Memorial Day has become synonymous with beach trips, pool parties, and cookouts. But, Memorial Day was established as a day of remembrance of those who have died in service to our country. This “unofficial start to Summer” was originally called Decoration Day, from the early tradition of decorating graves with flowers, wreaths and flags. It was first widely observed on May 30, 1868 to commemorate the sacrifices of Civil War soldiers, by proclamation of Gen. John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of former Union sailors and soldiers. This weekend we do well to remember that our treasured freedoms have been secured and defended by scores of America’s service people.
Likewise, Acts chapters six and seven tells of the service of Stephen – a life worth remembering. “And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people.” (Acts 6:8 ESV)
Stephen’s life teaches us several lessons worth remembering…
1. The normal Christian life is not the typical Christian life. Stephen was filled with the Holy Spirit. He was full of grace and power. He was full of wisdom. The Lord Jesus told us in the Gospel of John that His disciples have been given the Holy Spirit. But are we walking in the Spirit, depending on the Spirit, being filled with, controlled by the Holy Spirit?
2. Never say you are just a layman. In Acts chapter seven, Stephen, according to many commentators, one of the first deacons preaches a sermon. I find it interesting that besides the Sermon on the Mount this is the longest recorded sermon in the New Testament. The apostles were blessed by the support and witness of a man like Stephen. Never say you are just a layman. You can be a powerful ally for your pastor. Pastors, pray for and build up the Stephens around you.
3. If you want to be full of Jesus, you have to be empty of yourself. Towards the end of Acts chapter seven, Stephen is being stoned. He prays that the sins of those stoning him will not be held against them. That sounds a lot like the Lord Jesus. Stephen was fully surrendered to Christ’s Lordship. He was empty of self, and full of Jesus.
4. You can’t give your life for Jesus until you live your life for Jesus. Acts 7:58 notes that Saul was watching. Saul would later mention Stephen in his testimony (Acts 22:20). I guess he never got over Stephen’s witness.
Stephen is recorded as the first Christian martyr. Martyr means witness. I read the other day that that Stephen was not a martyr because he died. But, he died because he was a martyr. Stephen’s life is a life worth remembering. May we surrender ourselves to the Lord Jesus and experience the victory of the Spirit-filled life.