Yesterday we saw the early church choose seven men to help the apostles to organize and administer the early church, so that they could focus on what their calling was. And today we are going to see the beginning of the story of one of these seven men name Stephen. As we will see Stephen ran afoul of a group of diasporic Jews and this led to Stephen being arrested and then tried before the Sanhedrin. And this story that will ultimately end with Stephen being stoned to death will also introduce us to a man named Saul, who will later become the apostle Paul.
Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia —who began to argue with Stephen. But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke.—6:8-9
Stephen was introduced in the previous section as a man filled with the Spirit. He did signs and wonders among the people, yet provoked the ire of diasporic Jews. The Synagogue of the Freedmen seems to be the title of an individual synagogue. Since the locations listed verse 9 are outside Israel, Stephen may have been evangelizing in this diasporic community.
God’s favor was Stephen’s life because of his deep devotion to Chris and the church. In addition, the Holy Spirit empowered Stephen to perform “great wonders and miraculous signs among the people” and gave him great wisdom to preach the gospel in such a way that his opponents could not argue away the truth of this message.
Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, “We have heard Stephen speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.”
So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. They produced false witnesses, who testified, “This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.”
All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.—6:10-15
The Seven in verse 3 were to be filled with wisdom, and Stephen demonstrated this quality by the fact that his hostile listeners could not resist his arguments. Because they were impotent in argumentation, they began to stir up opposition. They ambushed him and dragged him before the Sanhedrin, bringing the dispute to a larger venue. They produced false witnesses to accuse him of blasphemy. The charges changed from blasphemy against God to speaking against the temple and the Law of Moses. The charges were likely a garbled interpretation of Christian preaching, perhaps intentionally twisting Stephen’s words. Stephen’s face appeared like that of an angel. Perhaps it was radiant, recalling Moses’ appearance in Exodus 34:29-35. And that is were we will pick up tomorrow, as we see Stephen before the Sanhedrin.
Tomorrow’s Bible Readings:
1 Chronicles 22-23, Romans 3:9-31, Psalm 12:1-8 and Proverbs 19:13-14
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