Church Empowered – Message 7
November 1, 2020
I. Introduction: We return to our survey of Acts called, Church Empowered.
A. Today’s title, and the subject we’ll address, is Persecution (mistreatment for our faith).
- 2 Timothy 3:12 (NLT)—…everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.
- We will examine the stoning of Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit (Acts 6:5), who became the first Christian to die for his faith, the first martyr (“witness”).
- We will apply what we learn from his experience to our own.
II. A profile of persecution: (Acts 6:8-8:1; C/R: Acts 6:5)
A. #1 - Express God’s truth. (Acts 6:8-10; C/R: Romans 1:16; 10:13-15; 1 Corinthians 9:16)
- Acts 6:8 (NLT)—Stephen [young man aged 29-30], a man full of God’s grace [divine influence upon the heart] and power [supernatural ability or might], performed amazing miracles and signs among the people. [Like an apostle.]
- This was a man transformed by God, fitted for God’s functions, as Acts 6:5 says, full of faith (so he trusted God) and full of the Holy Spirit (so he obeyed God’s will).
- These miracles and signs were not performed merely to entertain and amaze a crowd, they were confirmations from God about the truth of the message Stephen proclaimed.
- He was focused on God’s purpose in this world, so he was committed to obey the Great Commission, to spread the gospel of the resurrected Messiah. (Romans 1:16;
1 Corinthians 9:16)
- Stephen’s life was a constant expression of his faith through his actions and his words (in fact, all of ours’ are), confirmed by divine miracles, which offended some people!
- Acts 6:9 (NLT)—But one day some men from the Synagogue of Freed Slaves [descendants of Jewish slaves captured and taken to Rome], as it was called, started to debate with him. They were Jews from Cyrene, Alexandria, Cilicia, and the province of Asia. [Greek-speaking (Hellenistic) Jews who had lived in the Roman Empire.]
- Synagogues were (and are) meeting places where Jews assembled to read the Scriptures and worship, originated over 600 years before during the Babylonian Captivity of King Nebuchadnezzar, when the exiles were cut off from access to the temple in Jerusalem.
- The debate with Stephen, who may have belonged the Synagogue, likely centered on the death, resurrection and messiahship of Jesus, as well as the inability of the Mosaic law and temple ritual to save; but Stephen prevailed in defending his beliefs.
- Acts 6:10 (NLT)—None of them could stand against the wisdom and the Spirit with which Stephen spoke.
- They weren’t interested in listening and learning, just winning the argument, but their human reason was no match for Stephen’s God-given words and wisdom. (Luke 21:15)
- Like Stephen, we must express God’s truth, tell our faith stories, without fear of rejection, though we may experience negative consequences. (on-line responses)
- APP.: Do you look for, and take, opportunities to explain your faith so people can believe and be saved? (Romans 10:13-15)
- The men could not defeat Stephen in a fair debate, so they changed tactics.
Another element of persecution:
B. #2 - Experience personal attacks. [ad hominem argument] (Acts 6:11-15; C/R: Matthew 5:11-12; 1 Peter 2:19-20; 3:13-16; 4:13-14)
- Acts 6:11 (NLT)—So they persuaded some men to lie about Stephen, saying, “We heard him blaspheme Moses, and even God.” [Interesting, they named Moses ahead of God.]
- Blasphemy is speaking evil of something God deems sacred, such as the Law of Moses, the person of God or His temple; this serious crime is punishable by death (Leviticus 24:16).
- Acts 6:12-14 (NLT)—12This roused the people, the elders, and the teachers of religious law. So they arrested Stephen and brought him before the high council. [Sanhedrin]
13The lying witnesses said, “This man is always speaking against the holy Temple and against the Law of Moses. 14We have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth [ridicule; John 1:46] will destroy the Temple [Jesus was speaking of His body, John 2:19-21] and change the customs Moses handed down to us.” [He would, because He satisfied the requirements of the Law, making Old Covenant ritual observance unnecessary.]
- These same false accusations, made by Pharisees against Jesus, had succeeded in Jesus’ condemnation, so they tried it against Stephen.
- They turned Stephen’s teaching about Jesus’ Messianic fulfillment of the Law and the prophets into a revolutionary desire to overturn sacred aspects of the Jewish faith.
- Stephen was accused of blasphemy before the Sanhedrin, not because he insulted God directly, but because he supposedly insulted the Temple and the Law, he said nothing.
- Acts 6:15 (NLT)—At this point everyone in the high council stared at Stephen, because his face became as bright as an angel’s. [What did this mean?]
- God Himself answered their false charges by displaying His approval of Stephen by putting His glory on Stephen’s face (which Moses also experienced; Exodus 34:27-35).
- APP.: Are we willing to suffer unfair accusation, ridicule and persecution, refusing to defend ourselves, trusting God to confirm our claims and reward our efforts?
During persecution an opportunity arises to…
C. #3 - Explain from the Bible. (Acts 7:1-53; C/R: Luke 21:12-15; Mark 13:11; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 4:12)
- Acts 7:1 (NLT)—Then the high priest asked Stephen, “Are these accusations true?” …
- Stephen defended himself against these serious charges of blasphemy by using the Old Testament Scriptures, which they all held as sacred, even though Sadducees rejected many beliefs.
- Stephen recited stories of patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the fathers of the twelve tribes, Joseph, Moses, the law-giver, David and Solomon, the greatest kings of Israel.
- Stephen identified with the history of Israel as the foundation of his beliefs.
- He told of God’s call of Abraham to leave his home to go to a new land (Acts 7:2-7).
- Stephen referenced God’s covenant with the revered fathers of twelve tribes (Acts 7:8).
- He spoke of Joseph and the move into Egypt, where Jews were later enslaved (vv.9-19).
- He told the life of Moses in Egypt, fleeing to Midian, encountering God as Mount Sinai, then being sent back to Egypt to deliver Israel from slavery (vv.20-36).
- Stephen reminded the Sanhedrin that law-giver Moses predicted the coming of Messiah.
- Acts 7:37-38 (NLT)—37“Moses himself told the people of Israel, ‘God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from among your own people.’ [Deuteronomy 18:15] 38Moses was with our ancestors, the assembly of God’s people in the wilderness, when the angel spoke to him at Mount Sinai. And there Moses received life-giving words to pass on to us.”
- Angels were involved in Moses receiving the Law (Galatians 3:19; Hebrews 22; nature unclear).
- He spoke of Israel’s rejection of Moses and turning to idolatry (vv.39-44).
- Stephen referenced the Tabernacle and the Temple that Solomon built (vv.44-47).
- The current temple, built by King Herod, a non-Jew, would be destroyed in AD 70.
- He challenged them by quoting Isaiah 66:1-2 at Acts 7:48 (NLT)—48“However, the Most High doesn’t live in temples made by human hands. As the prophet says, 49‘Heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool. Could you build Me a temple as good as that?’ asks the Lord. ‘Could you build Me such a resting place? 50Didn’t My hands make both heaven and earth?’” [They insulted God, confining Him to Temple.]
- Stephen accused the Sanhedrin of sin against God at Acts 7:51-53 (NLT)—51“You stubborn people! You are heathen at heart and deaf to the truth. Must you forever resist the Holy Spirit? That’s what your ancestors did, and so do you! 52Name one prophet your ancestors didn’t persecute! They even killed the ones who predicted the coming of the Righteous One—the Messiah whom you betrayed and murdered. 53You deliberately disobeyed God’s Law, even though you received it from the hands of angels.”
- Stephen declared that they did not truly respect Moses or the law; if they had, they would not have murdered the Messiah that Moses promised and the Law spoke of.
- APP.: When your faith is challenged, do you rely on God’s Word, His truth, to defend yourself, knowing that salvation comes from God’s Word illuminated by His Spirit?
Persecution requires us to…
D. #4 - Endure mistreatment. (Acts 7:54-8:1; C/R: Romans 12:14; 14:8; 2 Corinthians 12:9–10; Philippians 1:20-21; 1 Peter 4:12-14)
- Acts 7:54-56 (NLT)—54The Jewish leaders were infuriated by Stephen’s accusation, and they shook their fists at him in rage. 55But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 56And he told them, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand!”
- Stephen was filled with the Spirit, so he remained calm even as they raged against him.
- He was given a glimpse into heaven and saw Jesus in His glorified state.
- Elsewhere in the New Testament, Jesus is described as seated at the right hand of God because His redemptive work, His sacrifice for our sins, is complete. (Hebrews 10:12)
- But here, Jesus was standing! Why? To show concern for Stephen, He knew Stephen’s life was about to end so He showed He would be awaiting his arrival. (Mama’s angel)
- Acts 7:57-60 (NLT)—57Then they put their hands over their ears and began shouting. [To drown out truth Stephen was speaking.] They rushed at him [became enraged mob] 58and dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. [Leviticus 24:14-16] His accusers took off their coats and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul. [Deuteronomy 17:7]
59As they stoned him [Though they lacked authority to carry out death sentences; Jn.18:31], Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” [He expected to enter Jesus’ presence immediately upon death. 2 Cor.5:8; Phil.1:23] 60He fell to his knees, shouting, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!” [Like Jesus.] And with that, he died.
- Acts 8:1 (NLT)—Saul was one of the witnesses, and he agreed completely with the killing of Stephen. [Did Stephen’s life and death influence young Saul toward Jesus?]
- APP.: Are you willing die for Jesus? Will you live for Him?
Spiritual practice: In Acts 7:55, we see that Stephen’s focus on Jesus helped him stand firm in the face of persecution and death. What faith practice (such as prayer, Bible reading, worship, etc.) helps you focus on Jesus to withstand fear and suffering?
Volunteers for children’s ministry needed. Contact brookwoodchurch.org/kids.
Voting: Justice for all!
Memory verse: For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. 2 Timothy 1:7 (NLT)