Devotional # 47. 8/12/13. Stephen, Jesus’ first martyr.
This week’s Reading: Acts 6 & 7.
Introduction. The importance of Stephens devotion to God will be seen as we read through these chapters.
6:1-7. The church continued to multiply but there was a problem. The Hellenists (Greek converts) had widows who weren’t being taken care of like the Hebrews were. So the twelve disciples realize that their calling to serve in prayer and “ministry of the word” needs to continue and they need to delegate the other responsibilities. So they pray that the Holy Spirit shows them who can manage the task and most notably Stephen emerges. I also find it interesting that “many of the priests” became Christians. In the Greek “priests” here is hiereus (G2409) meaning Hebrew temple priests. This word is used in Acts 4:1, 5:24 as priests in opposition to the Christians, now we’re seeing them be converted.
vv. 6:8-7:1. Much like Jesus’ trial where they set up false witnesses, these men do that for Stephen. It’s funny because they couldn’t resist his wisdom (from God), couldn’t deny his miracles (from God), or his glowing face (from God). This reminds me of when Moses saw God in Ex. 34:33-35. So, although the men are complaining that Stephen opposes Moses, he was more like Moses than they were!
vv. 7:2-53. Stephen speaks on the Hebrews heritage. This is important to understand what happens at the end of this chapter.
vv. 7:54-56. Stephen convicts the religious leaders so much that they furiously grind their teeth at him. As this happens the Holy Spirit allows him to see with spiritual eyes and he tells everyone what he sees. He says, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” It’s interesting that he says, “look!”, apparently he didn’t realize he was the only one who could see Jesus (“the Son of Man”). It will be amazing to look through our spiritual eyes some day. We’ll actually be able to see the angels and demons who are fighting around all the time. God gives the gift of vision to Stephen before he dies and Stephen invites others to view it with him. God has given us vision through the Bible but do we excitedly invite others to see Jesus, or do we keep it to ourselves?
Notice that Jesus is “standing.” Hebrews 1:3 tells us that after Jesus died on the cross He sat down at the right hand of the Father. Remember what we talked about in Mark 16:19? Jesus “sat down at the right hand of God” showing His work was finished and that He was all-powerful (see Devotional 42, specifically the section under “vv. 19-20” for more). But now Jesus has stood up. What would make Him stand? Ushering His first martyr into heaven! How Jesus loves His brothers and sisters (us)! Remember He is the “firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:29) so having been beaten and crucified, once He was raised (“born”) from death He can’t wait to welcome those who have been persecuted for Him. Can you believe that? The God of the universe stood in respect for His creation. Not only did He display absolute humility in dying by His creations hands for His creations souls but He also loves and welcomes those very creations with open arms.
vv. 7:57-60. The religious leaders yell, put their hands over their ears and charge Stephen. The reason they did this was because it was considered blasphemy to say a man would be standing on the right hand of the Father. They pick him up and throw him outside of the city. Since everything unclean was supposed to go outside a city if a person had sinned and was to be stoned they would be taken outside the city also (see Deuteronomy 22:24). If some of you don’t know what stoning is, it is the process of killing a person by throwing rocks at them.
Interestingly Stephen says the same things Jesus did on the cross (“receive my spirit” and “Lord, do not charge them with this sin”). God is merciful and causes Stephen to sleep and not to feel the pain of being hit by the rocks. Notice that “Saul” is there overseeing Stephen’s stoning. This Saul is later called Paul who wrote around half of the New Testament and is possibly the greatest evangelist the world has known…we will hear his story in Acts 9!
Conclusion. There is much to read and re-read here (and I hope you do). We can take encouragement knowing that Jesus is waiting expectantly for us to come home. We should be encouraged that Stephen’s pain was momentary compared to eternity in heaven (2 Corinthians 4:17). It should be our prayer that we will trust God in whatever trials we must go through in this life to prepare us for the next.