Winners and Losers: Part 16 - STEPHEN
Stephen: A Man Who Was Full of the Holy Spirit
Kathy's Sunday School Lessons Written for Young Boys and Girls by Kathryn Capoccia
© Copyright Kathryn Capoccia 2001. This file may be freely copied, printed out, and distributed as long as copyright and source statements remain intact, and that it is not sold.
Stephen is a remarkable man of faith in the New Testament. Though he had only a short ministry his impact upon the Church was immense. It was he who had the place in history as being the first to die for his faith in Christ. It was his courageous testimony and bold witness that set the standard for those who would follow and undoubtedly impacted Saul of Tarsus and acted as one of the “goads” which brought him to faith in Christ and usefulness as the Apostle Paul. It was he who served as a forerunner of Paul’s ministry, serving the Jews of Gentile lands, while Paul would go on to serve not only the Jews but the Gentiles themselves with the gospel. It was Stephen’s death which would catapult the Church from Jerusalem, through persecution, into the Gentile world to “the uttermost parts of he world” (ACT 1:8). It was he whose character was proof of the presence of the Holy Spirit and his telling arguments for the gospel proof of what Jesus had promised, that those who trust in Christ Jesus would, “stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them” (MAR 13:9), and that, “whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given to you at that time, for it is not you speaking but the Holy Spirit” (MAR 13:13). Let’s look at this man who was described as being “full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (ACT 6:5) and see how he lived and what we need to do to be like him.
I. Who Was He? Acts 6, 7, 8:1-3.
A. What was his name? Stephen, “stephanos”, the victor’s crown in Greek.
B. When did he live? He lived in the 1st century A.D., around 30 A.D.
C. Who were his people? He was a Greek speaking Jew, possibly a Hellenist.
II. What Did He Do?
A. He was a “servant” (“deacon”). He was an “overseer”, or “supervisor” (one of 7:ACT 6:1-6). He was chosen to “wait on tables” (ACT 6:2), or to supervise the somewhat lowly task of distributing daily food to the widows of the Church
1. He had the right qualifications:
a. He was “a man”- leaders of the Church must be men (1CO 11:3,8,9, 14:34; 1TI 2:11,12).
b. He was from “among the people”:
1) He was a believer.
2) He was from within the Body in Jerusalem.
c. He was “full of the Spirit”.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE “FULL OF THE SPIRIT”?
1) yielded to the Spirit’s control:
a) not grieving the Spirit (EPH 4:30).
b) not quenching the Spirit (1TH 5:19).
2) holy, energized by the Spirit: Jesus said he, “always did what pleased the Father” (JOH 8:29).
a) John the Baptist
d. He was “full of wisdom” (see 1CH 12:32).
2. He was commissioned
a. He was selected by the congregation of the disciples as one of 7 qualified men (ACT 6:3-5).
b. He was approved by the Apostles (ACT 6:6).
c. He was ordained by the “laying on of hands” (ACT 6:6).
*“The laying on of hands was a formal sign of appointment for this service. The rite indicates a link or association between the parties involved. Sometimes it was related to healing (MAR 5:23) or to the impartation of the Spirit (ACT 8:17, 9:17, 19:6) or, as here, was a sign of ordination for special service (13:3; 1TI 4:14)”; “The Ryrie Study Bible New American Standard Version”, Moody Press, study notes on Acts 6:6, pg. 1655.
WHAT DID HE DO?
3. He supervised the distribution of food to the Hellenistic widows.
a. WHO WERE THE HELLENISTIC WIDOWS?
1) They were Jews of the Diaspora, or dispersion of Jews among the Gentiles.
2) They used the Septuagint instead of the Hebrew Scriptures.
3) They were Greek in manner and speech, and were therefore, suspect to the Palestinian Jews, especially the Pharisees.
4) These non-Palestinian Jewish widows were a minority in the church and overlooked in the daily serving of food, though the Church was obligated to care for them (see DEU 14:29, 16:11, 24:19-21, 26:12).
b. WHY WAS IT IMPORTANT THAT THE WIDOWS RECEIVE FOOD?
1) Widows were women whose husbands were dead, and therefore, had no means of support other than what they received from benefactors or could glean for themselves.
2) Believers were commanded to “do good to all people, especially believers” (GAL 6:10), and “anyone who does not provide for his relatives…he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1TI 5:8).
“Widows”, according to 1TI 5:9,10, were those women who:
a) were over 60 years old.
b) had been faithful to their husbands.
c) were known for their good deeds (bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the saints, helping those in trouble).
d) were devoted to doing good deeds.
WHY WAS IT IMPORTANT THAT HE BE FULL OF THE HOLY SPIRIT AND WISDOM?
1) The Holy Spirit was the only One who could breach the divisiveness brewing in the Church (ACT 6:1).
a) There was a growing rift between the Palestinian Jews and the Hellenistic Jews because the Hellenistic Jews perceived prejudice against them (since they had previously been regarded as second class believers).
b) The world needed to see a united Church because Jesus had said that the world would recognize believers by their love (JOH 13:35).
2) God’s wisdom was needed because God’s work had to be done in God’s power and by His direction.
“Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Apart from Me you can do nothing” (JOH 15:5).
B. He was an evangelist (ACT 6:9-14).
1. His character:
a) He was full of faith
b) He was full of the Holy Spirit
c) He was full of God’s Grace
d) He was full of power
1) He did wonders-
2) He did signs- attesting miracles
*Following in the footsteps of the Apostles Stephen was able to do authenticating miracles as he proclaimed the gospel message to the Jews.
HE WAS FULLY CLOTHED IN GOD’S ARMOR, TRUSTING AND OBEYING GOD.
2. His ministry: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (MAT 28:19).
a) He ministered within the Church, probably to foreign Jews.
b) He preached to the Hellenistic Jews in their synagogues.
1) WHAT WAS A SYNAGOGUE?
a) they were meeting places where the Jewish community came together to read the Scriptures and to worship God.
b) they originated during the Babylonian Captivity, when the Jews were cut off from their Temple in Jerusalem.
c) According to the Talmud, there were 480 synagogues in Jerusalem at this time.
*These facts came from John MacArthur’s book, “The MacArthur New Testament Commentary on Acts 1-12”, Moody Bible Institute, © 1994, pgs. 192,193.
2) WHAT WAS THEIR REACTION?
a) He was opposed
i. Jews began to argue (debate) with him (ACT 6:8-10).
* The Synagogue of the Freemen, Jews from the Gentile lands of Cyrene, Alexandria, Cilicia and Asia, debated him about the Temple, the Law and about Jesus Christ (ACT 6:13).
* these were descendants of the Jewish slaves captured by Pompey in 63 B.C. and taken to Rome, later given their freedom and formed a Jewish community there.
* Cilicia and Asia were Roman provinces in Asia Minor.
Paul of Tarsus was from Cilicia (ACT 21:39, 22:3) and he probably attended their synagogue in Jerusalem where he would have heard Stephen preach and may have debated with him. Certainly he was present at his death (ACT 7:58, 8:1).
ii. The Jews “could not stand up against him” (ACT 6:10).
* against his wisdom (“sophia”, skill or wisdom).
Like Apollos, “a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures”, who, “spoke with great fervor” in the Synagogue (ACT 18:24,25), Stephen knew the Word of God.
* against the spirit by which he spoke (“pneuma”, wind, spirit), i.e. his power and zeal.
1TH 1:5, “Our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction”.
WHAT DID THEY DO IN RESPONSE TO THIS?
b) Men slandered him.
“They secretly persuaded men to say, ‘We have heard Stephen speak words of blasphemy against Moses and against God” (ACT 6:11).
*When men cannot refute the message they try to discredit or destroy the messenger.
*Jesus said we were to expect such reactions and to rejoice for, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (MAT 5:11,12).
c) The people were stirred up.
“They [the false witnesses] stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the Law” (ACT 6:12).
*The Jews were zealous for God “but not according to knowledge” (ROM 10:2), so they were easily stirred-up.
C. He was martyred.
1. He was arrested.
“They seized (“sunarpazo”, seized with violence) Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin” (ACT 6:12).
2. He was arraigned.
a. He was brought before the Sanhedrin
WHO WERE THE SANHEDRIN?
1) It was the political body of 71 governing “wise-men” which traced its roots back to the days of Moses (NUM 11:16).
2) This senate was composed of priests, elders, and members of the aristocracy (the chief priests and Sadduces, and some Pharisees) under the direction of the High Priest.
a) It had complete religious/judicial power to interpret and enact the Law.
b) It governed civil matters in all of Palastine under the authority and oversight of the Roman governor.
c) It may or may not have had the legal right to enact the death penalty against criminals: during Jesus’ trial the counsel could not execute anyone; thus, the Sanhedrin appealed to Pilot and accused Jesus of capital crimes to insure His death at Roman hands.
b. He was accused
1) of “blasphemy”: “this fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the Law (ACT 6:13).
WHAT IS BLASPHEMY?
IT IS, “PROFANE OR MOCKING SPEECH, WRITING, OR ACTION CONCERNING GOD OR ANYTHING REGARDED AS SACRED”, AND, “CONTEMPT FOR GOD” (WEBSTER’S NEW TWENTIETH CENTURY DICTIONARY.)
“Blasphemy, speaking evil of something God deems sacred, such as the Law of Moses, the Person of God, or His Temple, was a very serious crime punishable by death (LEV 24:16). That his opponents accused Stephen of blaspheming Moses suggests he was denying the ability of the Law to save”, John MacArthur, “ACTS 1-12”, Moody Bible Institute, © 1994, pgs. 193,194.
2) of “heresy”, false teaching: “We have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us” (ACT 6:14).
3) by false witnesses (ACT 6:13,14).
*This is the same tactic they used at Jesus’ trial (MAT 26:59-61).
a) they said he “never stops speaking”.
b) they said he spoke against “this holy place and against the Law.
c. He was articulate
1. His defense
a) that the gospel was the natural progression of O.T. revelation.
b) that God was not limited by man’s understanding.
c) that those who resisted the truth of the gospel were opposing God.
2. His demeanor
a) His face was “like the face of an angel” (ACT 6:15).
DID HE BECOME AN ANGEL? NO.
1) angels are a separate kind of beings created directly by God before the foundation of the world (JOB 38:7).
2) humans shall sit in judgment over angels (1CO 6:3).
3) angels are “ministering spirits” that serve mankind by God’s command (HEB 1:14).
4) angels will not rule the world to come as redeemed man will (HEB 1:5).
John MacArthur comments on Stephen’s appearance:
“Far from being evil, Stephen radiated the holiness and glory of God… God Himself answered their false charges by putting His glory on Stephen’s face- something experienced by no other person in history except Moses (EXO 34:27-35)”, John MacArthur, pg. 196.
b) He was full of the Holy Spirit (ACT 7:55); he had peace.
“…in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (JOH 16:33).
“”And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (MAT 28:20).
c) He had spiritual sight (ACT 7:55,56).
i. He saw into heaven (see ISA 6:1-3; EZE 1:26-28; 1CO 12:2-4; REV 4:1ff).
ii. He saw the [Shekinah] glory of God (ACT 7:55).
iii. He saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God (ACT 7:55; see ACT 9:3-6, 22:6-10).
*Stephen was the 1st to see the glorified Jesus.
iv. He saw the Son of Man (ACT 7:56).
* this was Jesus’ favorite expression for Himself.
* this would have reminded the Sanhedrin to Jesus’ trial when He said, “In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven” (MAT 26:64).
WHAT WAS THE SANHEDRIN’S REACTION TO STEPHEN’S SERMON?
“When they heard this [testimony] they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him…” They covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him” (ACT 7:54,57).
3. He was executed
“Yelling at the top of their voices, they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him” (ACT 7:57).
a. He was stonedWHAT WAS STONING?
It was the act of throwing stones at someone:
1) It was a means of expression of anger.
2) It was the most common form of execution prescribed by Biblical Law:
a) Its purpose was to purge the community of sin (DEU 22:21).
b) It was prescribed for ten offenses:
i. the worship of other gods (DEU 17:2-7).
ii. enticement to worship other gods (DEU 13:6-11).
iii. blasphemy (LEV 24:14-23; 1KI 21:10-15).
iv. child sacrifice to Molech (LEV 20:2-5).
v. divination (LEV 20:27).
vi. breaking the sabbath (NUM 15:32:36).
vii. adultery (DEU 22:21-24).
viii. disobedience by a son (DEU 21:18-21).
ix. violation of “things under the ban” (JOS 7:25).
x. negligence of restraining deadly animals (ox goring: EXO 21:28-32).
c) It was carried out in a prescribed manner:
i. It took place outside the city (LEV 24:23; NUM 15:35,36; 1KI 21:13).
ii. The witnesses against the defendant:
* placed their hands on the guilty one’s head to transfer the guilt of the community to the offender (LEV 24:14).
* cast the first stones at the offender (DEU 17:7).
iii. The rest of the people also cast stones until death was effected (DEU 17:7).
*The Mishnah called for a prisoner to be pushed off a 10 foot high parapet, then to have a large stone dropped on his heart by the 1st witness, then another stone dropped by the 2nd witness, etc; from MacArthur’s “Acts 1-12”, pg. 224.
d) It was the means of death for:
i. Adoram (1KI 12:18).
ii. Zechariah (2CH 24:21).
iii. Stephen (ACT 7:58,59).
b. He was trusting in God.
1. He asked God to receive his spirit (ACT 7:59).
*Here he echoes Jesus on the cross, “Father into Your hands I commit My spirit (LUK 23:46).
2. He asked God to excuse his executioners (ACT 7:60).
*Again like Jesus he asked forgiveness for those who persecuted him, “
(see ROM 5:5 as to why he did this).
c. He “fell asleep” (ACT 7:60).
1. sleep is the description of death for believers.
a) examples of Christians “falling asleep”
1) Lazarus was described as having fallen asleep when he died (JOH 11:11).
2) the young dead girl in Matthew (MAT 9:24).
3) the sinning Corinthian believers (1CO 15:6).
4) Thessalonian believers (1TH 4:13,15).
b) Christian death is precious to God (PSA 116:15).
2. this is not “soul sleep” taught by false cults:
a) Stephen expected to be with God upon his death.
b) Christians can expect consciousness after death: Jesus had promised that the thief on the cross would join Jesus in Paradise immediately upon his death (LUK 23:43).
d. He was the reason for widespread persecution of the Church.
“On that day a great persecution broke out against the Church at Jerusalem, and all except the Apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria” (ACT 8:1).
WHY WOULD GOD ALLOW THIS PERSECUTION?
1. It was time for the gospel to spread and the Church at Jerusalem had failed to act (ACT 1:8).
WAS HE A WINNER OR A LOSER?
III. What Can We Learn From Him?
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