Summary: God is very good at confusing us and leaving our heads in a spin, but He knows what He is doing, even if we can’t figure it out. But eventually his plan becomes clear, either in the distant future (eternity) or in retrospect (in this life).
The Martyr’s Testimony
1. According to an AP article yesterday (Nov. 8), "WASHINGTON – The nation’s jobless ranks zoomed past 10 million last month, the most in a quarter-century, as piles of pink slips shut factory gates and office doors to 240,000 more Americans with the holidays nearing. Politicians and economists agreed on a painful bottom line: It’s only going to get worse.
The unemployment rate soared to a 14-year high of 6.5 percent… more grim news from U.S. automakers: Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp.,… [are] figured to be announcing even more job cuts before long.
Regulators, meanwhile, shut down Houston-based Franklin Bank and Security Pacific Bank in Los Angeles on Friday, bringing the number of failures …this year to 19."
2. When you hear this sort of news, it means that times are changing, and we have to adjust to changing times. One of the great markers of a happy person or happy marriage is the ability to adjust to things beyond control. But nobody said it is easy!
3. Likewise, churches and the church at large must constantly adjust to new challenges or new needs. And persecution has certainly been one of those adjustments.
4. Since many understand the church to have begun at Pentecost, Stephen is often referred to as the church’s first martyr.
"The term martyr (Greek μάρτυς martys "witness") is most commonly used today to describe an individual who sacrifices his life (or personal freedom) in order to further a cause or belief for many. Long ago, it initially signified a witness in the forensic sense, a person called to bear witness in legal proceedings." (Wikipedia)
5. After Stephen preached his scathing sermon, the crowd could have been humbled or incited, depending upon their attitude. On Pentecost, the crowd was "cut to the heart," they felt remorse for their rejection of Jesus, and they repented. This crowd went the other way. Rather than repent, they became further entrenched in their hatred and agitated one another.
6. Similarities between the death of Stephen and the death of Jesus (note: I have altered):
1. Both were tried before the high priest
2. Both were accused by false witnesses
3. Both were accused of threatening to destroy the temple
4. Both mention "the Son of Man"
5. Both charged with blasphemy
6. Both "commit" their spirit while dying
7. Both cry out with a loud voice
8. Both ask their enemies to be forgiven
[Source: Witherington, Ben III, The Acts of the Apostles, A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, Eerdmans, 1989, p. 252, altered).
Main Idea: God is very good at confusing us and leaving our heads in a spin, but He knows what He is doing, even if we can’t figure it out. But eventually his plan becomes clear, either in the distant future (eternity) or in retrospect (in this life).
I. It Seemed As Though God ABANDONED His Church (7:51-8:4)
A. The Mob is ENRAGED By Stephen (51-54)
Not just angry, but completely out of control with hatred…
“Gnashing their teeth” – I think literally clinching and gritting their teeth in utter, insane rage, to the point of not feeling pain…
B. Stephen’s VISION Adds Fuel to the Fire (55-58)
1. This was an illegal action, a case of mob violence in the name of religion
2. David Stern comments, "…experienced jurists should have sensed the danger latent in the circumstances and taken steps to protect Stephen instead of joining the mob. Either the Sanhedrin had already decided to put Stephen out of the way without an honest trial, or the judges allowed emotion to overrule reason after his inflammatory speech."
[The Jewish New Testament Commentary, p. 247]
3. Stephen sees heaven opened and Jesus standing (why standing?)
4. This made the mob more insane with anger…
C. Stephen’s FINAL Testimony (59-60)
1. But this was not done in an orderly manner, according to the law, nor was there concern for consequences… rage can be that way.
2. Many of us may have said or done things in rage that we regret; we might be embarrassed to remember them, and we might even blot them out of our memory. But rage can really go wild. Road rage is one example.
3. Stephen is stoned to death, but he asks Jesus to forgive the sin of the mob… he did not have to ask this….but his main concern was their conversion…
D. Saul Becomes the DREADED Enemy of the Faith (1-3)
Paul was a young member of the Sanhedrin. When he explains his conversion to King Agrippa in Acts 26:9-11, Paul said, "I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. In my obsession against them, I even went to foreign cities to persecute them.”