Term 3 – Week 4
Big Idea – Stephen is killed for faithfully following the teaching of the Bible and the pattern of Jesus.
Become more confident in the story of the whole Bible and realise the pattern of rejection we should expect for speaking about Jesus.
- Belief – The whole Bible points to Jesus, who was rejected
- Behaviour – Be confident in the whole Bible, aware that we should expect people to oppose this message!
The gospel mission as outlined in Acts 1:8 is yet to go beyond Jerusalem. But in this early period we are shown key individuals and moments that had a profound impact on the gospel spreading further afield. One of those people is Stephen (the first Christian martyr after Jesus himself) and one of those moments is the opposition to Stephen’s message as well as his speech in defence. In this event, we are introduced to the theological meat of early Jewish opposition to the gospel and we see how Stephen addressed Jewish concerns. We also meet Saul of Tarsus for the first time in an event that Luke demonstrates had a profound impact on this future gospel-spreader.
Within Acts, we’ve met Stephen before 6:8. In 6:1-7, Stephen is one of the seven men appointed to lead the practical ministry of the church in Jerusalem. Yet it was his message that brought opposition, despite the authenticating ‘great wonders and signs’ God worked through Stephen. Opposition arose from a specific synagogue who argued with Stephen. Unable to face his Spirit-filled wisdom, they resorted to false testimony and then seized him. Note how Stephen’s experience followed the pattern set by Christ; opposition came through argument, which led to false testimony and finally violent persecution. The accusations are serious, they describe Stephen’s words as ‘blasphemous’, speaking against Moses, God, the temple (‘this holy place’) and the law. They use the same accusation Jesus faced in his own trial about Jesus’ metaphorical prediction of his own death and resurrection.
We see in Stephen’s defence that he addresses these accusations through a history of the people of Israel – showing his own learning, showing the biblical roots of the faith he is professing and rebuffing the theological complaints levelled against him. He uses immense detail in describing the lives of four key figures / times in Israel’s history: Abraham (2-8), Joseph (9-16), Moses (17-43 – note the length here as Stephen shows that he does not speak against Moses) and David/Solomon (44-50). He demonstrates both that (a) Stephen is not speaking against the patriarchs and founders of the Jewish faith, but honours their part in God’s developing story and that (b) God’s presence was always with his people and not defined to a place – the temple being a visual reminder of God’s presence with his people wherever they were. God cannot be restricted to a building! As regarding the charge of his speaking against the law – v51-53 Stephen levels the charge back against his accusers; he shows in his history that God’s people repeatedly rebelled against God’s law and persecuted God’s prophets – chiefly now murdering the ‘Righteous One’ predicted by the prophet! It is they who have not obeyed the law that spoke of Jesus. Stephen’s argument is comprehensive and historical, yet provoked a furious reaction. As his death looms closer this first martyr sees Jesus standing next to the Father to welcome him home. He sees reality, but this is the final straw for the mob. His final two sentences echo those uttered by Jesus at his death (continuing the pattern of rejection), before he ‘fell asleep’ at the hands of the mob execution. See how Stephen addressed Jesus as Jesus addressed the Father, putting them on equal terms. The big lesson is how Stephen is killed for faithfully following the teaching of the Bible and the pattern of Jesus.
8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”Acts 1v8
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