Monday, October 8, 2012

“Stephen's Martyrdom” Adult Sunday School Lesson

International Sunday School Lesson
For Sunday October 14, 2012

Purpose: To motivate us to take risks and withstand opposition in acting out our faith

Scripture Text: Acts 7:51- 60 Acts 8:1a (CEB)

Acts 7:51-60
(51) “You stubborn people! In your thoughts and hearing, you are like those who have had no part in God’s covenant! You continuously set yourself against the Holy Spirit, just like your ancestors did. (52) Was there a single prophet your ancestors didn’t harass? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the righteous one, and you’ve betrayed and murdered him! (53) You received the Law given by angels, but you haven’t kept it.”

(54) Once the council members heard these words, they were enraged and began to grind their teeth at Stephen. (55) But Stephen, enabled by the Holy Spirit, stared into heaven and saw God’s majesty and Jesus standing at God’s right side. (56) He exclaimed, “Look! I can see heaven on display and the Human One[a] standing at God’s right side!” (57) At this, they shrieked and covered their ears. Together, they charged at him, (58) threw him out of the city, and began to stone him. The witnesses placed their coats in the care of a young man named Saul. (59) As they battered him with stones, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, accept my life!”(60) Falling to his knees, he shouted, “Lord, don’t hold this sin against them!” Then he died.

Acts 8:1a
(1a) 1 Saul was in full agreement with Stephen’s murder.

My Thoughts by Burgess Walter

As stated in last week's lesson, this part of Acts shows a transition from Christ to Paul. Stephen was an important player in this link.

The persecution of Stephen is just the beginning in a series of persecutions that begins to take place not only in Jerusalem but just as Jesus had told his disciples, the persecution continues into Judea, Samaria, and to the end of the earth. The exact places mentioned by Jesus as the place where they should carry the Gospel. (ref 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.

The persecution caused a scattering of Christ followers and believing Jews to scatter from Jerusalem to other parts of the Roman Empire. Saul (Paul) was determined to hunt down and persecute those Jews that chose to believe that Jesus was indeed the Messiah (Christ) promised by the prophets and those that chose to ignore the law of Moses.

It should be pointed out how God prepared the entire world for the arrival of His Son onto the scene. First through the Diaspora, the scattering of the nation of Israel during the days of captivity, and then through the conquering of the world by Alexander the Great, and building of roads and the philosophy of Greek scholars, the translation of the Old Testament scriptures by the 70 Jewish scholars ordered by Alexander the Great in the Egyptian city of Alexander. This translation still used today is called the LXX (seventy) or the Septuagint. It is the translation quoted by the writer of Hebrews, as we mentioned in the previous lessons from that book. Also with the coming of the Roman Empire which would replace the Greek Empire of Alexander. Being able to travel freely throughout the world was important for the spreading of the Gospel.

The discourse or sermon delivered by Stephen became the model for most of Paul's sermons as he traveled on his three missionary journeys throughout the Roman Empire. But there were past sermons that influence Stephen in his message to the council. You should go back and read Joshua 24:1-15, Nehemiah 9:6-38, Amos 5:25-27, and Isaiah 66:1-2. His sermon in part involved all of these Old Testament sermons as well as others from Psalms 78 and 106

No wonder the council did not want to hear Stephen's speech, they knew he was right. No wonder Paul eventually succumbed, and believed what Stephen said before his death was all true. Imagine the guilt Paul must have felt at that moment when he realized that the man he helped stone and whose clothes he received as acknowledgment of his contribution to the killing of this radical believer in Jesus as the Messiah. No wonder Paul could call himself the “chief of sinners.”

Stephen ends his plea, with about the same words as Jesus on the cross, “Lord, don't hold this sin against them!” Stephen's life and death should be an example for all of us that claim Jesus as Lord and Savior in our lives. Don't be afraid to take a stand against injustice, when you see it, or prejudice speech, when you hear it. Stephen risk it all, but God worked a miracle in Paul (Saul) and millions of souls have reaped the benefit. You never know who the benefactor of your witness might be.

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