Summary: Stephen is a prime example of someone who followed Jesus in holistic community. Imagine now what it would be like if Stephen was talking with us today.
Following Jesus in Holistic Community
I am Stephen
July 20, 2008
I would like for you to use your imagination. Imagine what it might be like if Stephen from Acts 6 & 7 were with us today talking to us as he might talk to us today.
Hi, I’m Stephen. I understand that Pastor Mark has been talking to you about following Jesus in holistic community. And that last week you heard from Paul’s first letter to the church at Thessalonica on being entirely or completely or wholly set apart for God’s use. You heard that holistic basically means complete or total so that people who follow Jesus have their entire lives—all that they are and all that they do and all that they say—set apart for the use of God. Not our will but God’s be done. I also understand that the sermon manuscript and audio file is posted on your website if you missed it or need to review. This is hugely important for all of us. It is what defined my community and my life.
You see, I am a follower of Jesus. I follow his ways and teachings. But this wasn’t so easy to do in the first century. Once you made the declaration and even just checking out his ways, it was life altering because you became an outcast, a heretic, and even a traitor. You couldn’t follow Jesus on Sunday and continue with your life as normal the rest of the week. It was all or nothing. But when I say, “all,” I mean it was everything. Everything you can imagine and more.
First of all, in the first century and probably two hundred years or so before, there were many groups who claimed that the Messiah had come. They all had a charismatic leader that usually called people to a revolution to overthrow the Romans. But this is what happened every single time. Rome came in and crushed the movements or groups and killed their leader. Cut off the head and… When the leader died, game over. The only thing that you could do was die on your leaders behalf and at least admit that you were wrong. Since the leader died, he couldn’t possibly be the Messiah. Rome won. Rome always wins. Caesar is lord. Caesar is the son of god. Caesar provides all good things.
And Rome killed Jesus. For many people, this was proof that Jesus wasn’t the Messiah. Game over. But a strange thing happened. His followers shortly after kept saying that he was indeed the Messiah. This was a ridiculous notion since Jesus died. But they said that he was physically resurrected. Even the Jews who believed that a physical resurrection would happen at the end, knew this to be ludicrous. Jesus was alive in the flesh. He was not a ghost but living and breathing.
The message then came out that this resurrection was the first sign of what would happen for all those who follow the ways of God as shown through Jesus. This also meant that Jesus was Lord not Caesar. And that was traitorous. Yet that was what we believed. That is what we knew to be true. That was what we experienced.
So we followed the ways of Jesus. We taught people to follow Jesus. We taught them how to teach others. We proclaimed that Jesus was Lord and this is huge, we lived out his teachings. We did life together. We loved one another. We shared with one another. We worship together every day. We prayed. We ate together. If someone was in need in our community, we took care of it. Someone else sold a piece of land or gave some food or gave some money. No one lacked anything because everything was given for God’s use. It all was sacred. Our entire lives were given over to live in the ways of Jesus and everyone was blessed. We saw lives touched and changed. Thousands came to believe in what they saw through our lives and the power of God in our midst. It is wholly a work of God. It was a holistic community. And I was privileged to be a part of it. I was privileged to see God do many incredible things and see many lives changed.
One day a dispute arose, it seems that some Grecian Jews (those Jews who lived adopting some of the culture around them while still trying to be faithful) saw that Hebraic Jewish widows seemed to be getting favorable treatment. Now we lived in this community together. Lots of variety and often diverse beliefs. Hebraic Jews sometimes looked down on Grecian Jews because they were considered “worldly.” This little conflict was carried over even as people in both groups began following Jesus.