Summary: Stephen's message was God’s final invitation to Israel. If Israel rejected the message, God would turn elsewhere to root and ground His church. Israel DID reject the message; in fact, Israel killed Stephen and launched a savage persecution against the c
The last time we were in our series in the Book of Acts, we saw that Stephen died as a martyr for Jesus Christ. Stephen preached a message just before he died. His message was God’s final invitation to Israel. If Israel rejected the message, God would turn elsewhere to root and ground His church. Israel DID reject the message; in fact, Israel killed Stephen and launched a savage persecution against the church.
But God overruled and used the persecution as a means to scatter the church all across the world. Just as Jesus had instructed; Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost part of the earth were now going to hear the gospel.
It seems as though the point to all this is that God used it all to launch the great evangelistic thrust of the gospel around the world. The persecution actually and literally scattered the believers all over the world. Let’s see where tonight takes us.
READ v. 1. Let’s note 4 things about this one verse.
1. The persecution was launched by Saul of Tarsus. It says he gave approval. That means to give full consent, to willingly approve with pleasure what is being done. Saul was literally well-pleased with Stephen’s death.
There was this fury that had been building up inside Saul against the church. He felt that the preaching of Christ threatened his religion, which was Judaism. Saul was the leader in persecuting the church. He was the most infuriated against the church. It appears as though he was a leader among the religionists. We can assume that by what Paul wrote in Gal. 1: 13-14. READ.
2. The second thing to note about v.1 is that the persecution was launched quickly, on the very day of Stephen’s death. Saul wanted to act quickly in wiping out the church. The believers were frightened and on the run. He had to strike immediately to catch them before they could escape.
3. The third thing to note was that the persecution was launched in fury and in violence. It refers to it as a “great persecution.” The idea formed from the original Greek writings was that Saul hotly pursued and hunted down the believers. He was bent on violence, determined to stamp out the church.
4. The 4th thing to note is that the church was scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Did you notice that the apostles remained behind? Why? Because:
• They had been given some freedom by the authorities on the advice of Gamaliel. READ Acts 5: 34-40.
• The apostles were highly esteemed by the public at large. On other occasions the authorities feared to have them arrested, lest their arrest cause an uprising among the people. READ Acts 4:21.
• The apostles stayed behind also because they were courageous men, and they had learned to wait upon the Lord for instructions. Maybe they were braving the storm until the Lord told them otherwise.
This much we DO know. If the apostles had fled Jerusalem, there would have been no stabilizing person at the church, no leader holding the church together. Remember: the only organized church in existence was the church in Jerusalem. The believers, although they were in prison and scattered, still needed a church to look toward. If the apostles had fled, the church in Jerusalem would have been completely destroyed.
There would be no place to look toward for help and directions. The apostles were the hub, the focus, the leaders to which the earliest believers looked for guidance. In the eyes of the earliest believers, the apostles were desperately needed.
The Jerusalem church was the only church the believers knew. So the apostles had to stay there. They had to hold the church together. No matter where the believers had scattered, they knew that the church was still existing through its courageous leaders.
READ v. 2. It was the godly who cared for the murdered. The godly must have been some of Stephen’s friends and fellow synagogue worshippers who hadn’t embraced the faith of Christ yet, but still cared for Stephen. They were deeply disturbed over his death; they mourned deeply for him. Notice here how God used Stephen’s burial to continue the witness. His witness was publicly honored. He died what might be called a hero’s death.
READ v. 3. So the church was severely persecuted as Saul had both men and women put in prison. Saul began to destroy the church. The literal term was to wipe it out of existence. The Greek word used gives the picture of a wild beast ravaging and tearing to bits some carcass. The Greek verb used is also a continuous action verb. He kept on ravaging and destroying. He was, as he later confessed, gripped with an “obsession against them.” Read Acts 26:11.