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Acts 06-07

February 13th, 2010 by Vic

“Stephens Story”

February 14, 2010

The congregation of new believers was multiplying.  Many were added to the church daily.  Since Ananias and Sapphira had died, the people were taking God very seriously.  The disciples were preaching Jesus and God was confirming the truth of their preaching with signs and wonders.  Everything was going well until some growth pains appeared.  Some leaders or family members noticed that there was not equity in the meals on wheels program.  Not all the widows were being treated equally.  Notice it is not the widows who are complaining.

Acts 6:1-7

The Jews who worshiped in the Greek-speaking synagogue murmured against the Hebrew speaking Jews.  The Greek translation of the OT, the Septuagint, had been translated in Alexandria, Egypt.  The Jews who knew Greek or wanted to learn Greek better would worship in the Synagogues where the Septuagint was read and everything was conducted in Greek.  At this time there were more Greek speaking Jews in Egypt than there were Hebrew speaking Jews in Jerusalem.  Egypt had more Jewish scholars.  The Jewish graduate school in Egypt was known around the world.  In verse 9 we see that opposition to Stephen began in a Greek-speaking synagogue.  It is interesting that Stephen quotes from the Greek Septuagint rather than the Hebrew text in his sermon.  If these widows spoke only Greek, they had been raised in Egypt and did not know their way around Jerusalem.  Maybe it was like our migrant workers here in Oregon.

The 12 apostles promptly called a congregational meeting.  They felt an inner motivation to preach and tell the story of Jesus.  They must have felt the responsibility to quote Jesus accurately and share the life He lived.  If they did not share all the words of Jesus, the story may never be complete.  Leading the church in prayer, remembering what Jesus said and preaching the gospel took all their time.  They set some priorities.

Problems give us the opportunity to examine our ministry and discover what changes must be made.

The word ‘ministry’ is the verb form of the word deacon.  Some consider this chapter as the beginning of deacons in the church.  But the office of a deacon is not mentioned.  It is the function of deaconing that is mentioned.  These 7 are not deacons, but they minister or do deaconing.  “The Son of Man came to ‘minister’ and give His life for many (Matt 20:26).  He did not come to hold the office of minister.  The word to deacon means to stir up the dust.  Just as the apostles were ministering/deaconing the word (4) the 7 were ministering/deaconing tables.  There is no hint of hierarchy here.  In 1 Tim 3 Paul describes the functions of a bishop and deacon with a focus on the character of the person not the status of the position.

The church was not setting up a program.  They were meeting needs.  Perfect harmony was restored.  Everyone is happy when my mom is being treated fairly.

The 7 appointees all have Greek names.  They were probably already recognized as leaders.  We will hear about Philip in chapter 8.  They worshiped in Greek synagogues and also met with Christians daily.

The apostles confirmed the choice of the congregation and in the traditional manner ordained these men for service.  As the word of God multiplies, so the ministry through the congregation multiplies.  The gospel is spreading among the Temple officiates.

Acts 6:8-15

Stephen was full of grace and power.  He had a spiritual charm and divine power that infuriated men who were refusing to see God’s work.  Stephen was able to see the implications of the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ.  He saw the radical changes that were coming for Jewish worship.  Opposition started in the Greek synagogue.  Maybe Stephen was a Sunday School teacher in this synagogue.  There may have been 4 different synagogues or one Greek synagogue where Greek speaking Jews from 4 different nations attended (9).

An intolerance and hatred was growing.  Stephen was disrupting their teaching and way of doing things.  God was making Himself known and hard hearts were getting harder.  But they could not argue against Stephen’s testimony.  They were not stumped by his knowledge, but his wisdom and spirit that were evident in his testimony was making them uncomfortable.  People cannot refute your testimony.  If you share it with grace and power, hearts will be convicted.

They brought 2 charges against Stephen.  He is accused of blaspheming God and Moses.  His words against the Temple were considered blasphemy against God.  His words against the Law were considered blasphemy against Moses.

The Sanhedrin could not keep their eyes off Stephen.  They saw his face shining like the face of an angel.  It is interesting that in Greek there are 2 words for crown.  One is diadem, a king’s crown and the other is stephanos, a victor’s crown.

My dentist was joking with me this week and said he was going to crown me.  A gold crown is not the kind I’m looking forward to.  When I have finished the race and stand before Jesus, I want to hear, “well done good and faithful servant.”  Stephen is about to receive the victor’s crown from a race well run.

Acts 7:1-8

I believe this is a very important sermon for us.  The methods and places that God uses to bless His people have always been changing.  Notice what changes and what does not change?  The people that stone Stephen are fundamentalists.  They are conservative.  The apostles are also fundamentalists and conservatives.  Who determines the meaning that our labels wear?  Maybe it was like our ‘emerging church’ discussions today.  Some focus on the letter of the law and others focus on the spirit of the law.  Stephen is reviewing the spirit of the law.  The scholar’s discussions were more often about the letter of the law.

This sermon reviews the history of God’s people.  We can just take a few snapshots as we try to understand Stephen’s main argument.  He does not deny the charges, but explains why the accusations made against him are a distortion of the big truth.  Stephen does not give a 4 point sermon to make us feel good.  He does not ask, ‘what does this mean to me?’  He just tells the story of God and trusts the Holy Spirit to convict hard hearts.

Addressing the audience in general Stephen begins, ‘Brethren’ and addressing the Sanhedrin he says, ‘Fathers’.  He is reviewing history in front of the experts.  He is putting the parts of history together differently than these men had ever done before.  He is talking about change to these men who were not into change.  He sees change throughout the history of the Jews, but the Jews only saw justification for their tradition.  He opens with the God of glory and closes with (55) seeing the glory of God.

Abraham did a lot of changing.  He was in a place that was not God’s first choice.  The Sadducees were in a way like Abraham.  They had settled in their Haran, short of God’s best.  God’s presence is not limited to one of Abraham’s tenting places.  The tabernacle was a tent.  Worship was not limited to a specific site.  The people of God were to worship God, not the tent site or camp site(8).

Stephen implies that their Scriptures taught a coming change.  For centuries they had no temple, ritual, or home they could call their own and still God was pleased with their worship.  If true worship existed before this Jerusalem temple and before this city then maybe worship can still exist when these are destroyed.

Acts 7:9-16

God brought Joseph through change.  Joseph’s brothers rejected him, yet later he became their deliverer.  They recognized Joseph during their second visit.

Acts 7:17-36

Both Joseph and Moses were rejected as deliverers the first time, but were accepted the second time.  Israel rejected Moses when he first tried to take his ministry in his own hands, but 40 years later when he came back they accepted him.  To the Egyptian, a shepherd was the lowest of the low.  But the Lord called Moses to ministry while he was a humble shepherd.  Joseph and Moses illustrate how Israel treated Jesus.  When He comes again, they will recognize Him (Zech 12:10; Rev 1:7).

Acts 7:37-53

Stephen quotes some Scriptures that these men understood.  There seems to be a pilgrim focus.  The Sadducees had become settlers.  God’s people are pilgrims.  God keeps His promises.

Jesus is the prophet that Moses had predicted.  Stephen is suggesting that these leaders were blaspheming Moses by rejecting Jesus, the Living Word of God.

Our forefathers (44) had the tabernacle of the Testimony with them, but replaced it with the tent of Moloch.  God was in their presence and they rejected Him for other gods.  Your body is not the tent of God’s presence.

David found favor (46) before God because he was quick to repent.  Remember the story of Nabal and Abigail?  David and his 600 men had been protecting Nabal’s flocks and David expected to receive some compensation.  Nabal was very rich, but he was a fool.  He is one of the idiots of the Bible.  Abigail was a woman of faith who put her life on the line for her idiot husband.  She saw David as the coming king.  David got furious with Nabal’s refusal, but admits that he is wrong and Abigail is right.  Because he stopped and repented, he found favor with God.

God had never asked for a Temple.  The tabernacle was more suitable for a pilgrim people than a fixed structure in one locality.  God had given them instructions for the Tabernacle, but not the Temple.  God cannot be limited to any particular site.  Jesus was the Pioneer of our Faith and we are to have a pioneer mentality.  All things are become new.

ILLUSTRATE: The Settler’s mentality vs. the Pioneer spirit as told in Brennan Manning’s book The Lion and Lamb.

Settlers see life as a possession to be guarded.  They have built some buildings and made some laws.  They have an answer for most questions and have a great definition of God.  The church is like the settlers’ courthouse, in the center of town life.  This is the place where records are kept; they collect taxes, hold trials for law breakers.  The courthouse symbolizes law, order, stability, and security.  Every Sunday there is an ice cream party in the Courthouse.

God = the mayor, the man upstairs that sees everything, but no one sees him.  The mayor is predictable, always on schedule, makes sure there is peace and quiet.

Jesus = the sheriff who checks on the pioneers who ride into town.  He is sent by the mayor to enforce the rules.  He wears the white hat and can outdraw the bad guys.

Holy Spirit = the saloon girl.  Her job is to comfort the settlers.  When life gets dull, dangerous, or lonely, settlers come to her and she tickles them under the chin.  She squeals to the sheriff when someone starts disturbing the peace.

Pastor = the banker keeps the valuables of the town.  He and the sheriff have a lot in common because they both have to protect the bank.

Faith = believing the mayor is in the courthouse, obeying the laws, trusting in the sheriff.

Sin = breaking a town ordinance

Salvation = living close to home and hanging around the courthouse.

Pioneers see life as a wild exciting gift.  The church is like the covered wagon always on the move.  This is where pioneers eat, sleep, fight, love, die.  The wagon is scarred from battle, held together with baling wire, not built for comfort.  It moves toward the future and does not glorify its ruts.  The pioneer feels sorry for the settler.  He finds fulfillment of life on the trail.

God = the trail boss.  He is rough, rugged, full of life, lives, eats, sleeps, and fights with His people.  Their well being is his concern.  He’ll get down in the mud to help push a stuck wagon.  He prods the pioneers when they get soft and want to turn back.

Jesus = the scout.  He rides ahead to find the way.  He lives all the dangers of the trail.  He’s attacked by Indians, suffers hardship.  He reveals the true intentions of the trail boss.  He is the example pioneer.

Holy Spirit = the buffalo hunter.  He furnishes the fresh meat.  He is a strange character.  You never know what he will do next.  He has a big black gun that goes off like a cannon.  He seems to enjoy riding in town and shaking up the settlers, often during their ice cream party.

Pastor = cook.  He dishes up what the buffalo hunter provides.  He sees himself as just another pioneer who has learned to cook.

Faith = obedience to the trail boss, the readiness to move, to risk everything on the trail.

Sin = wanting to turn back

Salvation = trusting the trail boss, following the scout, while living on the meat provided by the buffalo hunter.

Stephen has shown the temporary nature of Jewish traditions reflected in Jewish history.  Now he will remind them that the Jews had always been unfaithful to their trust.  Jews received the law (53) but have not kept it.  Jews have proved themselves unworthy of the greatest honor ever offered to a people.  The Sanhedrin understood perfectly, but did not think about repenting.

Acts 7:54-60

These old men act like children, plugging their ears and yelling.  Contrast this with Stephen.  These men join the ranks of idiots in the Bible.

Stephen dies while seeing Jesus.  There’s a lesson here.  Don’t look down on people and condemn them.  Look up to Jesus and when you see Him you will be like him and forgive the idiots around you.

Stephen fell asleep.  Jesus said Lazarus was sleeping.  Jesus describes the mystery of death as sleeping.  While the world sees nothing beyond death, Jesus sees continued life, rest, and waking.  The pagans called the graveyard a burying-place, a hiding-place, a monumentum (memorial of something gone), a columarium (dove-cot, pigeon-hole).  The Christians see death as sleep and used the word cemetery, the place to lie down to sleep.  Some have literally called it the chamber of rest.

The results of Stephen’s death were:

1. The Sanhedrin condemned themselves by stoning one without getting Roman approval.

2. The church was scattered.  They saw reality and life more clearly in Stephen’s death.

3. The salvation for Saul/Paul began at this event.  Stephen was his Christian teacher.

4. Stephen received the victor’s crown.

We will probably not have to die physically for Jesus, but we are called to live our lives as a living sacrifice.  Living sacrifices can squirm off the altar.  I must daily choose to live radically for Jesus.  We probably won’t die from a barrage of stones, but can we handle one stone?

Learn from Stephen.  Tell God’s story of Jesus in your life.  When the stones start flying look up to Jesus and pray.

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