Stephen: Boldness

Explore the Bible Series

June 15, 2008

 

Background Passage: Acts 6:1-8:3

Lesson Passage: Acts 6:8-15; 7;51-60

 

Introduction:

In 1993, John Piper published Let the Nations Be Glad: The Supremacy of God in Missions.  In my judgment, this is Piper’s finest work.  A few years ago I read this book with great interest, in part, because of a chapter entitled “The Supremacy of God in Missions Through Suffering”.  The book recounts several stories of incredible suffering for the sake of the gospel, and, interspersed throughout the chapter, Piper lists six reasons God appoints suffering for his servants.  I recount this list for your prayerful consideration and encourage you to read this helpful, thought-provoking work.

 

  1. “… God disciplines his children through suffering. His aim is deeper faith and deeper holiness.”
  2. “By enduring suffering with patience the reward of our experience of God’s glory in heaven increases.  This is part of Paul’s meaning in II Corinthians 4:17-18.”
  3. “God uses the suffering of his missionaries to awaken others out of their slumbers of indifference and make them bold.”
  4. “The sufferings of Christ’s messengers ministers to those they are trying to each and may open them to the gospel.”
  5. “The suffering of the church is used by God to reposition the missionary troops in places they might not have otherwise gone.”
  6. “The suffering of missionaries is meant by God to magnify the power and sufficiency of Christ.”

 

 

Lesson Outline:

 

I.                   Resolution of a Church Conflict (6:1-7)

A.                A dispute about relief of the poor (v. 1): As we have observed, the early church took great care to meet he needs of the poor in their number, and they did so a significant personal cost.  However, the increasing number of converts made difficult the distribution of the resources.  The Hellenistic Christians (probably a reference to Greek-speaking Christians) complained that their widows were overlooked.  The text gives no indication of deliberate neglect; nevertheless, the church needed to address the needs of these women.

  1. The Apostles’ resolution (vv. 2-4): The twelve determined to delegate the church’s funds through the administration of seven men, chosen by the people.  Often Bible students have assumed this event gave birth to the deaconate, but this passage does not refer to these men as deacons.  The disciples gave general spiritual and moral guidelines for their selection, but the responsibility for selection of these servants fell to the church.  Note the importance the passage places on prayer and the ministry of the word.
  2. The selection of the seven men (vv. 5-7): The church found this suggestion acceptable, and the people chose seven men to administer the resources.  The apostles laid hands on the men to set them apart for this important work, and the problem was peaceably resolved.  Luke highlights the continued growth of the church and the particular conversion of many Jewish priests.

 

II.                The Witness of Stephen (6:6-8:3)

A.    Stephen falsely accused (6:6-15): Several years had passed since Pentecost, and the church’s witness apparently remained confined to Jerusalem.  A faithful, powerful man named Stephen attended a local synagogue, and some of the Jewish leaders took exception to his doctrine.  This place of worship, called the Synagogue of the Freedmen, was frequented by Jews from the Dispersion, Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and Cilisians. The leaders grew so angry that they stirred up the people and enlisted false witnesses who accused Stephen of blasphemy.

B.     Stephen’s defense (7:1-53): This is, by far, the longest address in the Book of Acts. Stephen summarized the history of the Jewish people, in part, to demonstrate that he had not repudiated his Jewish background.

1.      God’s covenant with Abraham (vv. 1-8): Stephen recounted God’s gracious dealings with Abraham: the call to Canaan, the promise of a son, the judgment of Egypt, and the rite of circumcision.

2.      God’s dealings with Joseph (vv. 9-16): The Lord used Joseph to relocate Israel, for a time, in Egypt.

3.      God’s covenant with Moses (vv. 17-43):  Stephen briefly summarized God’s miraculous deliverance of Moses and the Lord’s remarkable plan for emancipation of the Jews from Egyptian bondage. 

4.      The erection of Solomon’s Temple (vv. 44-50): The Jewish leaders had accused Stephen of blasphemy concerning the Temple, and this emboldened servant of Christ reminded the leaders that God did not dwell in temples made with hands (See Isaiah 66:1-2).

5.      The application of Stephen’s sermon (vv. 51-53): As Stephen concluded his address, he turned his attention to the religious leaders.  He sharply accused the Jews of killing the prophets and crucifying the Just One of God.  They had, according to Stephen, received the law of God, but they had not kept the Lord’s precepts.

 

 

III.             The Martyrdom of Stephen (7:54-8:3)

A.    The angry response of the crowd (v. 54): The crowd was “cut to the heart”, a term that, according to Curtis Vaughan, denotes fury (Same term used in 5:33). Also, Luke said the crowd “gnashed at him with their teeth”.  Again, this phrase expresses deep, angry emotional response to Stephen’s sermon. 

B.     Stephen’s vision (vv. 55-56): Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, saw a vision of the glory of heaven and Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father. 

C.     Stephen’s death (vv. 57-60): The enraged crowd surged forward and seized Stephen.  They took him outside the city to stone him.  Vaughan points out that this form of execution often involved throwing a victim headfirst over a precipice; then, the accusers would roll large stones over the injured man until he died.  However, the story recorded in John 8:1-12 indicates that the crowd intended to throw stones at the woman taken in adultery.  Whatever the case, stoning was, according to the Mosaic Law, an acceptable method of execution.  In this case, of course, the crowd intended a terrible miscarriage of justice.  Saul of Tarsus was a willing participant in this murder, and, many years later, the Apostle Paul may have served as Luke’s source for the details of this sordid execution.   In contrast to the agitated response of the crowd, a composed Stephen prayed for his murderers.

D.    Saul’s persecution of the church (8:1-3): Stephen’s execution scattered the early church.  Many fled from Jerusalem, and a determined Saul received authorization to track down believers and cast them in prison.