Those Who Have Gone Before Us
In c.1498, a man named Felix Manz was born as the illegitimate son of a Catholic priest. Later in his life, he became a believer and he faithfully shared the Gospel with those around him. He was persecuted for his faith in Christ and later became known for how he gave his life for what he believed in. He was bound and marched down the street towards the Limmat River. His mother stood by and watched as her son passed by her on his way to pay a heavy price for his faithfulness in sharing the truth of the Gospel. She said to her son, “Stand firm, Felix!” Those were the last words that he heard before he would go to meet his Savior. Before he died he said, “Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my Spirit.” He was 26 when he was martyred on January 5, 1527.
The First Martyr
In Acts 7, Stephen was the first Christian martyr recorded in Church history. Many faithful men and women throughout history, followed in Stephen`s footsteps as they stood firm for the truth of the Gospel. Felix`s story is one of the thousands of people who stood firm in their faith. What did those who have gone before us cling to as they faced the most severe forms of persecution?
What Is Hope?
What do you think of when you hear the word, Hope? Hope is used so often that we`ve forgotten the actual meaning of the word. People say things like, “I hope it rains today or I hope the Braves win the world series.” Whatever their wish may be, they will say that they hope for it to happen. Hope is not just the name that my parents chose to give me and it`s certainly not wishful thinking. Hope is actually the opposite of wishful thinking; it is a confident expectation of that which is good. Some aspects of a believer`s hope are as follows:
- The deliverance from Satan, sin, and death
- The return of Christ
- The resurrection body
- Endless life with God!
As a believer, my hope is in Jesus because I know the promises that He makes to me are certain. I know my Redeemer lives (Job 19:25-27)! I`m confident in Christ and the promises that He has made to me, no matter what my circumstances may be. Scripture describes Hope as the anchor for the soul (Hebrews 6:10-20). The hope that we cling to as believers will likely bring about opposition from the world, but God`s promises will always stand, for the truth can never be killed. Louis Sperry Chafer writes, “The believer`s hope, which operates as an anchor of the soul, is that he will one day join our great High Priest within the veil (pg. 189).” The Hope that we have allows us to persevere through all trials in this life, great or small.
Hebrews 6:13-20, “For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise. For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”
All My Hope Is In Jesus: Standing Firm
In Acts 7, Luke recounts the story of a man who stood firm in His faith. Stephen was brought before the Sanhedrin to be put on trial for claiming that Jesus is indeed the Messiah. Stephen boldly proclaims the truth and shows them where they are wrong in their worldview. Stephen`s faithfulness cost him his life, but the reward he received in heaven is far greater than anything this world can offer. Stephen stood where his Savior stood as He was wrongly accused. He proclaimed the truth, and in doing so, took part in Christ`s sufferings (I Peter 4:13). Persecution is a very real part of the Christian life, and to some degree, it can be expected. God is indeed so kind to give us good things in life, but we also experience the realities of living in a broken world (James 1:17). Believers are never promised a comfortable life, but there is a promise that they will not have to go through suffering alone (Matthew 10:16-17). God has given us the hope of spending an eternity with Him and only He can give the peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7). The suffering of this life is not to be compared to the glory that will be revealed in us one day (Romans 8:17-20). Although we live in this world now, it`s not our home, for the believer`s citizenship is in Heaven (Philippians 3:20).
Romans 8:17-18, “and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. 18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
Trials, Perseverance, And Hope
When Stephen was put on trial he turned the situation around and put the Sanhedrin on trial. He began by giving the Sanhedrin a survey of their shared Jewish history (Acts 7:2-50). Stephen pointed out that they had rejected and killed their Messiah. Using the language of the prophets, Stephen proclaimed that they are a stiff-necked people (Acts 7:51). Stephen makes an accusation and a transition by using the word ‘your’ rather than ‘our’ in relation to their fathers (Acts 7:51-53). He no longer identifies himself with them because they openly reject Jesus Christ. The Sanhedrin responded to Stephen with rage in their hearts. Luke describes them as being cut to the heart and gnashing their teeth (Acts 7:54). People who love Jesus will likely experience persecution in some shape or form. For Jesus said, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you…” (John 15.18-21). Stephen keeps his eyes on Jesus and the Hope we have in Him. Stephen sees Jesus standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:55)…he gazed upon the Son of Man, just before he was stoned to death.
Although Stephen was about to be killed, He cries out on behalf of his persecutors, praying that they might know Jesus as their Savior, as he does. A man named Saul was present at the stoning of Stephen. Saul would later become known as Paul and God made the apostle Paul, the most influential person in the Church age (7:57-60). Stephen kept his eyes on Jesus and we must do the same as we face trials here on earth (Acts 7:56).
Romans 5:3-5, “And not only that but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
Stephen was physically killed for telling the truth, but the truth can never be killed (John 14.6). Truth is indeed immortal. The truth is that Jesus Christ has defeated death and He is risen! The resurrection gives believers hope for spending an eternity with God.
All My Hope Is In Jesus
As Believers, we cling to the hope we have in Jesus. Stephen looked to Jesus as he was killed for his faith. Even in the face of opposition from the Sanhedrin, he stood firm for the truth of the Gospel. We must keep our eyes on the sure and permanent Words of Christ rather than the fleeting cares and pleasures of this life. Our hope is sure and ultimately this world is not our home. The good news of the gospel continues to go forth to this day, but the job is not yet finished! Find out how you can be a part of God`s plan in bringing the truth of the gospel to all nations! Request your free information packet today!