You get the story wrong if you don’t see Jesus as the center and the goal. But when you get it right, you understand, as Stephen did, that suffering makes sense. For even our Lord and Master was crucified. Why would we expect comfort and ease? Stephen understood that his proclamation was not likely to end with him being carried off to cheers and adoration. He knew that persecution was coming as a result. But that made sense to him within the story he was living.
Something that my wife and I constantly tell our children is that giftedness and intelligence are vastly overrated. We also tell them that hard work, discipline, and convictional courage is vastly underrated. We tend to misjudge what is most valuable in almost every aspect of our lives — including our spiritual lives.
Think with me for a moment about how we often view evangelism and missions. We tend to think that the reason some people seem to be really good at evangelism is that they are gifted with charisma or have had the right training. But neither of those things are true. The main ingredient that makes a good evangelist is Christ-centered courage. Faithful courage. Without courage, you will use your giftedness, your charisma, your intelligence for self-protection. Thus, hindering the spread of the Gospel. Your giftedness, without courage, is a waste.
In Acts 7, we find a man with convictional courage. His name was Stephen. He was the first Christian martyr. And yet, the focus of the text is not on the fact that Stephen was martyred, but rather on the results of Stephen’s courageous willingness to die for Christ.