Reader: “Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power,”
Response: “performed amazing miracles and signs among the people.”
Scripture: Acts 6:8-15
Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed amazing miracles and signs among the people. 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. None of them could stand against the wisdom and the Spirit with which Stephen spoke.
So they persuaded some men to lie about Stephen, saying, “We heard him blaspheme Moses, and even God.” This roused the people, the elders, and the teachers of religious law. So they arrested Stephen and brought him before the high council.
The lying witnesses said, “This man is always speaking against the holy Temple and against the law of Moses. We have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy the Temple and change the customs Moses handed down to us.”
At this point everyone in the high council stared at Stephen, because his face became as bright as an angel’s.
Reader: “The word of the Lord.”
Response: “Thanks be to God.”
As we have mentioned in times past, the Bible is really a library of literature of different kinds. There is poetry, history, narratives, doctrine, instruction on living, prayers, prophetic writings, and books on wisdom. It is important to realize this as we study Scripture. Today’s reading is a narrative of a significant historical event, the background of the church’s first martyr, Stephen. There are several parallels between his death and the death of Jesus. Lying witnesses were brought forth in both cases repeating the same lies! In Jesus’ case, it concerned destroying the Temple and rebuilding it in three days. (Mt. 26:61) In addition, Jesus was often accused of abolishing the law of Moses. (Mt.5:17) In Stephen’s case, it was “he always speaks against the Temple and against the law of Moses.” The method of Satan, the father of lies, is always the same. Find liars to accuse the innocent with untrue “evidence” to destroy the victim. (This method of the devil is not unknown in our society today!) The sequence was: tell lies accusing of blasphemy, incite a riot, arrest the innocent, post false charges, conduct a “trial” of sorts, and eliminate the victim. In both cases, both Jesus and Stephen were filled with God’s grace and power in the face of such hostile opposition. The response of the high council to Stephen was most interesting. The word used in our translation is “stared.” The face of Stephen took on a different appearance, an unusual brightness. Why do you suppose? It is reminiscent of the face of Moses upon coming down from the mountain after meeting with God. Both men encountered God in a unique way. Notice at the end of this pericope, everyone in the high council stared at Stephen. His countenance had changed and then he began to speak. You undoubtedly noticed that Luke described Stephen as a man of grace and power. The Greek root of the word grace is charis, from which we get charismatic. My guess is that Stephen, in addition to being filled with the Holy Spirit, also had personal charisma. That he performed signs and wondrous miracles certainly added to his notoriety. He recited the history of Israel from their authoritative Old Testament right up to the rejection and killing of Jesus, at which point, Stephen was stoned. The fact that the sacrificial system had ended with the resurrection and ascension of Jesus was more than the Pharisees were willing to accept. In both Jesus’ and Stephen’s trials, the death knell came when the leaders were confronted with the identity of Jesus being the long-awaited Messiah, the Son of God. Again, notice the similarity of the words that put the religious leaders over the top. In answer to the identity question given Jesus, his words were, “You have said it. And in the future, you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God’s right hand and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Mt. 26:64. Luke writes the religious leader’s explosion in rage came when Stephen told them, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand!” At that point, they dragged Stephen out of the city and, as they were stoning him, he spoke words very similar to his Savior, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!” This whole account took place in the Synagogue of the Freed Slaves. Present were Jews from several geographic areas including Cilicia, the home town of Saul of Tarsus. This would likely have been the synagogue Saul attended when in Jerusalem. It was a Hellenistic synagogue where religious debate was frequent. Since Stephen was Greek, it is logical this would also be his place of worship. There is little doubt Saul was encouraging the stoning of Stephen. So how does this account play out for you today? The outward impact of the Holy Spirit in Stephen’s life was noticeable. His countenance, his demeanor was different and ordinary people noticed it. As a deacon, he gave himself to the service of others. He had a very distinct and positive spiritual impact wherever he went. That’s our challenge for these tumultuous days in which we live. Is the outward impact of the Holy Spirit in your life noticeable to those around you?
Music: “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus” Powerful story behind the song.
Lord, you know better than I know myself that I am growing older, and will some day be old. Keep me from getting talkative, and particularly from the fatal habit of thinking that I must say something on every subject and on every occasion. Release me from craving to straighten out everybody’s affairs. Make me thoughtful but not moody; helpful, but not bossy. With my vast store of wisdom it seems a pity not to use it all, but you know, Lord, that I want a few friends at the end. Keep my mind from the recital of endless details—give me wings to come to the point. I ask for grace enough to listen to the tales of others’ pains. But seal my lips on my own aches and pains—they are increasing, and my love of rehearsing them is becoming sweeter as the years go by. Help me to endure them with patience. I dare not ask for improved memory, but for a growing humility and a lessening cocksureness when my memory seems to clash with the memories of others. Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally it is possible that I may be mistaken. Keep me reasonably sweet. I do not want to be a saint—some of them are so hard to live with—but a sour old woman is one of the crowning works of the devil. Give me the ability to see good things in unexpected places, and talents in unexpected people. And give me, O Lord, the grace to tell them so. Amen.
—attributed to a seventeenth-century nun, though actually of unknown origin,
Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayers, p.532020-05-072020-