International Sunday School Lesson
For Sunday October 7, 2012
Purpose: To gain inspiration from the story of Stephen for bearing bold witness to our faith through word and deed
Scripture Text: Acts 6:8-15 Acts 7:2a (CEB)
(8) Stephen, who stood out among the believers for the way God’s grace was at work in his life and for his exceptional endowment with divine power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people. (9) Opposition arose from some who belonged to the so-called Synagogue of Former Slaves. Members from Cyrene, Alexandria, Cilicia, and Asia entered into debate with Stephen. (10) However, they couldn’t resist the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke. (11) Then they secretly enticed some people to claim, “We heard him insult Moses and God.” (12) They stirred up the people, the elders, and the legal experts. They caught Stephen, dragged him away, and brought him before the Jerusalem Council. (13) Before the council, they presented false witnesses who testified, “This man never stops speaking against this holy place and the Law. (14) In fact, we heard him say that this man Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and alter the customary practices Moses gave us.”(15) Everyone seated in the council stared at Stephen, and they saw that his face was radiant, just like an angel’s.
(2)The high priest asked, “Are these accusations true?” 2 Stephen responded, “Brothers and fathers, listen to me. Our glorious God appeared to our ancestor Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he settled in Haran.
My Thoughts by Burgess Walter
The Book of Acts describes those early years following the Resurrection, and the early work of the followers of Jesus during the first century. It reveals the Holy Spirit being released at Pentecost, and the great commission issued by Jesus in Acts 1:8 “Rather, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” To Share the good news of salvation based on what Jesus accomplished by means of the cross and resurrection. This new insight into God and the relationship He wished to establish was seen as blasphemy by the old line Jewish leaders that were determined to trust only in the Law of Moses. They failed to blend the two and see that the “law” was just a precursor to God coming to men in the person of Jesus, as His only Son, and releasing of the Holy Spirit to help in convincing and convicting men of what God wanted to accomplish. Regardless of the entity, God revealed himself to man in a new way, but at all times He remained God.
Stephen was one of seven Greek speaking men chosen by the twelve original apostles to preside over the distribution of food to the Greek speaking widows within the congregation of this new group of believers in Jesus the Christ as the Messiah promised by the prophets of old. This new church or community of believers had become segregated into two groups; one group was those that spoke in Aramaic, the language of Jesus and his disciples. The other group was those that spoke Greek, but still believed that Jesus was the Messiah promised by the prophets, the faith and trust in Jesus was greater than the division by language and the problem was resolved with the help of the Holy Spirit.
These seven men were called deacons, (from the Greek diakonia, meaning service or ministry). This designation was often used in the early church and they were an important part of the early church structure. Aside from Stephen, the only other of the seven mentioned elsewhere was Philip, the evangelist that taught the Ethiopian Eunich about Jesus.
Stephen's work and miracles had become so popular that the Jewish hierarchy became concerned enough to call him before the council, many of whom had helped in making the decision to crucify Jesus. Imagine the shock when they saw a man whose life was threatened to radiate a spirit of serenity they had never seen.
As you read the story of Stephen, you should always remember that Paul was a witness to all that happened, and Paul becomes that witness for Jesus and continually repeats the message Stephen delivered at the time of his stoning and as a witness before the council. In a way Paul becomes the bridge between Jesus and this new group of believers we call the church. Stephen was an important part of that bridge.