And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and disputed with Stephen. But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. Then they secretly instigated men who said, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” And they stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council, and they set up false witnesses who said, “This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.” And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel.”
And the high priest said, “Are these things so?” And Stephen said:
Brothers and fathers, hear me. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran,”
You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”
Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.” (Acts 6:8 – 7:2 & 7:51-60)
Pastor James Corban was called to a small-town church. After the first several Sundays, he noticed that one man, an Elder, who sat in the back would get up and leave about two-thirds of the way through the sermon. Just when, in his sermon, he would get to applying the teaching to their lives, the Elder would walk out.
Pastor James met him on the street one day. “Hello, Mr. Smithers, do you have time for a cup of coffee and a visit to get acquainted?’
The conversed for several minutes, until Pastor James thought it appropriate to ask, “I have noticed that you leave the church every Sunday before I finish my sermon. Do you have to get home to do chores?”
“Naw, Preacher. I jist leave when yah stop preachin’ ‘n’ start meddlin’.”
There was a controversy in the early months of the newly constituted Christian Church. The Gentile widows were not receiving a just share out of the contributions. To resolve the concern the Disciples, prompted by Peter, chose seven men to administer the contributions. Their credentials were “honest report, full of the Holy Ghost, and wisdom”.
The Holy Spirit was not content to leave these men “serving tables”. Luke details two who were especially active in broader ministries. The Holy Spirit led Phillip to Samaria, where his preaching of Jesus created such a spiritual awakening that Peter and John went up to investigate. They found Phillip’s ministry was genuine, but not complete. He had not introduced the Samaritans to the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. The two Disciples completed the ministry by laying their hands on the Samaritans and praying for the release of the Holy Spirit. They encouraged the Samaritans to completely surrender to the Holy Spirit and allow Him to have free reign in their hearts.
After Phillip’s successful ministry in Samaria, the Holy Spirit sent him to the Ethiopian Eunuch near Gaza on the Mediterranean coast. There Phillip to delivered the truth of Christ to him more completely. Next, the Holy Spirit sent Phillip to evangelize each town, north along the coast to Caesarea.
Stephen, another of the Deacons, was going about Jerusalem doing the works of God. He was blessing the people with the good news of the Gospel and healing the sick. As people expressed to him their gratitude, I suppose Stephen had said things like, “In the name of Jesus, get up and walk,” or “Don’t thank me. It was Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah, who did this for you.”
You never know who is watching and listening. It was several years ago, that I was up in my, large, front yard fir tree stringing Christmas lights. Our neighbor teen stopped at the corner of our property with her friend. Their conversation was within earshot, so I could easily hear all they said. So, from out of the branches, I said, “Be careful what you say. You never know who is listening.” They jumped and searched around but saw no one. I greeted her again. Only then she saw me up in the branches.
In Stephen’s case it was members of the Synagogue of the Libertines that were listening. Stephen was offending no one. He was blessing many. Nevertheless, he was violently set upon by the Synagogue of the Libertines. They were a gathering of Greek-speaking Gentiles, formerly slaves from foreign lands, who had adopted Judaism. Because they were Gentiles, they could not go to a local synagogue, so a synagogue had been established for them alone.
Often proselytes are more zealous for the faith they have just adopted, than those raised in the faith. These fiercely held onto the Law and Jewish practices.
Hearing in Stephen’s preaching something that differed from the doctrine they were learning, they argued sharply with Stephen. The Libertines accosted Stephen and accused him of teaching false doctrine. The proselytes heard Stephen preaching “another Gospel”, testifying that Jesus was the Messiah and more, He was God. The libertines came unglued. They could not best Stephen’s arguments, and that frustrated them! They became infuriated!
Stephen, however, was raised as a Jew and had a thorough grasp of the Scriptures. More importantly, he was empowered by the Holy Spirit. Stephen was able to thwart all their arguments. The Libertines could not win by their understanding of Scripture, so they cheated. They turned to deceit and perjury. Those frustrated proselytes spread false accusations against Stephen of blasphemy.
When they realized he continued to best them out of Scripture, they hauled Stephen before the authorities and testified falsely to convince the Elders that Stephen was a heretic and should be stoned. Suddenly, without any preparation, Stephen was standing before the Council and the High Priest. “Are these charges true?” the High Priest demanded of Stephen.
Jesus taught us,
But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. This will be your opportunity to bear witness. Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. (Luke 21:12-15)
As Stephen was thrust into the council chamber, he felt the power of the Holy Spirit come upon him. Luke records what the council members saw,
“And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel.” (Acts 6:15)
The light in his face was the Shekinah of Almighty God. Every word he said was prompted by the Holy Spirit.
“And the high priest said, “Are these things so?”
Stephen did not have to meditate. He did not have to grab a scroll to read the passages of holy writ. The Holy Spirit drew upon the resources that Stephen had stored up over the years of his Bar Mitzvah studies and study since salvation.
When asked to defend himself, Stephen began a thumbnail history of the Jews, including Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and Moses. He touched the burning bush and the exodus. Then Stephen emphasized that Moses prophesied of a mighty prophet, the Messiah that would arise in the latter days. Then he moved on to David and Solomon’s construction of the Temple.
Finally, he editorialized. Then he “stopped preachin’ and started meddlin’,”
“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.” (Acts 7:51-53)
Those were not words of a peeved Stephen. They were the Judgment of the righteous God, the Holy Spirit.
That did it! Those unsaved Jews were convicted, but in rebellion against their own consciences they refused to hear any more. “They stopped their ears”! In mob fury they seized Stephen, dragged him out and stoned him.
We are entering – have entered – a new social environment. When we grew up, an atheist was a rare thing. Most everyone went to church, but those who didn’t had no resentment toward those who did study the Bible and sought to live by their Christian principles.
Not so much, today. Christians all over our nation are being sued for living out their Christianity. The vociferous unbelievers are attacking Christians for refusing to adopt the mores of the culture. More and more we are living in an environment hostile to Christian morality and Christians.
But it is not only in government confrontations that we are challenged for our faith. Even in otherwise normal conversations, as we allow our faith to show, non-believers will ask for the reason for our stance of faith, which in this culture, appears to be aberrant.
Peter teaches us,
… but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,” (1 Peter 3:15)
We are all getting older. Sickness is the lot of the aged. Despite limitations and pain and sickness, we need to keep our faith. We need to be able to cheerfully live out our faith in the presence of unbelieving caretakers. Evidencing the reason for our hope in the face of belying circumstances.
Peter makes several points here
How to prepare:
“Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” But the Lordsaid to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord.” Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.” (Jeremiah 1:6-9)
“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)
“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow; but woe to him that is alone when he falleth, and hath not another to lift him up. Again, if two lie together, then they have warmth; but how can one be warm alone? And if a man prevail against him that is alone, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)
God of our fathers, You brought forth this land conceived in liberty that comes from You. Father, You raised up men who believed in Jesus as God, LORD and Savior. They set this nation on a godly track. We are their heirs, so we need Your Spirit to be active in our lives so we can do our part in preserving America as a godly nation. Give us holy boldness to speak the name of Jesus aloud before the world. Give us grace to declare Your warm truths to a nation grown spiritually cold.
We honor You by depending completely upon Your Spirit both in times when we are confronted by a hostile world, and in times of peace in the normal humdrum of life when a question of faith comes out of the blue. Do not allow our love to be suppressed by either retaliatory anger or complacency. Keep us humbly dependent upon our Savior for peace in the midst of chaotic fury, as well as, an active spirit in the doldrums of life.
Most of all, never allow us to grow cold in our adoration of You, our Majestic, Gracious and Loving Father.
May God …
“grant you, according to the riches of his glory, that ye may be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inward man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; to the end that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be strong to apprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, that ye may be filled unto all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:16-19)