"In our passage today in Acts chapter 6 verse 8 to chapter 8 verse 8 we meet the first Christian Martyr. Stephen was a man full of grace and power whose message was accompanied by signs and wonders. When false accusation arose against him, he recounted how Jewish history pointed to the Messiah. When he proclaimed that Christ had risen from the dead they became furious. At this point Stephen was given the ability to see into heaven. He saw the risen Christ at the right hand of God in his glory. When he reported this vision, those around him stoned him to death. Stephen reminds us that we need to be faithful to the Lord no matter what the cost." (New Zealand's Rhema Radio)
On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.I like the way Brenda Quinn summarizes this account recorded in Acts. She writes this about the stoning of Stephen and the context for this tragedy.
Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. (Acts 8:2-4)
Opposition to the early Christians gets worse. Not only are the apostles working miracles, but now other believers are doing the same, threatening the Jewish religious establishment. The Jews can't win arguments against one of these believers, Stephen, so they resort to lying about him before the Sanhedrin. Stephen's speech so incenses those listening that they drag him outside the city and stone him, making him the first recorded martyr of the early church."The truth about Jesus being the Messiah, being God continues to shake things up, especially among the religious leaders. After Stephen performs miracles he is singled out by some of these religious leaders. They make up some lies about what he is saying and bring him before the same council that John and Peter had been questioned and ordered not to tell people about Jesus. Before this council of 71 religious leaders Stephen lays out the big picture of Scripture. The same Scripture and laws that many of these council members spent their lives studying. He reviews the history of God's people, their history, starting with Abraham and running through Moses, King David, and all the prophets. He paints a picture of a faithful God being rejected time and time again by his people, the Israelites.
Brenda Quinn continues putting it this way.
Stephen notes God's promises to his people throughout the generations, and the people's repeated unfaithfulness. Charged with speaking against the synagogue, Stephen reminds the Jewish leaders of God's words through Isaiah (7:49-50). All creation is God's temple, and further, Christ replaced the temple by becoming the way for all people to come to God.What looked like a crushing blow to the spread of the gospel ends up being a blessing. This horrific event of Stephen being stoned to death by religious officials of the government in Jerusalem forced the believers and followers of Christ to get out of their comfort zone. Their world was shaken. It forced them to go out and share their story. Share with those outside Jerusalem about the incredible events they had witnessed.
Stephen's accusations bear themselves out even in his own life. The Israelite people have a history of persecuting God's prophets. Insistent on their agendas for God, they have often closed themselves to the new things God was accomplishing. They even killed God's Son, their Messiah. Now they follow suit by stoning Stephen. Like the prophets before him, and like Jesus himself, Stephen remains fixed on God to the end, praying for those who take his life.
Now the church must go underground. Believers are forced to scatter, and in this way they bring the gospel to new places. The church continues to grow rapidly. As it does, we meet one of its most vengeful opponents, Saul. With the same fervency that new believers show toward Christ, Saul seeks to imprison them and squelch the burgeoning threat to Judaism. He is intent on his mission, but God has other plans."
I am working through the E100 Bible Reading Challenge again. You can learn more about my journey and read the other posts completed so far at this link. I encourage you to stop back soon to read another passage.
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