Stephen – Servant and Martyr

The Church grew exponentially daily! It brought together many cultures and presented several problems for the leadership. In order for the Apostles to continue preaching the Word of God, Stephen and others stepped in to care for neglected widows. The boldness of Stephen’s defense of Jesus as the Christ could be compared to that of Peter in his first sermon after Pentecost. Stephen, the servant and martyr, entered glory.

Unmet Needs in the Church

At that time Jewish widows who became believers had been accustomed to daily help from the Synagogue suppling food or money. Then the Apostles found that Greek Jewish widows, who became believers, were discriminated against and left out of the distributions.

The Twelve called a meeting of all the believers and said, “We Apostles should spend our time teaching the word of God, not running a food program. And so, brothers, select seven men who are well respected and are full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will give them this responsibility. Then we Apostles can spend our time in prayer and teaching the word” (Acts 6:2-4 NLT).

The congregation chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas all of whom were Greek Jews. But Nicolas was a Gentile believer from Antioch. * The Apostles laid hands on them and prayed for them.

Stephen performed amazing miracles and signs among the people.

Stephen Speaks to the Jewish Leaders

One day men from the Synagogue debated with Stephen. However, no one could stand against the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke. So they persuaded others to lie, saying he blasphemes Moses and God. This roused the Jewish people, especially the elders, and teachers of Law.

Then the high priest asked him if the accusations were true. Stephen presented a rich, meaningful review of Jewish history—an amazing accomplishment for an uneducated man. The Council and high priest knew this history well.

Just as Peter did, Stephen accused them of the murder of the Righteous One—The Messiah, and deliberately disobeying God’s law. Stephen charged them for consistently persecuting God’s chosen leaders. The Jewish leaders were infuriated by Stephen’s accusation and they shook their fists at him in rage (Acts 7:54 NLT).

They dragged Stephen out of the city to stone him. A young man, Saul, stood by watching. As they stoned him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” He fell to his knees, shouting, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!” And with that, he died (Acts 7:59,60 NLT). Stephen, the servant and martyr, entered glory.

* The Daily Study Bible Series, Acts of the Apostles, William Barclay, Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1955, p.50.

The Holy Spirit Falls Again and Again

In Your Bible: Acts Chapters 2, 4, 10 and 11

The book of Acts records many times when the Holy Spirit touched mankind. This includes occasions much like it was at Pentecost, with a mighty wind, violent noise, and amazement filling an entire house—the Holy Spirit continues to fall.

Peters’ Second Sermon

After the Holy Spirit fell in Acts 2:1-4, Peter rebuked the Jews present who did not understand and made jest of what happened. He quoted Old Testament Scripture from the Psalms and the Prophet Joel, prompted by the Holy Spirit (and what Jesus had told him). This amazed Jewish leaders. About three thousand were added to the church that day. More added in days to follow!

Later Peter and John healed the lame man on the way to the Temple. The crowd saw what happened and heard the formerly lame man praising God! Then Peter preached again, this time in the Temple, again rebuking the leaders who did not accept this miracle. He pointed out that those who resisted did so in ignorance (see Acts 3:17).

The priests and Sadducees had Peter and John imprisoned for teaching that Jesus had been resurrected. And the next day the two were released from prison. Many of those who had listened to Peter and John believed in Jesus. The church now was over five thousand strong (see Acts 4:4)!

Speak the Word with Boldness

When Peter and John had been released, they went to their companions and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. The most disturbing part was they could no longer speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.

And when they [the companions] heard this, they lifted their voices to God with one accord . . .And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence, while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness (Acts 4:24,29-31 NASB).

Gentiles Receive Too

Cornelius, a devout man but not a Jew, had a vision of an angel who spoke to him. After this he sent for Peter to tell him what the vision meant. Peter told Cornelius, “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation, the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him . . .

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message.  All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also (Acts 10:34-35). Today the Holy Spirit continues to fall.

Prayer: Father, these early disciples needed guidance, encouragement, and power. Thank you for giving it to them and for continuing to give it to believers today.

Questions: Imagine being in the upper room as the Spirit fell or at a time afterwards as Peter spoke so boldly and amazing events occurred. How would you react?

 

God’s Perspective On Needs

In Your Bible: Acts 3:1-11; John 14:13,14

Peter and John went to the Temple to pray. They saw a lame man, who asked them for money. He asked for worldly help but the disciples remembered what Jesus said and knew God’s perspective on his needs.

Jesus Prepared His Disciples

We read In the gospels that Jesus sent out the 12 and then the 70 with authority and directions to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Jesus said . . . “I will do whatever you ask in My name [as My representative], this I will do, so that the Father may be glorified and celebrated in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name [as My representative], I will do it” (John 14:13,14 AMP).

Give What You Have

Peter and John saw this lame man (begging for money with his head down) and said “look at us.”  They saw the real need here and didn’t hesitate to act.

Peter said, “I don’t have a nickel to my name, but what I do have, I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk!” He grabbed him by the right hand and pulled him up. In an instant his feet and ankles became firm. He jumped to his feet and walked. The man went into the Temple with them, walking back and forth, dancing and praising God (Acts 3:6-8 Message).

Take Away

  • Become aware of true needs
  • As a disciple of Jesus, you have the power and authority to do what God wants
  • Get God’s perspective on needs

Prayer: Father, help me see real needs and how to help others.

Questions: As you read these passages, how does the disciples’ new boldness and power touch you? How do you know the lame man knew his healing was from God?

Jesus Explains Himself From Scripture

In Your Bible: Luke 24, John 14

Several times Jesus explains how he is presented in the early Scriptures (OT). After the resurrection, the Holy Spirit now gives believers eyes to see Jesus as Lord and Savior.

Before the Crucifixion

On the Mount of Olives, in Jesus intimate teaching with the Eleven, he made a wonderful promise. “The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (John 14:26 NASB).

After the Resurrection

The two who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus told the other disciples, in the upper room, of their experience with him. Jesus suddenly stood among them and allowed them to examine his body, for those with doubts. Then Jesus assured them with his explanation of events.

The Lord said, “Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory?” Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself (Luke 24:26,27 NLT). He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.

Now we have eyes to see Jesus as Lord and Savior.

Prayer: Father, your amazing Holy Spirit illuminates Scripture. It’s breath taking. Continue to show me more and more of you in the Word.

Questions: What other Old Testament Scriptures point you to Jesus?

Peter’s Sermon on Pentecost

In Your Bible: Acts 2:14-47

In Acts 2, we learn how God birthed the church on Pentecost. Peter’s sermon shows us what happened. The Promise of the Father came down that day.

Doubt Entered

The Galileans who were filled with the Holy Spirit, spoke in languages they did not know. Jews and proselytes from other regions and countries heard them speak the mighty works of God in their own language! The Holy Spirit did it.

Natives of Judea and Jerusalem, especially the scribes, Pharisees, and chief priests—scorned what they saw and heard. They said, “They are full of new wine” (Acts 2:13 NASB).

Peter’s First Sermon

Peter was excited, but angered that some missed the wonder of it. They tried to misguide the people. Peter stepped forward with the Eleven other apostles and shouted to the crowd, “Listen carefully all of you, fellow Jews and residents of Jerusalem! Make no mistake about this” (Acts 2:14 NLT).

Peter shouted his message, not because of all the tongues spoken, but because he understood it was a God-orchestrated happening. What amazes me is that Peter quoted Old Testament Scripture as would a learned man. The Holy Spirit spoke through Peter for sure.

God’s Wondrous Acts

God’s actions fulfilled the promises of Joel the prophet (Joel 2:28-32):

  • I will pour out my Spirit on all people (shocking that it’s men and women)
  • Your sons and daughters will prophesy
  • Old men will dream dreams
  • Young men will see visions
  • I will cause wonders on earth and heavens
  • Anyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved [emphasis mine]

Peter sternly closed his sermon with remarks from King David’s prophecy (Psalms 16:8-11) concerning Christ Jesus. Peter said, . . . Let it be clearly known by everyone in Israel that God has made this Jesus whom you crucified to be both Lord and Messiah! (Acts 2:36).

Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church—about three thousand in all (Acts 2:41 NLT). The Holy spirit did it—The Promise of the Father came down that day.

Prayer: Father, I praise you. Thank you for the miraculous way you birthed our Church.

Questions: If you had been there, what would have been your impression of the day of Pentecost? If you were a Jew, how would you have responded?

Action Filled Acts

Quote

In Your Bible: Acts 1 through 2:1-11

Luke wrote both the Gospel Luke and the book of Acts. These might also be titled the History of the Founder of the Church and the History of the Followers of the Church.

Acts shows the Holy Spirit and the Apostles at work:

  • The descent of the Holy Spirit—birth of the Christian church
  • The ministry of the Apostle Peter to the Jews and Paul to the Gentiles
  • The empowering men and women to carry on the work of Jesus Christ

In Acts we see the birth and power of the Christian Church.

Choosing the Twelfth Apostle

Peter stood among the believers to guide the choice of someone who would replace Judas as one of the Twelve. He must be . . . “one who was with us all the time that we were with the Lord Jesus—from the time he was baptized by John until the day he [Jesus] was taken from us into heaven” (Acts 1:21b-22a NLT).

The Eleven chose two men, Joseph and Matthias and cast lots to see who the replacement would be. Matthias became the Twelfth.

Like a Mighty Wind

Fifty days after Passover 120 men and women gathered in the upper room anticipating the gift from the Father. Yes, the day was specific, Pentecost (see Leviticus 23:15,16 the Feast of Weeks-one of thirteen specified Old Testament Feasts).

The world at the Time of Jesus

The world at the Time of Jesus

. . .Suddenly a sound came from heaven like a rushing violent wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. There appeared to them tongues resembling fire, which were being distributed [among them], and they rested on each one of them [as each person received the Holy Spirit].  And they were all filled [that is, diffused throughout their being] with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other] tongues (different languages), as the Spirit was giving them the ability to speak out [clearly and appropriately] Acts 2:2-4 AMP). Selah.

Jews from about 13 countries or regions of the known world, gathered for the Feast of Pentecost. Now they saw amazing things and heard in their own languages people speaking of the mighty works of God. Not gibberish—but mighty works or workings of God the Father.

In Acts we see the birth and power of the Christian Church.

Prayer: Father, what a wonder you are to allow believers receive Your Spirit. Selah.

Questions: Why were so many people from different nations gathering in Jerusalem? Name several purposes the Holy Spirit would provide for the believer.

After the Resurrection

Eyewitness pp. 261, 262
Luke 24:47-53 NLT
Acts 1:11 NLT
In Your Bible Luke 24:47-53; Acts 1:11

After his death and resurrection, Jesus undeniably appeared to many people. Again, he taught the disciples about the Kingdom of God and was seen by more than five hundred followers. Jesus directed the disciples not to leave Jerusalem before he sent them the promise from the Father.

Luke’s Version of the Great Commission

As Jesus spent this time with his disciples he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures written about him. Jesus command, “With my authority, take this message of repentance to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem. There is forgiveness of sins for all who turn to me” (Luke 24:47 NLT). This does not contradict the Matthew or Mark account, but is additive and enlightening.

He also told them to stay in Jerusalem until the Father sent the Holy Spirit to empower them. Then in Bethany as he lifted his hands to heaven, and blessed them. They saw him taken to heaven!

The disciples watched in wonderment. Then, two men dressed in white suddenly stood among the and said, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing here staring at the sky? Jesus has been taken away from you into heaven. And someday, just as you saw him go, he will return!” (Acts 1:11 NLT) Selah.

Joy

Filled with joy at his ascension, the disciples returned to Jerusalem as Jesus commanded. They spent their time in the Temple praising God. They knew they were not to leave Jerusalem before he sent them the promise from the Father.

Prayer: Father, thank you for Your Holy Spirit who guides me daily. I need and appreciate this ever-present help.

Questions: How is Luke’s mention of repentance and forgiveness add to your Christian experience? When or on what occasion, have you been filled with joy at what God has done for you?

NOTE:

  • I will continue next with the book of Acts. As you see from Luke’s version of the ascension, the lead into Acts is clear. God’s power – the Holy Spirit—working through mankind/the Apostles is the story of the early church.
  • The blog title will change to Insights into Scripture by a Layman.