Saturday, October 21, 2017
Daily reading assignment – Acts 7-8
Our scripture reading this Saturday, October 21 is found in the Book of Acts, chapters 7-8. Recorded in those chapters are two of the great pivotal points in the maturing of the early church; the death of Stephen the first martyr of the church (Acts 7) and the conversion of Saul the great persecutor of the church on the road to Damascus (Acts 8).
We first meet Stephen in Acts 6 named among the seven men the church chosen to assist the apostles in the rapidly growing church. Some debate if those men were the first ordained as Deacons, one of only two Biblical offices in the New Testament church, the other being the Pastor\Elder; what we do know is their role was to “serve tables” (Acts 6:2) and their spiritual character is noteworthy: “men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom” (Acts 6:3).
Of the seven men chosen by the church and ordained by the apostles, Stephen, perhaps because he would become the first martyr of the church, is specifically notable as a man, “full of faith and power, [who] did great wonders and miracles among the people” (6:8). Stephen’s testimony endeared him to the church and his courage in the faith, spiritual wisdom and power in the spirit made him a formidable witness in the synagogues (6:9-10).
As it was with Jesus Christ, so it was for Stephen, that the enemies of the Gospel determined to silence him. Having arrested Stephen, evil men were employed to bring false accusations of blasphemy against him (6:11-13). Hurling lies against his character, Stephen amazed those who sat in judgment against him, for his countenance was “as it had been the face of an angel” (6:15).
Having heard the charges of the false witnesses, Stephen answered the enquiry of the high priest, “Are these things so?” (7:1) with one of the great sermons of the New Testament (Acts 7:2-53).
On a personal note, one of the charges against the 21st century church is its neglect of teaching the Old Testament scriptures; sadly, I am afraid the majority of churches are guilty. In fact, some are so foolish to suggest the New Testament church only need be focused on the Gospels while others suggest the epistles should be the focus of the pastor\teacher. Not only are those views hurtful, shortsighted, and foolish; they are also contrary to the weight of the scriptures as a whole. The Apostle Paul argues,
2 Timothy 3:16-17 – “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 17 That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”
Stephen’s defense reflected a breadth and depth of knowledge of the Old Testament scriptures. His argument before the Sanhedrin was powerful because his knowledge of the scriptures was commanding. Stephen systematically set forth a historical case for Christ beginning with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, and Solomon (Acts 7:2-50). Concluding his defense, Stephen fearlessly rebuked the Sanhedrin, exposing their hypocrisy and charging them and their fathers with the deaths of the prophets (Acts 7:51-53).
Rather than answer the damning indictment, the lawless members of the Sanhedrin broke their own laws and, without an answer or judgment, stoned Stephen to death (Acts 7:54-58). They were guilty; guilty of the blood of the prophets and, having already rejected Jesus Christ they now added to their condemnation the blood of Stephen. There is little doubt the majority died and their sins condemned them to hell for eternity; however, there was one exception in their midst… “the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul” (7:58).
Saul of Tarsus, the great persecutor of the church, would come face to face with the reality of the crucified, buried, and risen Savior, Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-9).
Friend, I trust Stephen’s knowledge of the scriptures and his courageous example will stir your heart to study the Old and New Testament scriptures and, embolden in your faith, be a faithful witness for Jesus Christ.
Have a blessed day!
Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith