stephen built to climax. He didn’t just talk until the stones flew, or until the time ran out, or until people started to leave. He built towards a climax, towards the point of response and ultimately the point of no return.
Lots more could be said, but these seven thoughts might be worth pondering as you read or listen through Acts 7 and think about your particular context, audience and ministry.