Finale of Part 1, part 1
Stephen, and what happened to him, is the finale of the first part of Acts from waiting for the Spirit, to the coming of the Spirit leading on to multitudes becoming disciples in Jerusalem. Stephen’s martyrdom will propel the Christians out into the world as they are scattered by persecution, taking the gospel not just to Judea, but Samaria and the ends of the earth.
Stephen is such a model that he gets the longest recorded sermon! He was happy to serve in obscurity, helping widows and doing signs and wonders and a mighty defence of the Gospel, that instead of him being judged, actually judges the religious leaders again.
The church in Jerusalem is growing fast and some people are missing out on the provision of food for their needs. They had created a great structure for church life – gathering together in the temple court and in small groups in homes. There was devotion to teaching, praying, breaking bread, being together. There were signs and wonders and people becoming disciples daily. In it all the administration of looking after the widows was slipping up and people were complaining.
The twelve elders/apostles of the Jerusalem church realise they need to appoint deacons (literally “table servants”) to care for the needy, so they can focus on prayer and ministering the word. They decide to pick 7 men (elsewhere we know that deacons can be women or men). The qualification is that they are Spirit filled and full of wisdom.
We can do nothing of eternal value without the power of the Spirit. We must continually be filled with the Spirit to be empowered to serve and care for others. We need wisdom too – if we lack wisdom, James tells us to ask God for it.
Leadership in the New Testament is servanthood – there are no prima donnas in the church and it is not about position and title. If you don’t want to serve, you won’t get to lead in the New Testament or The Gateway! I once heard someone say God hadn’t told them to help put out the chairs, so they wouldn’t serve. Well they won’t get to lead either! We are not about position and title and being up front. Leadership is servant leadership.
Stephen is one of those 7, serving in obscurity, but about to be propelled to stir the church to spread out and achieve the mission that kicks off Acts – a powerful witness not just in Jerusalem, but Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth.
Stephen ministers at tables and full of grace and power, does signs and wonders. People are getting saved and the religious leaders don’t like it. As Phil Moore puts it in Straight to Heart of Acts “The high priest and his Sadducee friends grew jealous and angry that the dead formalism of their temple was being eclipsed by the uneducated yet Spirit filled disciples.” So many were getting saved that either they needed to convert en-masse or reject Christianity. So Stephen is put on trial for blasphemy. We will explore his defence tomorrow.
What do we take away from today’s reading?
Ask the Spirit to fill you to be a witness
Ask the Lord for more wisdom
Be happy to serve in obscurity.