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DEATH VALLEY STRATEGIES
Intro: Beginning at Acts 6:8 through the close of this chapter, Luke records the ministry and death of Stephen. Stephen was one of the seven men chosen to be the first Deacons of the early church. He was a man filled with the Holy Ghost. He was a man God used greatly for His glory. He was a man God used to accomplish much in a short time.
While Stephen was man of immense spiritual power, he was also a man who suffered greatly because of his relationship with Jesus Christ. The Jews were not happy that Stephen was working miracles, Acts 6:8. They called together their greatest religious minds to debate spiritual matters with Stephen, but they could not overcome his wisdom and knowledge of the things of God, Acts 6:9-10. Seeing they could not out-maneuver Stephen intellectually, they bribed men to lie about him, 6:11. They accused Stephen of blaspheme, of seeking to undermine the Law of God, and of speaking against the Temple. It was all lies, but it was all the council needed to hear. The High Priest was convinced and he began to interrogate Stephen, 7:1.
When they opened the door, Stephen began to preach the Word of God, he retold the history of the Jewish nation beginning with the call of Abraham and ending with the ministry of the Lord Jesus. Along the way, Stephen reminded the Jews of the idolatry of the nation and of how they turned to other gods and were judged by the Lord.
Stephen’s words cut them to the heart, v. 54. They were brought under such conviction that these dignified, respected religious leaders actually ran to Stephen and began to bite him with their teeth. Stephen reacted to their attack by telling them that he saw the risen Christ at God’s right hand, they flew into a rage, dragged him from the city and stoned him to death, vv. 55-60.
In this sad scene from the tragedy surrounding the death of the first Christian martyr, there is some help for us today. Stephen, in these verses, passed through a place mentioned by David in Psalm 23. In verse 4 of that precious Psalm David said this, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” That valley has been variously interpreted through the years. Some say it refers to death. While others suggest that it refers to the hard places of this life. I am inclined to lean toward the second meaning.
The analogy of a shepherd leading his sheep is a precious thing. The shepherd leads the sheep through places where they can feed, drink, and rest in safety. He leads them to places where they can grow and be content. But, as they journey from one place of peace and safety to another, they are forced sometimes to pass through places where the shadows grow long and the way grows hard.
In our text, Stephen is passing through such a place. Even though Stephen died there, he passed through that place of dark shadows into the very presence of the Lord.
I realize that our difficulties do not rise to the level of Stephen’s. No one has attacked us with their teeth and stoned us to death because of our testimony for Jesus. Our times of passing through “the valley of the shadow of death” are painful nonetheless.
Life is filled with those times! Many of our church folks are in those hard places right now. Sicknesses, financial troubles, marital discord, problems with children, and many other matters come against us, attack us and bring us pain. Of course, the Bible said it would be this way.
· Ecclesiastes 2:23, “For all his days are sorrows, and his travail grief; yea, his heart taketh not rest in the night. This is also vanity.”
· John 16:33, “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”
· Job 14:1, “Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble.”
I realize that these are difficult days and the last thing you need is a reminder of how hard they are. I think that was can find some help in observing Stephen during his death valley experience. Even though Stephen died in his valley, he was a victor and not a victim. He obtained his victory by following certain strategies in his life. These strategies gave Stephen victory where others could only see defeat. These same strategies will help us when we face our own death valley days.
As the Lord gives us liberty today, I want to point out a few of the strategies we need to employ in our own lives. If we will carry out these simple strategies, we will find the help we need when we enter the valley of the shadow of death. I want to preach about Death Valley Strategies for a few minutes today. Let’s learn from the life and testimony of Stephen how we can enjoy ongoing victory when it’s our time to walk through the valley.
I. v. 55 BE AWARE OF HOW
YOU ARE LIVING
· The Bible makes it clear that there was a vast difference between Stephen and his attackers. They are attacking him, but he has his attention focused on the Lord. Verse 55 draws attention to this difference by simply saying, “But he…” Stephen was different from the evil men around him and it showed in his life.
· When we move into a death valley experience in our lives, the first thing we need to do is examine our own hearts. Sometimes the hardships are brought about by our own foolish decisions, or because we are out of the will of God. That is called chastisement, and we need to know that God will use whatever methods He must to get our attention. He will speak as loudly as he needs to in order to get us to listen. (Ill. Joab’s barley fields – 2 Sam. 14:28-33) (Ill. “Can you hear me now?”)
· Sometimes the hardships come because we are living for the Lord. God allows suffering in our lives for His Own purposes. God does this to grow us, to mature us, and to make us more like Jesus.
· Regardless of the reason hardship has come, every believer needs to be sure that he or she is a “But he” believer. What I mean by that is this: every believer needs to make sure two things are true in our lives.
Ø We need to be sure that we are suffering for the right reasons, 1 Pet. 3:13-17.
Ø We need to be sure that we react to our hardships the right way, James 1:2; Luke 6:22-23.
When the trial comes, and the cold winds begin to blow in your life, take some time to examine your heart. Be Aware Of How You Are Living.
II. v. 55 BE AWARE OF WHO
· Verse 55 tells us that Stephen was “full of the Holy Ghost”. At that moment in time, Stephen was exactly where God wanted him to be. God had led Stephen to that very place for that very moment for the very things that was happening to him. It doesn’t make sense from our perspective, but God got glory from the horrible death of Stephen. And, Stephen arrived where he did because he was following the leadership of the Holy Spirit. In other words, everything that took place was the will of God for Stephen’s life.
· When you walk into your death valley situation take some time to consider who is in charge of your life. Did you arrive in that place because you are in charge, or did you arrive here because you were following the Lord?
· When we do the leading, we will always find ourselves in deep trouble with no help in sight. When He does the leading, He will guide us into the perfect places of life. He will lead us to places where we can learn more about Him; to places where we can experience His amazing grace; to places where we can grow in our relationship with the Lord.
· Sometimes the Lord will lead you to places in life that make no sense. You will look around and wonder what in the world the Lord is doing. But, if He has done the leading, He has brought you to the perfect place, Psa. 37:23. He has brought you to a place of blessing and spiritual growth, Job 23:10; 1 Pet. 1:7.
· Our duty in life is to yield to Him and allow Him to lead us to where He wants us to be, even when we don’t like the destination. That was Paul’s determination, Gal. 2:20. That is God’s command for each of us, Rom. 6:13.
· When you enter your death valley experience, take some time to examine your heart. Be Aware Of Who Is Leading.
III. v. 55b-56 BE AWARE OF WHERE
YOU ARE LOOKING
· While the Jewish leaders are attacking Stephen, he has his eyes on another country. While they bite him, Stephen is looking at the glory of God and seeing the risen Christ standing at the right hand of God in Heaven. What a vision!
· People who are different because they are saved; people who understand a few things because of the leadership of the Holy Spirit; people who live under the leadership of the Lord, see things ordinary people never get to see.
· There is Stephen, they are biting his body and they are going to stone him to death. He knows he will never see his family again. He will never preach or be used to perform another miracle. His earthly life is over and he knows it! What is He doing? He is not looking at the problem; He is looking at the Savior. He knows that they might abuse him here, but in a short time; he is going to be in the presence of the Lord!
· Stephen teaches us a valuable lesson in these verses. We can either spend our lives focused on the problems of life, or we can spend our time focusing on the Problem solver. We can look at what is wrong, or we can look at the One Who can make it right. We can fix our eyes on our situation, or we can fix them on the One Who determines the situations.
· We can look at anything we want to, but our help will come when we learn to look past the things we can see and place our eyes on the only one Who can help us, Heb. 12:1-3. What you think you can see doesn’t really matter. What matters is what you can’t see. God is working out an eternal plan and He has made us a part of it. Our duty is to look to Him and to keep going for His glory. We need to realize that this life with all its pain and sorrow is but a shadow that will pass away one day soon. The only things that are real are those things that wait for us on the other side, 2 Cor. 4:17-18.
· (Ill. Your home is just over there. You can see it now, but it is more real than the home you will return to in a few minutes. Your departed loved are waiting just over there. You can’t see them, but they are there, waiting on you. Your glory and your reward are just up ahead. You can’t see it, but it is real nonetheless! Keep marching; keep looking toward home; keep your eyes on Jesus; one day we will step out of the shadow of this life into His presence in glory. What a day that will be! By the way, that’s why believers ought to keep a heavenly focus, Col. 3:1.)
· By the way, When Stephen saw Jesus He was standing and not sitting. That’s interesting because the Bible tells us that Jesus ascended to Heaven and sat down at the right hand of God’s throne, Col. 3:1; Heb. 10:12; 12:2. Stephen is allowed the great honor of seeing the glorified Christ in Heaven standing.
Why is the Lord standing? Some would suggest that Jesus is standing to signal that He is ready for action; that he sees what is happening to his servant and He is moved to do something about it. The only problem with that is this: He didn’t do anything! He let them bite Stephen. He let the stone Stephen. He stood by while His servant suffered.
Why is Jesus standing? Jesus is the King of Kings. No ancient king would stand in the presence of a subject. King Jesus sees the suffering of His man and He stands to show His concern for the hardship Stephen faces. He stands to honor this man who is honoring Him. He stands to welcome the first martyr of the Christian era into Heaven. He stands for Stephen because Stephen has stood for Him!
One day, this life will be over and we will go into the presence of the Lord. I do not expect Him to stand up when I meet Him. I do expect to bow before Him to give Him my worship and to cast my crowns at His feet. I want to hear Him say, “Well done good and faithful servant.” That is what His standing communicates to Stephen! Jesus is saying, “Well done Stephen, it’s time to come home!”
· When the hard times come, take a moment to examine your life. Be Aware Of Where You Are Looking.
IV. v. 58-60 BE AWARE OF WHERE
YOU ARE LEANING
· They drag Stephen outside the city and they begin to cast stones at him, and they continue until he is dead. Even as the stones fall on body tearing the skin, bruising the muscles and breaking the bones beneath, Stephen calls on God and commits His spirit to the Lord. He places his burden in the hand of His Lord. Like Jesus, he even prays for those who are attacking him.
· In Stephen’s dying moments we are given a glimpse of a man who is still leaning on the Lord. When the hardships of life pile in on you, you can take a lesson from this man. Learn to take a couple of simple steps and it will make your way a little better.
Ø Learn to call on God in every situation – Jer. 33:3; Matt. 7:7-11. You can trust Him to hear your plea.
Ø Learn to give your burdens to the Lord – 1 Pet. 5:7; Psa. 55:22. You can trust Him to do right in every situation of life.
· When you enter your death valley situation, remember this truth: “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness,” Isaiah 41:10. Take stock of your life and Be Aware Of Where You Are Leaning. If you are leaning on anyone or anything else but Him, you will surely fall. If He is your helper, you will never be moved!
Conc: I wish I could tell you that this story ended with Stephen miraculously rising from the heaps of stones. I wish I could tell you that he went home to his family. I wish I could tell you that he lived to preach another day. That is not what happened. Stephen died that day and he went home to be with the Lord.
That brings to mind a truth that we would do well to remember. That truth is this: not everyone walks out of death valley alive! Some are liberated, and some are not. Either way, God works out His perfect will in the lives of His children. Our duty is to submit to Him and trust Him to do right.
When we enter death valley, we must be ready to die there. We can expect deliverance, and it will come, either here or there. We must come to the place where we simply place our lives in His hand and believe Him, whether we walk out of the valley into victory here, or whether we die in our valley and wake up in His presence.
Are you in a death valley experience today? Either you are, you have been or you will be soon enough. I want to challenge you to examine your life right now. Be Aware Of How You Are Living; Be Aware Of Who Is in Control; Be Aware Of Where You Are Leaning; and Be Aware Of Where You Are Leaning. There’s help for us when we employ the right strategies in our death valley situations.