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Tag: miracles

The Martyr of Stephen

Through the summer we’ve been working our way through the book of Acts – although recently, we’ve had some special speakers bring the Sunday morning message, and so it’s been a couple weeks since since we last left off.

But today we are getting back to Acts and we’re picking up the story in Acts chapter 6. We started this chapter three weeks ago and at that time, we looked at one of the first major leadership challenges faced by the church. If you were with us then, you’ll recall that as the early church grew by leaps and bounds, the pressures and demands on the Apostles grew as well – threatening to distract and derail them from preaching the Gospel – which of course, was the one, most important thing they had to do!

So to deal with this, the Apostles called for a meeting of the entire church and through some God-given wisdom, suggested that they appoint seven men to be deacons – men who would serve the church in an administrative role so that the needs of the church would be met – freeing the apostles to spend their time preaching the Word of God.

Everyone in the church agreed that this was a great idea and so they selected seven men who were well-respected, full of the Holy Spirit, and full of wisdom – and they appointed them to serve the church.

One of these men was a man named Stephen and it’s around him that our story revolves today. Well, actually, that’s not entirely true. Even though Stephen is a main character – our story continues to revolve around Christ. Although this book is called the ‘Acts of the Apostles’ – every story centers on the person of Jesus Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit – and that’s exactly what we’re going to see today.

So if you have your Bibles, let’s turn to Acts chapter 6, starting today at verse 8.

8 Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed amazing miracles and signs among the people. 9 But one day some men from the Synagogue of Freed Slaves, as it was called, started to debate with him. They were Jews from Cyrene, Alexandria, Cilicia, and the province of Asia. 10 None of them could stand against the wisdom and the Spirit with which Stephen spoke.

Acts 6:8-10

Now it’s interesting – and I pointed this out briefly in the last message – that although Stephen was appointed to serve the church in an administrative role (specifically, to oversee the daily distribution of food to those in need), here we see him doing some amazing miracles among the people – and he was very actively engaged in sharing the message of Christ with non-believers. These are normally the things that we see the Apostles doing – but here we see Stephen doing them as well. And this is a great reminder that anyone and everyone can be used by God in some incredible ways. It doesn’t matter what your ‘official’ role or title is – if you’ve surrendered your life to God, God can do amazing things through you!

In this case, Stephen was doing miracles and sharing the Gospel with his fellow Jews. You’ll remember from our last message how there were two groups of Jews in Jerusalem at this time – there were Hebrew speaking Jews who where native-born Israelites (born & raised within the borders of Israel itself) – and there were Greek-speaking Jews who had been born and raised in other parts of the world, but who had now returned to live in Jerusalem.

Based on his Greek name, Stephen is very likely one of those Greek-speaking Jews who had come to live in Jerusalem – as were these other Jews who were debating with him. It’s even possible that Stephen was a member of the Synagogue of the Freed Slaves where he was debating with these other Jews.

This synagogue would have been one of the synagogues that had been started by Greek-speaking Jews who had at one time been slaves somewhere in the Roman Empire, but had since been freed and had come to Jerusalem. So maybe Stephen was part of that group? We don’t really know.

But what we do know, is that, like many Jews in Jerusalem, these men were not eager to embrace the message of the Gospel. And so as Stephen shared the Good News of Jesus Christ, these men began to debate with him – trying to argue against his claims that Jesus was the resurrected Son of God! But as we see in verse 10 – None of them could stand against the wisdom and the Spirit with which Stephen spoke.

And that is such a huge encouragement and reminder for us as we try to share the Gospel with the people around us!

It’s not our eloquent delivery or clever words that’s going to convince people to put their faith in Jesus Christ – but rather, it’s the wisdom of God and the power of the Holy Spirit that’s going to make the difference. 

I know many Christians are terrified at the thought to trying to share the Gospel with someone. What if we muddle our words or say the wrong thing? What if they ask us questions that we can’t answer? What if we end up looking like a fool and only reinforce their beliefs that we’re a religious nut job?

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God’s Prevailing Purposes

Last Sunday, Luke, the author of the book of Acts, gave us a snapshot of life in the early church. And he gave us two contrasting examples of both the good and the bad.

First of all, Luke told us about a man named Joseph – otherwise known as Barnabas – the Son of Encouragement. Filled with the Holy Spirit and motivated by love for the church, he sold a field he owned and gave the money to the apostles to give to the needy within the church. This was a great example of the generosity and care for each other that was common within the church in those early days!

But in contrast to Barnabas, Luke then goes on to tell us about another couple – Ananias and Sapphira.  With hearts filled by Satan and motivated by pride – they also sold some land and gave the money to the apostles. However, they kept some of the money for themselves and decided to lie about it to the Apostles (and really, to the Holy Spirit) – claiming that they had given everything, when in fact, they had not. For their deception and as a strong warning to the rest of the church, the Lord stuck them both death.

Their sudden and dramatic deaths would have been quite a shock to the church, I’m sure! In fact, verse 11 tells us that…

11 Great fear gripped the entire church and everyone else who heard what had happened.

Acts 5:11

And that verse kinda sets the stage for the rest of the chapter. As we finish up Acts chapter 5 today, we’re going to see that God continues to do some amazing things in and through the church, and people just don’t know what to make of it all!

Are these followers of Jesus good or bad? Are they doing these amazing things with trickery and slight of hand or is God really behind it all? And perhaps most importantly, is their message of faith in Jesus merely empty ramblings, or is it really the Gospel truth?

Those are the questions that everyone was asking, and those are the questions that Luke wants you to consider as well!

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