How shall we live as believers, as pastors and Chaplains, in days like these? How shall we as ministers of the Gospel conduct our ministries? How can the Church be effective in difficult days? Give attention to the reading of the inerrant and infallible Word of the Living God.
54 Now when they* heard these things, they were infuriated in their hearts and gnashed their* teeth at him. 55 But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, looked intently into heaven and* saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” 57 But crying out with a loud voice, they stopped their ears and rushed at him with one purpose. 58 And after they* had driven him* out of the city, they began to stone* him,* and the witnesses laid aside their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 And they kept on stoning Stephen as he* was calling out and saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” 60 And falling to his* knees, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” And after he* said this, he fell asleep. 
The grass withers, the flowers fade, but the Word of the Lord will endure forever.
Let us pray. Lord, let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
The Church of Jesus Christ began in fear and trembling, not out of reverence for God, but out of fear of men. For on the Lord’s Day following the glorious resurrection from the dead by our Savior the disciples were huddled in dread from the religious leaders who sought their lives. Their conduct is understandable, but not sustainable. Fear of man cannot be a motivating factor for the forward movement of any cause. But what, then? A vision statement, perhaps? No. They had the very word of God given to them by the resurrected Christ. They had seen Him, though some did not yet believe (and most notably doubting Thomas).
The times in which we live can be very difficult. The culture is not only post-modern, post-Christian, but post-post-modern. Many see a growing sense of antagonism towards those who hold to the narratives and metanarratives of Western Civilization prior to the twentieth century. Indeed, it may be stated with indisputable resolve that “things are not what they used to be.” In our environment, in the United States Armed Forces Chaplaincy, we have our own unique pressures. Some believe that these pressures will threaten our very existence, or, at least, our ability to maintain a faithful witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. How shall we then minister? If in our perfect world the culture would all of a sudden turn towards a more hospitable one to our faith we would still have pressures that could drive us behind the locked doors of fear: pressures like the wrestling with the old man of sin within, or the temptations of the devil. The world is only one source of pressure. How shall we then minister?
The early Church was given a gift of a vision. But this vision was not a vision statement shaped through focus groups. Their vision was a literal vision: the vision of Saint Stephen. The martyrdom of Stephen for his faith and our faith became the divine platform for this vision for the Church in days of tribulation. In difficult days God has given the Church a vision for faithful Gospel witness.
I believe we have at least three articles of truth in this vision that not only inform us, but inspire us and lead us forward with faith.
The first article of faith in this vision is this:
1. Our Vision for Faithful Gospel Witness in Difficult Days Must Be Ordained of the Holy Spirit.
We read in Acts 7:55: “But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.”
The scene is utterly out of this world, and yet it is most decidedly in this world. Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown wrote of this:
“You who can transfer to canvas such scenes as these, in which the rage of hell grins horribly from men, as they sit condemned by a frail prisoner of their own, and see heaven beaming from his countenance and opening full upon his view—I envy you, for I find no words to paint what, in the majesty of the divine text, is here so simply told.”
Whatever else might be said to answer the question, “How shall we then minister in difficult days?” we must declare that the answer begins with God. As Stephen was engaged in the ministry of preaching—expository preaching we might add, for this deacon of the Church related the ancient Old Testament story of faith coming down through Israel and yet being advanced in trials and troubles—the Holy Spirit came upon him in a most demonstrable way. Yet, this sermon was delivered as a homily with hostility. And shall ours have different consequences? Can we measure the success of our preaching based on the peacefulness that the homily brings? Are we greater than Saint Stephen? Or shall we expect that faithful Gospel witness in an age of Gospel hostility might just bring further antagonism?
It is clear in the text what we must do and what He will do. We must preach the whole counsel of God without fear of man, but out of fear of God and His plan for the world. The Holy Spirit in the text will consume us in His vision.
Thus, the Holy Spirit is the author of the testimony of Stephen. The Spirit’s own testimony working through His Word that we preach is the divine testimony that condemns those who oppose God and convicts those who would believe.
Our conference on preaching is well-timed. Yet our time together must not be only the identification of oratorical style, but of spiritual substance. As we, too, preach the Word of God and proclaim it with humble faithfulness to the old, old story of Jesus and His love, we will know the attending ministry of the Holy Spirit. And He will accomplish through His Word what we cannot. This is our first statement of faith about a vision for the Church and for ministry today.
The second article of faith about a vision for the Church today is this:
2. Our Vision for Faithful Gospel Witness in Difficult Days is Sustained by the Ascended Christ
What a magnificent visage that Stephen sees! “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” Doctor Luke wrote what he heard this intrepid deacon of the Church declaring. No threat or vile accusation or lethal instrument could compete with the victorious scene in heaven.
We would do well to pay close attention to the doctrine of the ascension of Jesus Christ as this is the literal vision that will sustain us through the trials we might face. His glorious rule out of heaven will also hedge us in from fleshly confidence that could follow our successes. And what did Stephen see that guides us in our day?
Stephen saw the “Son of Man” in heaven at the right hand of God. Jesus used that title of Himself as he was on trial before the very same human tribunal. For we read in Matthew’s Gospel:
“This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days.’ The high priest stood up and said, ‘Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?’ But Jesus was silent. Then the high priest said to him, ‘I put you under oath before the living God, tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.’” 
The doctrine of the Ascension of Jesus Christ is an often overlooked truth, but should be, in these days, a truth that we study and pray over. The glorious “Son of Man,” that identity of the ancient One of Days is the same Lord Jesus who was crucified and died at the hands of evil men. He is the one who rose again victoriously and who now reigns in splendor.
We, also, see that Jesus is at the right hand of God, speaking to His role as not only Redeemer, but Mediator and His Priest for His people. The writer to the Hebrews wrote of the Ascension and Christ’s present role as High Priest:
“Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man.”
The role of Christ as the high priest of our faith, the Mediator and Redeemer, given all authority in heaven and on earth, is the One we serve. Our preaching is, thus, infused with power. Our lives are, therefore, empowered with holiness. Our message is filled with forgiveness. Our mission is guaranteed to succeed.
Finally, see that Stephen saw Jesus “standing.” In other references He is seated. The ministry is final and “it is finished.” So why is Jesus, here, standing? What would rouse the King from his position of perfect serene regality? The answer is that this is a vision of the Lord Jesus Christ arising in brotherly interest for this first martyred minister of the Church. Jesus is not seated disinterestedly. He is seated with continual pleading before the throne for our souls. And when our souls are in danger the King is roused from His royal place to announce His continued identification with the saints.
Jesus was thus standing for Peter’s crucifixion at Rome, standing for Mark’s martyrdom in Egypt, standing for Thomas in his death in India, standing for old Polycarp, the disciple of John, crucified for not bowing to the Roman image, and we must be assured that the ascended Christ is standing in heaven as the Christians are martyred by the Islamic State. And Christ will be standing with royal but brotherly interest for you as you confess Him faithfully before others. In your cancer, He is standing. In your depression He is standing. And, most assuredly, He stands for you as you declare the unsearchable riches of Christ Jesus in a society that threatens your living or your life.
This, my beloved, is the vision—the vision of the ascended “Son of Man,” at the right hand of God, and standing for us in our trials, that will cause the Church to stand in days like these.
The final article of faith for this vision is an amazing consequence of the other articles:
3. Our Vision for Faithful Gospel Witness in Difficult Days Will Convert Sinners into Saints
Dr. Luke then concludes the account and leads into the story of Saul of Tarsus with the testimony of Acts 8:1. As the old King James put it: “And Saul was consenting unto his death.”
In this statement the case of Stephen’s martyrdom is juxtaposed with Saul’s conversion.
The modern history of the Church, since that time, was written on the paradoxical pivot of the martyrdom of Stephen and the conversion of Saul. For in this divine use of apparent failure to bring about undeniable victory our own vision is corrected back to the Cross. The death of Jesus brought His resurrection and His ascension. The cross is no longer the sign of execution, but the sign of sacrifice. This ruling motif of the cross is, also, at work in our lives, Beloved. Nothing will stop the advance of the Gospel through the world. And when you faithfully proclaim Christ died, risen, ascended in heaven, and coming again in glory, some will oppose you, and some will follow, but supernatural consequences will attend your preaching of the Word of God. The conversion of the world and the success of the Gospel in our day is no different than in Stephen’s day. We need a vision. And God has given us His vision: a vision of the risen Christ, the “Son of Man,” the High Priest, seated in heaven above, now, standing to look over you.
The way through the days in which we live is with a vision. And we have seen that the literal vision that Stephen saw is the vision that we need: A vision of the Holy Spirit, a vision sustained by the Ascended Christ, and a vision that converts sinners into saints.
That the greatest missionary of the Church, the Apostle Paul, would arise out of the first martyrdom of the Church is not only astounding, but is a Gospel hint to us: that the worst days of ministry just might produce the greatest days of glory in the Church. It is not that suffering and persecution are to be desired—no, we pray for health and favor of the king and all in authority and for the peacefulness of the realm that allows for the Gospel to go forward with the culture and not against it—yet, we know that God is greater. It may be that the days in which we live will bring forth even greater days than ever known before. And it is certain: that as we carry forth with our ministry, God will attend, with our Christ standing by in heaven, until all are safely in. So, then, we may sing:
“All hail the power of Jesus’ name, let angels prostrate fall, Bring forth the royal diadem and crown Him Lord of all. Bring forth the royal diadem and crown Him Lord of all.
Crown Him, ye martyrs of your God Who from His altar call; Extol the Stem of Jesse’s rod, and crown Him Lord of all. Extol the Stem of Jesse’s rod, and crown Him Lord of all.”
 Harris, W. H., III, Ritzema, E., Brannan, R., Mangum, D., Dunham, J., Reimer, J. A., & Wierenga, M. (Eds.). (2012). The Lexham English Bible (Ac 7:54–60). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
 The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), Ac 7:55.
 Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, vol. 2 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), 181.
 The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), Ac 7:56.
 Ibid., Mt 26:61–64.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Heb 8:1–2.
 Luke’s juxtaposition of Saul and Stephen shows the common effect they had on the church. See John D. Barry, Michael S. Heiser, Miles Custis, et al., Faithlife Study Bible (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2012), Acts 8:1-3.
 Oliver Holden (1765-1844), “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” (1793). Lexham Press. Logos Hymnal Media Resource. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2009.