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?