Summary: Stephen was a man who existed in the state of being filled with the Spirit. He preaches a powerful sermon and sees Jesus standing at the right hand of the throne of God. Why is Jesus standing?
6. The Book of Acts
June 28th, 2009
Filled with the Spirit
We first meet Stephen in Acts 6. The church has been growing substantially and as it grows so do its needs. Many of these new issues should not be taking up the Apostles’ time. Their time is to be dedicated to prayer and to the ministry of the word of God. So the Apostles call together all the disciples and ask them to select seven men from among them who they can trust to help meet the needs of the church. This is where the first deacons of the church are established. This is where we meet Stephen. He was selected to be a leader in the church because he was known to be full of the Holy Spirit and he was considered to be wise among his peers. Stephen is also the first named person to do miracles who was not an apostle.
Typically when the Bible records a person’s connection with the Holy Spirit they are recorded as being filled. The word used implies that the filling is temporary. The Spirit lives within us. It is not that we do not have the Spirit with us wherever we go because we do. We do not however have the fullness of the Spirit of God when we are by ourselves. When the fullness of the Spirit of God comes upon us it is when we gather together as a church in unity with each other or when God is about to do something incredibly important, like at the day of Pentecost the apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit and through that the church was born. Stephen is a little different. You see the Bible doesn’t say that Stephen was filled with the Holy Spirit it says he was full of the Holy Spirit. The word it uses refers to a state of existence. Stephen was not temporarily filled with the Holy Spirit he existed in the state of being full of the Holy Spirit. His story really begins in Acts 6:8:
Ac 6:8 Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people. Ac 6:9 Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia. These men began to argue with Stephen, Ac 6:10 but they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke. Ac 6:11 Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, “We have heard Stephen speak words of blasphemy against Moses and against God.” Ac 6:12 So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. Ac 6:13 They produced false witnesses, who testified, “This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. Ac 6:14 For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.” Ac 6:15 All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.
Stephen began to preach and teach about Jesus and some of the Jews didn’t like it. They began to argue with him but they could not stand up to his wisdom or the Spirit of God working within him. So they brought up false witnesses to stir up the people so that Stephen would be arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin where he would stand trial. Acts 7 is a record of the trial of Stephen. At first glance Acts chapter seven may seem boring. With what may appear to be nothing more than a history lesson Stephen does something very clever. His sermon in Acts 7 is one of the most brilliant sermons in the entire book of Acts. So much so that you almost don’t notice what Stephen is really doing when he speaks. Stephen was on trial for four forms of blasphemy: Blasphemy against Moses, against God, against the Temple, and against the Law. What Stephen is doing here is using Jewish history to make a legal defense against the charges brought against him while at the same time pointing all of the things he was accused of blaspheming toward Christ. Don’t miss what is happening here. Stephen is on trial. If he was found guilty by the Sanhedrin he could be killed. Facing the possibility of his own death Stephen boldly begins to speak. In one message Stephen does three things: he disproves the accusations brought against him. He displays a masterful knowledge and understanding of Jewish history, and he preaches a sermon at all the same time. Each of the characters he talks about has a trait of Jesus. He was showing how each of the great men in history that the Jews revered actually pointed to Christ. What Stephen shows is that if you look closely at the Old Testament you see Jesus is the fulfillment of Jewish history.