Reading Acts 6:1-15
As we continue through the Acts of the Apostles we reach a massive point in the journey of those who chose to live and die for Christ. All followers are now called disciples and the original twelve have become apostles, the word coming from Greek with a general meaning of messenger. Could this be the first disagreement in the church? As people from different cultures begin the hear the good news and come to faith some felt they were not being treated the same as the rest. The widows from their community were not receiving the same food share that was handed out to the needy in the church by the apostles on a daily basis. Prior to this many had sold their possessions and given the money to the apostles to help care for those in need which included the widows. The apostles are engaged in the ministry of Jesus and cannot be overseeing every aspect of life for the people so new leaders are required to assist with the wider mission work. Even though the numbers coming to faith are growing each day it is a reflection on how we can allow temptation to slip that wedge in between believers. There is a good lesson here for us today. It is okay to admit you cannot do everything. It is okay to focus on your skillset and allow others to put theirs to work for the kingdom. The seven men chosen were all Greek speaking Jews. One of the men chosen was called Stephen and the men of one of the synagogues in Jerusalem started to oppose him. Unable to challenge his wisdom or his speaking through the spirit they went behind his back accusing him falsely of things. They got others to bear false witness saying Stephen had blasphemed against Moses. Akin to saying he had blasphemed against the law and therefore in turn against God. Very similar to the false charges brought against Jesus. Much of the following chapter is Stephen’s speech in reply to these false charges. We will pick the story up towards the end of the chapter but for the moment I want to close with the words from J B Philips who spent fourteen years translating the New testament, he reflected ‘the sick are not merely prayed about, they are healed. Human nature is changed. The fresh air of heaven blows gustily through these pages. The early church lived dangerously. The lasting excitement which follows the reading of the book is this: The thing works.’
Reading Acts ch7vs54 –ch8vs3
Stephen has delivered his speech before the Sanhedrin and the earlier part would have pleased those who heard him as he gave an overview of history from a Jewish perspective, naming many of their forefathers in his delivery. That was off course until he turns the tables on them and begins his attack. He compares their treatment of Jesus with earlier generation’s treatment and rejection of messengers sent from God. He questions their temple worship. He tells them the most-high does not live in houses made by men as he quotes the prophet, ‘heaven is my throne; the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me? Says the Lord.’ By the end of the speech Stephen is calling them murderers and traitors. We re-join the scene at this point. Yet again the Sanhedrin act in an illegal manner. Without gaining permission from the Roman rulers they proceed to killing Stephen. As before with Christ, nothing deserving of death had been spoken, but he was taken to the place where criminals were stoned and their execution began. Remember the incident when Jesus came across a potential stoning and he said the one without sin should cast the first stone. It was those who testified against a criminal who cast such a stone but it was the Sanhedrin in its entirety who bore witness against Stephen so they were all allowed to cast the first stone. And we meet this young man Saul whom we met last week. Stephen becomes the first Christian to be killed for the sake of Christ. Then just as we know ourselves. If you have never done something before you can be a bit hesitant but once that threshold has been broken the next, then the next, and the subsequent numbers thereafter become easier and easier to do. So it was from this point onwards the persecution had moved to a new level and future killings will become easier and easier for the leaders to commit. From this point onwards the believers began to scatter and the gospel and the teaching of it went with them, spreading just as Jesus had told them it would. Saul recognised the potential power that this new church could generate and decided that it had to be stamped out once and for all. He was now very much opposed to his old teacher Gamaliel whom we met last week. Saul had men and women arrested and throwing them into prison he set about his work of destroying the church with great enthusiasm and conviction. Something which makes what happens to him later so much more remarkable.