Stephen’s Ministry and Example

Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia—who began to argue with Stephen. But they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke. Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, “We have heard Stephen speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.” So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin.  They produced false witnesses, who testified, “This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law.  For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.” All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.
Acts 6:8-15
 
 “When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”
Luke 12:11-12
Acts 6 finishes by focusing on Stephen. He was one of the seven men chosen just a few verses before to help serve a neglected group within the early church. Stephen has been involved in public debates about the teaching of Jesus, as well as seeing wonderful miracles among the people of Jerusalem. Opposition to his ministry has grown. The criticisms and false charges brought against him mirror those that were brought against Jesus (blasphemy against the Temple and the Law). And just like with Jesus, debate has shifted to slander, and it was about to take a dangerous turn towards violence.

Confronted with determined adversaries Stephen shows himself to be a faithful follower of Jesus. Verse 10 tells us that his opponents could not “stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke.” Do these two characteristics sound familiar? Being wise and full of the Spirit are the two qualities that commended him to the believers and apostles earlier in the chapter and are the reasons he was chosen as one of the seven.  

This must have been a time of intense pressure for Stephen. Indeed, we are reading about the moments before his impending martyrdom. But through it all he is clearly carrying God’s presence, power, and approval. In these verses we’re told repeatedly he was full of the Spirit (with accompanying miracles and powerful preaching) and that his face shone like an angel’s as he stood up to the charges brought against him in the Sanhedrin.

As he begins in defence in to Acts 7, we see the fulfilment of Jesus’ promise to his disciples in Luke 12:11-12. There is great comfort for us in this passage. God is faithful to his promises, even in the face of uncompromising danger.
1)   Have you ever faced determined and vocal opposition to your faith like Stephen?

2)   Have you ever experienced what Jesus promises in Luke 12:11-12?

3)   What encouragements do you draw from Stephen’s example in these verses?
Father, I thank you for Stephen’s example of faithful service and Spirit filled ministry. Thank you for your promise to all who believe in you, that you will be with us in our trails, even giving us the words to say in the face of vocal opposition. Like Stephen, would you fill me again with the Holy Spirit, that I may learn to love and bless my persecutors. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
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