First Baptist Church Laredo
- The passage for this study is rather lengthy. It contains the story of Stephen, one of the deacons chosen by the people to serve. The passage contains the longest recorded speech in the book of Acts, meaning this event served as an important mark in church history. Stephen’s speech marked a shift in thinking concerning this new sect of the followers of the Way. From this point forward, Christianity and Judaism are marked as two different religions.1. Stephen’s character and ministry (Acts 6:5, 8-10)When you read the description of who Stephen was, one can only conclude that this man was a devoted follower of Jesus Christ. He was completely sold out to the ministry and to following God.A. He was full of faith. (Acts 6:5)5 This proposal pleased the whole company. So they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a convert from Antioch.It is not that his faith was different in kind from other believers, but it was different in quality. He was willing to risk it all for Jesus. He was willing to step out of the comfort zone for the sake of the gospel. He didn’t think his own life precious, but put it all on the line for the sake of the gospel message. I would imagine, some didn’t like his boldness. Maybe they would have preferred a more subtile approach.B. He was full of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 6:5)5 This proposal pleased the whole company. So they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a convert from Antioch.Stephen is given special mention as a person who exhibited the power of the Holy Spirit. We will see in Acts 6:8 that the Holy Spirit was working mightily through Stephen as he was performing sign and wonders.C. He was full of grace. (Acts 6:8)8 Now Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people.He was a gracious person. He was Christ-like in his actions. He was understanding, kind, and willing to minister wherever and whenever he was needed. God’s grace had a deep and abiding effect on Stephen.D. He faced opposition. (Acts 6:9)9 Opposition arose, however, from some members of the Freedmen’s Synagogue, composed of both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and Asia, and they began to argue with Stephen.Stephen’s impact was being felt all over the region and people from four different areas came to oppose him. Cyrene and Alexandria are in northern Africa. Cilicia and Asia would have been in Asia Minor, the region of Turkey. Cilicia was where Paul was from, specifically, the city of Tarsus. Perhaps Paul was one of the people who opposed Stephen. We know he was involved in his death.E. His teachings were full of wisdom. (Acts 6:10)10 But they were unable to stand up against his wisdom and the Spirit by whom he was speaking.It was an inspired wisdom from God.F. His teachings were led by the Holy Spirit. (Acts 6:10)10 But they were unable to stand up against his wisdom and the Spirit by whom he was speaking.The Holy Spirit was giving Stephen the words to speak, just as Jesus had promised would happen for his followers. (Luke 21:15) Stephen’s speech, which we will be looking at, was full of the Scriptures. Stephen’s logic cut them to the heart and confronted them in way they could not answer.2. Stephen is accused of blasphemy (Acts 6:11-15)A. They couldn’t silence his message and couldn’t win the debate, so they turn to the law. (Acts 6:11)11 Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, “We heard him speaking blasphemous words against Moses and God.”B. They took him to be tried before the Sanhedrin. (Acts 6:12)12 They stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes; so they came, seized him, and took him to the Sanhedrin.This is the same Sanhedrin who had dealt with Jesus, Peter, and John. They are losing their power over the people quickly. They wanted to do something decisive to regain their control over the people.C. False accusations are leveled against Stephen. (Acts 6:13-14)13 They also presented false witnesses who said, “This man never stops speaking against this holy place and the law. 14 For we heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs that Moses handed down to us.”Why this accusation? They leveled this charge because it was a charge for which they could execute the death sentence legally by Roman law. They had tried to do this with Jesus, but failed.D. Stephen’s face was like the face of an angel. (Acts 6:15)15 And all who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at him and saw that his face was like the face of an angel.What does this mean? It was as if Stephen was glowing with the glory of God. God’s divine presence was with Stephen. He bore the marks of being with God, even though he is accused of speaking against Moses and God.3. Stephen’s sermon (Acts 7:1-53)Because this section is so lengthy, I will not take time to read the whole thing to you. I would encourage you to take the time to read it. “It is a defense of pure Christianity as God’s appointed way of worship. It uses Scripture as a base, which is also the source of authority of Stephen’s audience.”Major themes in Stephen’s message:A. God’s activity is not limited to the physical land of Israel.Stephen uses several examples to prove his point. God spoke to Abraham while he was in the land of the Chaldeans, modern day Iraq. God spoke to Abraham in Haran. He was with Joseph in Egypt. He spoke to Moses in the Sinai peninsula through the burning bush. He was active in the land of Egypt, at the Red Sea, and in the wilderness. He gave his law to his people at Mount Sinai.B. The worship of God is not confined to the temple in Jerusalem.God declared the burning bush ground as holy. Moses was told to remove his sandals. The mountain of Sinai was holy and a place where the people were to worship God. Moses received God’s law from God himself there. The tabernacle was a place of worship which moved around. Stephen make the point that the Scriptures teach us that God does not dwell in sanctuaries made with hands. God is independent from any building.C. The Jewish people have repeatedly rejected God’s messengers.Joseph was rejected. Moses was rejected. The Jewish people have a long and sordid history of rejecting God’s messengers.When you read Stephen’s sermon, you will notice that he spends a lot of time on Moses and very little time of Jesus. Remember the accusation against him. He was accused of speaking against Moses and God. Listen to the final words of Stephen’s message.51 “You stiff-necked people with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are always resisting the Holy Spirit. As your ancestors did, you do also. 52 Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They even killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become. 53 You received the law under the direction of angels and yet have not kept it.”Stephen moved from defending himself to accusing the prosecution. Stephen is modeling Jesus. No one displayed the fullness of God like Jesus did. Jesus was full of love and grace, but he also expressed God’s wrath against hypocrisy and fake religious leaders.
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