Summary: Acts 6-7 tell us about Stephen's short ministry and message. God demonstrates lessons in leadership that are still applicable today.
What does history teach us about leadership? What does biblical history teach us about leadership for God’s people?
First, Leadership is essential for God’s people.
Second, Leadership requires giftedness and God’s wisdom.
Third, Leadership is often resisted even by God’s people.
In Acts 6 we read of how the apostles appointed leadership for the special needs of the church. These servant leaders didn’t just hand out food and funds for the needy widows of the church. They worked like an extension of the apostle’s ministry in preaching the word as well.
Stephen and Philip are introduced to us in the first part of the chapter. By the end of the next chapter (Acts 7) Stephen is killed for preaching the gospel in highly convicting ways to the Jewish leaders. It is in that context that we meet Saul of Tarsus who becomes the churches worst nightmare for a while. On the other hand by the end of chapter 8 God has used Philip to spread the gospel to Samaria and Ethiopia!
Stephen and Philip… these men are important figures in the church for evangelizing outside of the regions of Judea. Stephen’s speech is recorded in some detail in chapter seven giving us the fullest account of any speech thus far. It us twice as long as Peter’s sermon in Acts three. Many commentators have wondered why Luke devoted 52 verses to a survey of Israel’s history and then a stinging punch line that fired up the wrath of the Priests to put Stephen to death. Why would Luke devote that kind of volume to such a thing? Could he not have just told us that Stephen surveyed the Old Testament and then said some convicting things that got him killed? Why this lengthy speech?
I’m sure that’s the question on your mind right now, is it not? Are you not wondering why Stephen’s speech received such billing and coverage in Acts? I’m trying to get you to wonder that. So come on and think it. Ok?
I know for myself that when I used to read my Bible I have often wanted to skip over Stephen’s speech or at least skim through it, to get back to the action packed church narrative. It was sort of like those long lists of names sections in the Bible that you find especially in the Old Testament. But now I know better, and I hope that any of you who have felt bored with Stephen’s speech in the past will gain a new appreciation for it today.
Stephen was accused, and falsely accused, of charges that are recorded for us in Acts 6:13-14. Here’s the crime:
This man continually speaks against this holy place and the Law; for we have heard him say that THIS Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs which Moses handed down to us.
Do you hear what they are accusing Stephen of doing? Again it is important to note that Stephen is not in trouble for doing things, Stephen is in trouble for speaking about Jesus. What specific things is Stephen saying about Jesus that has them so worked up and angry? Stephen is preaching Jesus, using their own Bible to prove them wrong.
The few words that we have thus far in Acts to show us what the apostles were saying are helpful, but also puzzling. How could they spend hours and days in the temple courts talking about Jesus to the people? What were they saying about Him? Philip’s speech gives us help here. They were showing things about Jesus as they read through the Old Testament. They were reading their Bibles through new lenses. Jesus himself had opened their minds to understand what the scriptures said about himself. Luke 24:27 & 44-48. This was now their message.
That’s what we hear from Stephen’s speech in Acts seven. When Stephen talks about Joseph and Moses in his speech, he is actually showing how they parallel Jesus. First, Joseph (Acts 7:9-16) favored by his father, was rejected by his brethren and sold as a slave because of their jealousy. But God rescued Joseph and gave him the highest authority in the land so that Joseph, whom they had rejected actually was their savior. Do you see any parallels with Jesus here? Do you see any parallels with Joseph’s brothers here? Let’s look at another Old Testament favorite.
Moses (Acts 7:17-43) is next. Early on Moses stepped in to rescue one of his people by killing an Egyptian slave master thinking they would see him as God’s deliverer, but they didn’t get the memo. When he tried to stop two Israelites from fighting each other they pushed him aside saying, “Who made you ruler and judge over us?” Ironically, when Moses fled to Midian, God called him from the burning bush to be ruler and judge over Israel and to deliver them.