Lesson for October 7, 2012: Stephen Defends His Faith (Acts 6:1–7:53)

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This treatment of the International Sunday School Lesson is written by Sam E. Stone, former editor of CHRISTIAN STANDARD.

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By Sam E. Stone

After focusing on the book of Hebrews for several weeks, we now turn our attention to the book of Acts to see how God uses people of faith.

With the rapid growth of the early church, it became difficult to take care of all the widows in need of food. The apostles directed the church to select seven men to oversee this important work. Some consider them the first deacons, even though that term is not used to describe them in Scripture. Stephen was selected as one of the seven, “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5). Luke singles him out to tell his story.

 

Stephen Charged
Acts 6:8-15

Stephen was doing great wonders and signs among the people. Up until this time only the apostles had been working miracles. Whether the power to do this was given Stephen before or after he became a “deacon,” we are not told. Such power usually accompanied the laying on of the apostles’ hands. Philip, another of “the seven,” also performed miraculous signs later (8:6).

Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen. There were many synagogues in Jerusalem at this time. This one likely was composed of foreign-born Jews from the areas mentioned. These men began to argue with Stephen. Some students believe he was formerly a leader in the group. Saul of Tarsus may also have been a part of this synagogue (7:58–8:1). The members could not stand against the truth of his message, delivered in the power of the Holy Spirit.

His opponents solicited false witnesses to misconstrue what Stephen had said, like those who spoke against Jesus (Matthew 26:59-61). They stirred up the people. This is the first indication that the Jewish rank and file were upset about the apostles’ preaching. They seized Stephen and took him before the Sanhedrin. Armed with false witnesses, the leaders brought Stephen before the same Jewish governing council that had condemned Jesus to death.

All . . . looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel. This expression suggests one coming from the presence of God (2 Corinthians 3:7, 13). Even to his enemies, Stephen appeared genuine, sincere, trusting in God. He knew this council was convened not to try him, but to condemn him.

 

Stephen Responds
Acts 7:1, 2a, 22, 44a, 45b-49

The high priest asked, “Are these charges true?” In response to this question, Stephen began his defense. Acts 7 records Stephen’s powerful sermon to the Sanhedrin. Although only selected verses are included in our printed text, it will be helpful to read the entire chapter (vv. 1-52) to understand all that he said.

Stephen began with the time when Abraham left the land of the Chaldeans (v. 4) and settled in Harran. For years he was childless, but later had the promised son, Isaac. Isaac became the father of Jacob, who was the father of the 12 patriarchs (v. 8). Joseph’s role is discussed next (v. 9-15). Finally Moses is introduced as God’s man to lead the people out of Egyptian bondage (vv. 20-38). The people proved to be unfaithful in following God’s direction, and Moses foretold their Babylonian exile (v. 43; see Amos 5:25-27).

The message of Stephen summarized important Old Testament events, emphasizing the disobedience of the Jewish people and culminating in the death of the Messiah. Then he explained that the tabernacle in the wilderness was a temporary measure until the time of David. Although he wanted to build a temple for God, it was Solomon to whom God gave permission to do that. Even so, Stephen reminded them, “The Most High does not live in houses made by human hands.”

Wherever people worship, God expects their obedience to revealed truth. Instead the Jews were “stiff-necked people with uncircumcised hearts and ears!” (Acts 7:51). They had betrayed and murdered the Righteous One! The closing verses in the chapter describe the fury of the Sanhedrin, leading to Stephen’s death by stoning. Even then he prayed, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” No doubt these words had a tremendous influence on Saul of Tarsus who stood watching nearby. Later he became known as the apostle Paul.

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*Lesson based on International Sunday School Lesson, © 2009, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.

HOME DAILY BIBLE READINGS
October 1: Isaiah 59:1-8
October 2: Jeremiah 8:22–9:9
October 3: Zechariah 8:14-19
October 4: Proverbs 8:1-11
October 5: John 16:12-15
October 6: Acts 6:1-7
October 7: Acts 6:8–7:2a
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