"But Stephen, filled by the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven…Then they screamed at the top of their voices….and began to stone him" (Acts 7:55-58).
I've read the story dozens, if not hundreds of times, and I didn't notice it until recently. I don't know how I missed it. Maybe, I just wasn't ready for it. Stephen was filled with the Holy Spirit. Four different times within the story of Acts 6-7, scripture tells us that Stephen was filled by the Holy Spirit. We're told his face looked like that of an angel. We're told the Spirit moved so powerfully through his words that no one could even argue with him, that they had to resort to lying. We're told that he was able to look up into heaven and see Jesus standing at God's right hand. In the middle of being stoned, we're told that he knelt down and asked God to forgive the people who were stoning him, just like Jesus asked God to forgive those who crucified and mocked him. Stephen was filled by the Holy Spirit.
It got Stephen killed.
It is easy to think that if we are filled with the Spirit, that everything will go easy for us. It is easy to believe that everything will always work out for our benefit if we just trust God. But that isn't always the case. Sometimes, following the will and Spirit of God will lead us directly into the lion's mouth. The same thing has happened with others - Peter, Paul, Jim Elliot, thousands of martyred and persecuted believers since the time of Jesus and in closed countries today. But how does that make any sense? How can being filled by the Holy Spirit ever bring you to a place where you are stoned, persecuted or killed? Why would God lead Stephen to such a place?
When we keep reading, we see that Stephen's death started a massive persecution for the church in Jerusalem. It was so bad that all the believers but the Apostles fled for their lives.
And when they fled, they took the Gospel with them.
You see, up to this point, the Gospel hadn't really moved beyond the walls of Jerusalem and it certainly hadn't been shared with the Gentiles on any large scale. When Stephen died and the persecution began, the Gospel spread like wildfire across the region and eventually around the world. All because Stephen was willing to listen to and follow the lead of the Spirit regardless of where it led him.
The Spirit does not lead us down paths that make us happy. The Spirit leads us down paths that build up the kingdom, down paths that we will want to walk more and more once we actually begin the journey. Following the Spirit won't always lead us to peaceful, pleasant places but it will lead us to the heart of God's kingdom. Stephen was willing to follow the Spirit's lead wherever it took him. Are we?