Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Stephen – One of the First Deacons

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Stephen – One of the First Deacons - Submitted by Kay Crumley

Stephen was a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, we see in Acts 6:5, and served the church as a deacon.  He was a powerful believer who openly taught the gospel even when it wasn’t popular.   

The apostles and early disciples were often described in scripture as being common, uneducatedHowever, I am amazed at their understanding of scriptureThey may not have had formal teaching, but they were certainly not ignorant of the teachings of the law and prophetsI wonder how many of us could stand before those who are considered experts of the history and laws of the USA and dive into a long, detailed lecture on our own country’s history, including genealogy and personal details of our esteemed historical figuresI know I couldn’t, yet that’s exactly what Stephen did in Acts 7 

Stephen was called to be a servant at the table for the widows in the early church.  Yet, the Holy Spirit also used him in other ways as well as we see in Act 6:Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signsamong the people. Now one would think that would be something others wanted to happen.  But that wasn’tthe case for Stephen.  A group of Jewish men challenged Stephen but were unable to stand against him.  They then stirred up others who lied about the things Stephen said and accused him if blasphemy against God, Moses, and the temple.  Those false accusations got Stephen arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin, the same group who tried Jesus and found Him guilty of blasphemy.  Stephen did not fear this group of men even though they had power over his life, he had placed his faith solely in Jesus. 

After his arrest he was asked, by the council, to defend himself against the charges brought against him.  At that point he launched into a lecture, or sermon, reviewing the ways that God had led the Israelite nation, how their ancestors had been enslaved in Egypt and Moses was sent by God to deliver them.  Moses was the one who God had given the laws that this council was to be upholding. In presenting this history, Stephen showed them how they had failed to understand the truth about God. Tony Evans says, in his commentary, “His words demonstrate that the Jewish leaders had misunderstood the Old Testament Scriptures and, thus, misunderstood Jesus.” 

·    One of the most basic requirements for an Israelite man was circumcision. It was a covenant or contract that God established with Abraham in Genesis. Stephen recited that law and its purpose in Act 7:8. We find in John 7:22-23 that Jesus described that circumcision was done on the Sabbath to keep the law of Moses, yet the Temple rulers were condemning Jesus for healing a man on the SabbathThis is an example that the act of keeping the laws the Temple leaders were enforcing was what they cared mostnabout rather than any miracles that Jesus performed for the benefit of others.   

·    The Temple was sacred for the Jewish religious leaders because they believed God lived there.  Stephen quoted Isaiah 66:1 in Acts 7:49. God is not confined to an earthly placeThe tabernacle or the temple cannot contain His majestyThose are man-made structures that were ordained, He gave them the blueprints, drawn up by GodBut even so, they were physical representations of the Holiness of GodGod provided a physical tent then building that would demonstrate His holiness and allow them to be assured of His presence in their midstThese were for the people, not for actually “housing” God.  

·    Stephen was in covenant with God through his faith in Jesus. The Holy Spirit spoke through him with such power that in Acts 6:10 we see his opponents were unable to stand against his wisdom. He had the ability to preach to these men who were powerful on the human level without fear because of then Holy Spirit in him was speaking through himThe Holy Spirit opened Heaven to Stephen so that he proclaimed that he saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God.   

·    That was the last straw for the Sadducees who did not believe in the resurrection. They had the power of physical death over him, but they did not have the power of spiritual deathActs 6:15 says that Stephen had the face of an angel, one that was full of perfect peace as he faced the humanly powerful councilStephen was stoned to deathHis heart was sincere even to the end as he cried out for their forgiveness in Acts 7:60 he called the forgiveness of those persecuting him just as Jesus did in Luke 23:34 at His crucifixion.   

Let’s pull this all together.   

A. We must have a covenant relationship with GodThat means we are committed to Him, bound to Him in a way that is more than just a legal agreementThe Old Testament laws were written to show we are incapable of living righteous lives because of our sinful nature.   

B.  Following a set pattern of procedures to demonstrate our dedication to God is never going to replace faith in HimThose practices become empty ineffective actions that get us nowhere. Our sanctification, working out our faith, is not a check list of things we must do but a way of life as we daily seek His purpose for us.   

C.  We should not ever try to limit the majesty of God so much that we can “contain” Him in a placeHe is the Head over all, 1 Chronicles 29:11 Yours, OLord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, OLord, and you are exalted as head above all. Be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. 

The final question is ‘how sincere is our heart?’  That covenant relationship we have with Him is not about church attendance, serving others, giving, hours in Bible study, or even prayer.  All those are important and essential to spiritual growth but also can be turned into ritual or even idols and become meaningless.  The challenge for me each time I study, each time I serve, is to be sure it’s about Him in me and not about me.  I challenge each of us to examine our heart to know that we are following the purpose of God, spreading the gospel, and that the Holy Spirit is at work to speak and actthrough us.  

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