The First Martyr-Stephen
Acts 6:8-15 & 7:54-60
If you recall last week's lesson about the first problem to arise in the church, you'll remember that Stephen was mentioned as being one of those who was to be in charge of the ministry of taking care of the widows. In this minstry, you may not expect his witness to be dangerous. After all, he's just handing out food to the poor widows.
The Greek for the word witness is "marturia", which means someone who has a testimony. We get the word "martyr" from that word, which means someone who dies because of their witness. Let's listen in:
8 "Now Stephen, a man full of God's grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people. 9 Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)--Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia. These men began to argue with Stephen, 10 but they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke. 11 Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, "We have heard Stephen speak words of blasphemy against Moses and against God." 12 So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. 13 They produced false witnesses, who testified, "This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. 14 For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us." 15 All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel."
- We see here that Stephen's witness was four fold: through grace and power, wonders and miraculous signs. The Holy Spirit was clearly with him.
- As always in Christianity, there will be those who oppose our witness. Notice that they started by arguing with Stephen, but when that didn't work, they moved on to lying with false witnesses and stirred up the people.
- The Sanhedrin was the ancient court system which dealt with religious and ritual Temple matters. So Stephen was brought before them because of these false accusations.
54 "When they heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 "Look," he said, "I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God." 57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." 60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." When he had said this, he fell asleep."
- Stephen had just finished a very long sermon to them about their failures through the years to recognize who Jesus was and blamed them for crucifying him. They were furious and refused to listen.
- Take note of the craziness of verse 57: "they covered their ears and started yelling". Sounds much like a tantrum from a two year old who doesn't want to hear that it is time to go to bed!
- In the last few verses we witness the courage of Stephen, for as he is being stoned, he prays for those who are killing him.