ACTS 6–7 STEPHEN: CHOSEN, REJECTED
Bible Background: Remember that Luke is also the author of ACTS, so this is his Vol. 2 of the Good news! Stephen is the 1st Christian martyr (from the Greek word=witness). He is killed for witnessing unapologetically to Jesus. The early Church was energized, organized, stretched-thin, persecuted, and effective. And the more people like Saul tried to stomp it out, the more the Christian faith spread!
Digging Deeper: 1. Acts 2–5 relates how the early Christians grew in number; shared with the needy; did the work of Jesus-including healing ministries; and witnessed boldly. Then in chapter 6 we learn of ‘grumbling’. It seems one group of widows was being missed when it came to sharing food. The apostles respond by asking the complaining group to pick 7 ‘deacons’ who will “serve and wait tables”, while the 12 apostles “pray and serve the Word”. Stephen is among those chosen!
2. Only thing is, Stephen, “full of grace and power”, doesn’t wait on tables! He preaches boldly! And false accusations are lodged against him. (Sounds like Jesus? Yes! And the similarities continue.) Stephen, not afraid of conflict or friction, speaks the truth as he sees it: that the Jewish leadership has rejected the idea that Jesus could be God’s Messiah. And that this is what some of their ancestors had done before! (Remember, Stephen is also a Jew. This is not a Christian vs. Jew battle. It’s a Jewish conflict.)
3. Stephen takes the leaders to task and minces no words. In response they become enraged. Here’s the problem: It is their job to protect the faith from false teachers. And they see it as their job to kill this particular false teacher. So they drag Stephen outside the city and stone him to death. Stephen is known for dying with words of trust and forgiveness on his lips (just like Jesus in Luke 24.)
4. This is where Luke introduces us to a young man named Saul; who is apparently a high-profile rabbi, who approves of the death of Stephen. Saul (whom we will come to know as Paul) has no idea how God will use him! But he’ll find out! We see the Christian faith spread throughout the world as persecution at home grows!
5. One can wonder Why did Stephen have to push so hard? Why did he have to die? Does following Jesus take this kind of commitment and involve this kind of risk? Who-in their right mind-would do that? And how could these ‘good’ religious people kill someone over a religious argument? These are still relevant questions for us in the 21st century!