Summary: A detailed description of Stephen and the model he was for us to follow.
Last time we looked at the election of seven men to serve as deacons of the first church. One of those seven was Stephen. We finish chapter 6 tonight with a detailed description of Stephen and the model he was for us to follow. For the next three studies, including tonight, we are going to look closely at Stephen and see how he was the first martyr of the church as well. Each study will take us into the next scene, as if we were watching a play. Tonight is scene one.
Stephen was a layman, he was an extraordinary man, and he was a great servant of God. His name means a crown. We are going to see in the next three studies that Stephen was:
• Full of the Holy Spirit.
• Full of grace.
• Full of power.
• Full of wisdom.
• A man of great reputation or testimony.
• A man of great works.
• A great defender.
• The first deacon of the church.
• The first martyr of the church.
Let’s get into the Scripture.
READ v. 8. Here Stephen is described as a man full of grace and power, doing great works for God. When it says he was full of grace, it means that Stephen was a man full of God’s love, God’s favor, His gifts and His blessings. He had a godly gracious character. His behavior exemplified God’s character.
He was also full of God’s power. He did great wonders and miraculous signs. God’s grace and power were on him. And it’s here that we need to be reminded that both grace and power from the Holy Spirit are necessary before a person can serve God effectively.
So many times someone comes up with a project or a plan on how they can enhance God’s ministry. Unfortunately, so many times, that person is trying to handle the ministry on their own, seeking to gain recognition, seeking fame, and they forget Whose ministry it is. If a person doesn’t have the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, they cannot effectively serve God—mostly because of the wrong motives.
Am I clear enough on that? If you are trying to “climb the corporate ladder”, (if there is such a thing in church), then that is the wrong motive. If your motive is to get your name in the church bulletin, or in the church minutes, or whatever, is that the right motive? No. If a ministry is going to work, it must be from God. If it’s from God, He will give His grace and the power of the Holy Spirit to carry out that ministry, to HIS glory.
When we say “power”, we mean that the believer’s power is the presence and power of the Holy Spirit within him. The believer has no spiritual power of himself. The power is of the Holy Spirit alone.
READ v. 9-10. Stephen was a man who defended the faith. He preached in several synagogues throughout Jerusalem. The synagogues mentioned in v. 9 are Grecian names. Sometime around A.D. 19 the Roman emperor, Tiberius, had expelled all Jews from Rome. Many of them had returned to their homeland, some settling in Jerusalem. When they returned, because of their common language and culture, they clung together, starting their worship centers or synagogues.
The point being made here is that this dynamic layman, Stephen, grasped every opportunity he could to preach. At every opportunity Stephen was traveling all over the city, preaching Christ to the Grecian Jews.
Note the word “arose” in v. 9. It literally means stood up. Five synagogues in particular stood up against Stephen. They opposed what he was preaching. Some people throughout the years that I’ve been pastor here at SEBC have opposed what I preach. I won’t mention names because many of you know them or knew them. But the fact of the matter is, in every case where I was opposed on something I preached, every case, those opponents were focused on what pleased them and not focused on the Word being preached. They focused maybe on one or two words that I used, maybe one illustration that I used that THEY didn’t like. They ignored, in every case, what God was saying through it all.
In Stephen’s case, there was a strong reason for the opposition of the Grecian Jews. They and their forefathers had been forcibly deported out of their homeland and scattered across the world by the Romans. While living in the foreign lands of the world, they had remained faithful to their Jewish religion. The message of Jesus Christ was a threat to them and their religion.
For example, Stephen was preaching that Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God, sacrificed for the sins of the world. Animal sacrifices were no longer needed. He preached that Jesus is the Mediator between God and man; man was now to worship God in spirit and truth through Christ and Him alone. Earthly priests were no longer mediators who stood between God and man. They were the ministers and servants of God, but not mediators.