The book of Acts describes a whirlwind of events surrounding the establishment and growth of the local church in the life of New Testament believers. You have Jesus ascending to heaven, the Holy Spirit coming on believers, disciples speaking in different languages, thousands getting saved, people selling all their stuff and you even have people dropping dead in church. What a crazy couple of weeks.
Two individuals stand out greatly to me in the early portions of Acts. The first is Peter. Peter had been radically transformed by seeing the resurrected Christ. No longer fearful of death, Peter seeks to boldly obey the Great Commission given to him by Jesus by preaching two of the greatest sermons ever. In Acts 2:41 Peter proclaims Christ and 3,000 people were saved. Then he proceeds to do even better the next time when in Acts 4:4 he preaches again and 5,000 get saved. I'm not sure in my lifetime if I'll ever see 8,000 souls saved. Peter saw it happen in a matter of days. And these aren't skewed numbers based on decision cards turned in. These are legit Bible confirming salvations that occur. Stephen is the other guy that stands out to me. He preaches a bold sermon in Acts 7 and his results aren't quite as impressive. Acts 7:57-59 records for us how his invitation went. Nobody gets saved and he gets stoned.
Was Peter more faithful than Stephen? What did Stephen do wrong? Both he and Peter preached from the Old Testament, both proclaimed Christ in their sermon and both accused their audiences of killing Jesus. One sees 8,000 saved and one is buried under rocks. What's the deal? Both were faithful to what Jesus commanded about making disciples but God had different ways of fulfilling His plan through them. God uses Peter to make a multitude of disciples immediately that would be the foundation of the early church but I believe God used Stephen to reach the greatest disciple maker the church has ever known.
Think about the account of Stephen. He is stoned by angry Jews as the Pharisee Saul oversees the execution. Saul needed more than a sermon to be converted. He needed the prayers of a prayer warrior so that his self righteous pride could be exposed by the glory of Christ's gospel. Stephen cries out to God, asking that He not hold the sins of his executors against them. Does God hear these prayers? Absolutely, as God converts Saul on the side of the road, changes his name to Paul and uses him to write most of the New Testament while planting churches throughout Asia and Europe. Stephen's sermon ended tragically yet God used the faithfulness of Stephen to grow His church just as He used Peter.
The Great Commission calls us to faithful obedience. We may not always see the results in our lifetime but we can trust God will always use our faithfulness to grow His church!