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.