In the beginnings of the early church, the disciples saw God move in mighty ways. The disciples found themselves preaching the word of God all over the region. However, practical needs arose among the people that the disciples were tending to. Due to their preaching, these needs were not being met adequately. One of these needs involved food distribution to widows. There became an issue as to whether the needs of all the widows were being cared for. This brought pressure upon the disciples who felt their primary focus must be to preach the gospel. They now realized they could not do both adequately. This led them to appoint seven men whose lives qualified for service as leaders to serve these needs.

The first man named to fill this responsibility was Stephen. He was described as a man full of faith and the Holy Ghost; with a strong faith in Christ. He was full of courage, gifts and graces. He was an extraordinary man and excelled in everything that was good.

Stephen was the first Christian martyr. His remarkable death occurred soon after the events in the passage we heard from Acts chapter six occurred. His death was the first in a series of persecutions against Christians that filled the church with blood and that cost the lives of thousands, perhaps millions, in the great work of establishing the gospel today. This trend continues today, with reports of persecution in countries such as Iran and North Korea.

The world today is largely hostile towards the Gospel. It charges the Gospel with falsehood, oppression, limiting moral freedom, meddling where it doesn’t belong, and much more. Our secular age is the source of lies. It oppresses our generation with false truths that destroy morality in the name of license. It demands to control and rule every area in our lives with help from governments and schools.

Stephen’s name in Greek means “crown.” This crown could be one of regal power or a crown used as a symbol of triumph in the Greek games. Stephen’s parents didn’t know when they gave him that name that he would become a disciple of One who wore a crown of thorns. Through Jesus the deacon won a far greater crown than his given name intended.

Faith, wisdom, grace and power were the personal qualities that equipped Stephen for the ultimate witness he would soon bear. They led him to perform signs and wonders among the people.

Stephen was likely helped by the Holy Spirit. He had a zealous spirit that the Jews could not overcome, because it convinced them that he was right. The evidence of sincerity, honesty and zeal in a public speaker will often go further to convince people than the most able argument that is delivered in a cold and indifferent manner.

During the Babylonian captivity, when Jews were cut off from worship in the temple, they began meeting in groups of 10 or more to read the Scriptures and worship. These meetings developed into synagogues. It was the custom in this particular synagogue in Jerusalem to have debates over religious issues. Stephen went there to tell the Good News of Jesus Christ as Messiah, crucified Saviour, risen Lord and indwelling Spirit. Needless to say this caused more than a pleasant exchange of ideas.

The Jews disagreed with Stephen over the issue of whether Jesus was the Messiah. It was not an angry dispute at first. The discussion likely began as a fair and impartial inquiry. When the Jews were overcome by Stephen’s arguments, they resorted to accusations and violence. Like Jesus, Stephen did not defend himself against his accusers. They found his message offensive because he insisted that a relationship with God depends on repenting from all sin and believing in Jesus Christ for forgiveness and salvation.

In contrast, the Jews believed that a relationship with God depended on one’s heritage, associations, attainments or efforts. Their worship and devotion were misplaced to a place and a set of customs, so they missed a relationship with God through Jesus. Similarly, we can get caught up in religion over a relationship with Jesus. Our devotion can become a place such as the church building and a set of customs rather than a daily and personal walk with Jesus. When this happens, our “religion” is equally as burdensome as the Jewish desire to fulfill the Law. It becomes burdensome both to us and the people around us.

The Jews used Stephen’s own doctrines and teachings against him by perverting them. They coerced some men to make false accusations against Stephen. The accusations brought against Stephen-that he had insulted both Moses and God-had also been brought against Jesus in Matthew 26:59-60. Jesus never spoke against the Mosaic Law. He brought out its true intent and He exposed how the external obedience pushed by the first century Jewish leadership missed God’s intent in the Law.

Such claims, although not true, inflamed the passions of the non-Christian, Jewish people. In their minds, speaking against Moses was blasphemy. If reports are made of what men say, their very words should be reported. We should not report our own explanations of what they actually said.

When Stephen was put on trial, Jesus was also put on trial once again. Stephen was faithful in his witness to the teachings of Jesus. To reject the testimony of Stephen was ultimately to reject Jesus.

A description of what Stephen’s face might have looked like is found in Exodus 34, when Moses came down from Mount Sinai. Those who are filled with the Spirit of God usually reflect something of that reality in their faces. Stephen’s face was pure, calm and unruffled. It reflected the presence of God.

Can we describe our lives as being full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, full of grace and power? Are we people who do great wonders and miraculous things? If not, we must begin asking God today to accomplish these things in our lives. When we start talking about the things of the Lord, do we go along with what other people say, or do we stand against the opponents of the Gospel, radiant and bold and even a bit fearsome as we open our mouths to defend the faith of Christ against the foolishness of unbelief?

 

Bibliography

 

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; p. 1497)
  2. Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament. Part of Wordsearch 11 Bible software package.
  3. Polhill, J.B.: Acts, Vol. 26 (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers; 1992; pp. 184-186)
  4. Ogilvie, L.J. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 28: Acts (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1983; pp. 135-138)
  5. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
  6. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
  7. Os Hillman, “Stephen: A Marketplace Minister.” Retrieved from tgif@marketplaceleaders.org
  8. T. M. Moore, “Guilty, As Charged.” Retrieved from www.ailbe.org/tmmoore
  9. T.M. Moore, “The Message, Not the Man, the Offense.” Retrieved from www.ailbe.org/tmmoore
  10. Dr. Randy White, “Serving Religion.” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  11. Dave Wyrtzen, “False News.” retrieved from www.truthencounter.com
  12. Os Hillman, “Stephen: A Marketplace Minister.” Retrieved from tgif@marketplaceleaders.org  

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s