Scripture reading – Acts 7-8
Recorded in Acts 7-8 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 (Acts 8).
We first met Stephen in Acts 6 when he was named among the seven men chosen to assist the apostles in the rapidly growing body of believers. Though there is some debate, I believe the seven were the first Deacons, one of only two Biblical offices in the New Testament church, the other being the Pastor\Elder.
The role of the seven was defined as serving tables (Acts 6:2), meaning the menial, but intimate care of the members of their assembly. Particularly noteworthy was the spiritual character that was demanded of those who would be Deacons. Those men were to be “men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom” (Acts 6:3).
Of the seven men chosen, Stephen, is specifically distinguished as a man, “full of faith and power, [who] did great wonders and miracles among the people” (6:8). Stephen’s testimony and his boldness in faith, spiritual wisdom, and power in the spirit made him a formidable witness among those in the unorthodox synagogues (6:9-10).
As it was with Christ, so it was for Stephen; the enemies of the Gospel were determined to silence him. After arresting Stephen, evil men were employed to bring false accusations against him (6:11-13). Hurling lies against his character, Stephen amazed those who sat in the council against him, for his countenance was “as it had been the face of an angel” (6:15).
Having heard the charges of his accusers, Stephen was asked by the high priest, “Are these things so?” (7:1).
Stephen’s defense reflected a breadth and depth of knowledge in the Old Testament Scriptures, and made his argument before the Sanhedrin powerful and convicting (7:2-53). Stephen systematically set forth a historical case for Christ beginning with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, and Solomon (7:2-50). Concluding his defense, he fearlessly rebuked the Sanhedrin, exposing their hypocrisy, and charging them and their fathers with the deaths of the prophets (7:51-53).
Rather than answer Stephen’s indictment, the lawless members of the Sanhedrin broke their laws, and without an answer or passing judgment, they stoned him to death (7:54-58).
The religious hypocrites were guilty. They were guilty of the blood of the prophets, and having already rejected Jesus Christ, they added to their condemnation the blood of Stephen.
There was, however, one exception in that crowd of mockers: “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 soon come face to face with the reality of a crucified, buried, and risen Savior, Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-9).
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 your faith to be a faithful witness for Jesus Christ.
Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith