Thursday, December 18, 2008

Stephen: Boldness

Act 6:1 And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.
Act 6:2 Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables.
Act 6:3 Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.
Act 6:4 But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.
Act 6:5 And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch:

The Hebrew Jews were getting preference over the Grecian Jews. Hebrew = from Judah, Grecian = from outside Judah. Rather than give up prayer and evangelism, the apostles called for the appointment of seven men to see to the day to day business of the church and minister to the poor. Traditionally, this is considered the beginning of the office of the deacon. Stephen was a noted follower.

Act 6:8 And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people.
Act 6:9 Then there arose certain of the synagogue, which is called the synagogue of the Libertines, and Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and of them of Cilicia and of Asia, disputing with Stephen.
Act 6:10 And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake.

The synagogue of the Libertines or Freedmen, was one of many Grecian Jews, including those that had been enslaved and then freed. It was probably the one of Saul of Tarsus and possibly presided over by Gamaliel of Acts 5, reputed to be the teacher (rabbi) of Saul. In their dispute, Stephen refuted them by speaking with wisdom and the Spirit. This points towards us being able to know and refute those who come with objections or seek a reason for the faith we have within us (1 Peter 3:15).

Act 6:11 Then they suborned men, which said, We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses, and against God.
Act 6:12 And they stirred up the people, and the elders, and the scribes, and came upon him, and caught him, and brought him to the council,
Act 6:13 And set up false witnesses, which said, This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words against this holy place, and the law:

Unable to refute Stephen, the Jews used false witnesses who incited the crowd and grabbed him and brought him before the Sanhedrin where false witnesses again charged Stephen with blasphemy. Stephen’s defense is listed in Acts 7 where he used his knowledge of the Scriptures to outline the history of the Jewish people from Abram to Egypt and Moses. Stephen then spent some time on Moses pointing out how the Jews had rejected him, then mentioned all of the prophets the Jews ignored or killed, even though all of these came from God with His message. This is similar in pattern to the method Paul used on Mars hill in Athens (Acts 17:16-34), except Paul started from Genesis and led to Jesus since he was speaking to Greeks who didn’t know Jewish history.

Act 7:54 When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth.
Act 7:55 But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,
Act 7:56 And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.

As expected, speaking with the power of the Spirit and with wisdom, the Jews were condemned by the Spirit. Stephen’s vision again cut them, especially since Jesus was standing in the vision instead of sitting, symbolic of Jesus being ready to receive and greet Stephen.

Act 7:57 Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord,
Act 7:58 And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul.
Act 7:59 And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.
Act 7:60 And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

In their desire to no longer hear the words that the Spirit was using to condemn them, they dragged Stephen out of town without the formal verdict of the trial, as an angry mob and stoned him. Stephen remained bold to the end, secure in his faith, committing his soul to Jesus’ care and asking forgiveness for those who were killing him.

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