These are notes collected from studying with brothers in Christ. Anything good comes from the Lord. Everything else is from us!
“While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.”
Stephen’s life was changed by Jesus, and he looked (6:15) and acted like Jesus even while he was being murdered. Stephen’s actions remind me quite a bit of Jesus in Luke 23:34 when he asks God to forgive the people that were crucifying him.
I heard someone teaching this very thing years ago. Especially if you compare Luke’s account of the crucifixion and Acts 7 (also written by Luke), I think you find a purposeful comparison. I think part of the power in this is to consider Daniel’s 490 years prophecy (referred to as “70 weeks” in Dan. 9).
There we are told that:
- A king would issue a decree to rebuild Jerusalem after Babylonian captivity (this happened by Cyrus–see Ezra 1)
- 483 years later Messiah would come. This matches well with Jesus’ baptism, where He is officially anointed and begins his ministry.
- 3.5 years later Messiah would die and sacrifice would cease. And we see this exactly happening. Jesus’ ministry lasted 3.5 years, then He died on the cross putting an end to sin and sacrifice needed to atone.
- 3.5 years after that, the 490 years would be complete. Well, what happened 3.5 years after Jesus died? We don’t know the dates for certain, but it’s a pretty safe guess that about that time was when Stephen died and the Gentiles had the gospel preached to them through Peter. This speaks to the fact that Daniel’s 490-year prophecy was given primarily to Jews. After that, God would extend his grace to the Gentiles. And sure enough, Stephen’s death (and Peter’s preaching to Cornelius’s household) opened the way to the Gentiles receiving ministry. It is shown with extra force that Jesus and Stephen’s death so well matched each other.
This is some speculation here. But it’s a neat thing to consider. And some of these things are very certain. All to say, Daniel’s prophecy is a powerfully accurate description of things that would happen about 500 years before they came to pass. And there’s a decent chance Stephen’s death is part of this.
“If it’s of God, you can’t overthrow it!” (Acts 5:9)
See Acts 5:39-42…
This seems to show they were meeting in the church “temple” and in homes “house churches” seems both are good and Gods design
A proponent of house church ministry, Curtis Sergeant, likened it to the natural world having elephants and rabbits. God makes both the big and the small, as part of His design.
I see something similar in Jesus’ ministry. He had large crowds, but also had intentional time with just the 12 (or even less).
I’ve noted before how larger churches talk a lot about the importance of a small group (or “cell group” or “house church” or “life group” or whatever name they may call it). While house churches look to have larger gatherings (“regional gatherings” or “apostolic gatherings” or whatever you may call it). I think instinctually we yearn for both to a degree.
Read this morning about Stephen. Makes me excited to meet him in Heaven. Such boldness in his faith! I especially loved ch 6 v 10 “but they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.”
Reminds me when the Spirit is in us and we are fully surrendered, nothing can come against this (like 5:39). He was full of grace and power (6:8) a killer combo!
I love the way Acts begins:
In the first book…I have dealt with all that Jesus BEGAN to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up…
The first book was the book of Luke. The 2nd book written by Luke is Acts. This tells you that the gospels are only the beginning of Jesus’ work and teachings. But how can that be since He is taken up to heaven? Because the Holy Spirit through his apostles will continue with Jesus’ actions and teachings.
Reminds me of John 16:12-14:
I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth…whatever he hears he will speak…he will declare to you the things that are to come.
And you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. – Acts 3:15
Never noticed Peter calling Jesus “the Author of life”. Seems a very early reference to the foundational conviction that Jesus = God.
God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.”
There is the blessing!! You heard it here folks! “Turning you from your wickedness”. This is a blessing unparalleled and infinitely greater than houses, cars, families, etc. Because it truly is the difference between eternal life and death.
And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness,
This was their response to persecution: make us even bolder!
There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold
Not a needy person among them. May it be LORD!!
I am always amazed at this part of Acts. There is just so much faith and devotion on the part of the early church. They were fully invested in Jesus’ mission.
None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem.
I guess it’s talking about the apostles? But just am struck that there is so much awe that people were scared to join (like people being afraid to enter Gods presence—scared what would happen to them on account of their sinfulness). What a challenge to our culture that seems so casual with sin…or even celebrates it
Note also the next verse: “And more than ever believers were added to the Lord” (5:14)
I think we should all pause when considering current “seeker-friendly” churches in the name of making more disciples for Christ on the basis of Acts 5:13-14
Acts 17: 6… “these men that have turned the world upside down have come here also.”
The Jews were jealous/furious. Searching for a Paul and Silas and wanting their lives. All because they were bold and parching the gospel/resurrection. See v 7 “they are acting against the decrees of Ceasar saying their is another king.”
Preach boldly IF it’s from the Lord. Let’s turn the world upside down
I know you guys are ahead of me, but I was thinking about Acts 6 yesterday…
Here we see that Greek Christians (Hellenists) were being neglected unfairly from food. So the solution was to create the deacon ministry, so the apostles could dedicate more time to preaching the word and pray.
7 deacons were chosen. They had to be men. But their names were Greek names. As others have pointed out, this likely speaks to the fact that they wanted the Greeks (Hellenists) to have fair representation, and thus not be neglected.
This speaks to 2 principles I see:
- if a certain group of people are being treated unfairly, there may be some wisdom in having others of that group in decision-making / leadership roles to represent them better.
- They still had to be male. Thus, it wasn’t women or widows who went into leadership–so in that way wasn’t full representation of the widows neglected. Some may argue that this was just the way the society of that time works. Which is truer then than it is in our society, undoubtedly. But I’d also say that Jesus / the apostles had no problem “bucking” societal norms. They were really trying to go God’s way, even if society around them didn’t like that. Jesus, for instance, empowered women in revolutionary ways (look at John 4 for a quick example of that). Yet He still chose male apostles. And the apostles followed his pattern in this when replacing an apostle (Acts 1). So I think there is some of God’s wisdom here in male leadership that we should consider. Certainly this is the case in the home with husbands and wives… so why wouldn’t it carry over beyond the home to a degree? That’s a bigger topic than I meant to go down.
But all to say: God’s word/ways should trump society’s way of looking at things. I think this gives balance to principle #1, and together, these 2 principles could really be helpful in considering how to help organizations be fairer to their constituents.
Just some wonderings…
“When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.”
Reading this chapter this morning made me grateful for the early church. Jesus’ministry is for all who believe, and it is cool that we are part of that story.
Acts 7 – Stephen’s speech showed:
- Moses was rejected by Israel, yet was a savior unto them
- Joseph was rejected by Israel, yet was a savior unto them
- And you can guess where this is going… Jesus is rejected by the Jews yet is THE Savior to them
Makes me reflect that faithfulness to the Lord doesn’t mean people in this lifetime (even Gods people) will accept you. In fact, true prophets rarely are accepted in their generation. It’s the false prophets who are
Acts 8 shows the leaders (apostles) stayed in Jerusalem while all the people went and preached the word. In 3 years time the people were equipped enough to preach without needing leaders to do it. What what happen in todays churches if the people were separated from leadership after 3 years? Would they be equipped to minister on their own? I fear not as much. A good goal to shoot for
So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.
I was reflecting more on 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 about Paul’s ability to adapt to who he is speaking to. I have always admired and looked up to this and tried to emulate him in this approach for the sake of spreading Jesus.
You really see this toward the end of Acts as he is on trial and aims to first establish credibility and commonality based on his heritage (“I am too a Roman citizen”). From there, he knows there will be mutual respect and he tells his testimony essentially (conversion story) (26:12-23) in the end they say “this man is doing nothing to deserve death or imprisonment.”
Of course, he was not afraid of jail and after this went into more tribulation with the shipwreck but it allowed the ministry to continue.
Great points brother. I’ve also thought about how Paul’s conversion story is relayed 3 different times in the book of Acts (ch. 9, 22, 26), but you can see different emphases based on the audience. None of it was untrue, but it showed his “flexibility” so to speak in reaching his particular audience. I think that’s sort of at the heart of 1 Cor. 9:19-23.
Or said another way, I think 1 Cor. 9:19-23 can be summed up as “offend where necessary; but not where unnecessary”.
Saying that…I think we should be challenged by Jesus’ example where at first blush it looks like he unnecessarily offends. I think of when He was invited to the Pharisees house, and purposefully didn’t wash according to their ritual before the meal (if I’m remembering that right). They were offended, then Jesus speaks to them pretty harshly. Then the lawyer guy said, “Hey, that sounds insulting to us, too.” And Jesus said, “Yep, and here’s some more things I have against you…” (my memory and paraphrase of the event).
But in all that event, I was initially challenged that Jesus could have just done their washing ritual to “gain an audience more” with them. Instead, though, I think He recognized their self-righteousness for what it was, and didn’t want to give them any room to trust in a certain washing ritual that made them feel righteous. He cut that nonsense out at the root, so to speak. And used that as an opportunity to really press them.
All to say, we need to really consider (with the Lord’s help) where us “going with flow” on something is emboldening idolatry or sin in other hearts. Where it does that, we should be willing to quickly offend them against that sort of lifestyle. But where they are sincerely seeking the Lord, and just weaker in the faith on certain things, that’s where 1 Cor. 9:19-23 speaks directly to. If that makes sense…
For those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers, because they did not recognize him nor understand the utterances of the prophets, which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled them by condemning him.
This makes me want to cry. They read the Bible weekly, but were totally blind to it and actually did the opposite of what it taught though they were convinced they followed it well. What a sobering thought!! Churches today don’t even read that much of the Bible!!! But think about that for those that do: how many are walking away thinking they are following it, but may in reality be doing the opposite.
God have mercy on our souls. Please we need to humble ourselves and consider where we are doing the same thing today. Listen to the Bible not with our own conclusions in mind, or what a pastor teaches, but truly hear what God is saying and repent.
“39 They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord. 41 He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.”
I just think these guys are so human. They have conflict on non-doctrinal issues that they can’t resolve. Yep…sounds pretty human. But then we read that Paul went off from that controversy: “strengthening the churches”. Here Paul got in a fight. We see he/they have issues. And yet God still uses these men with issues to strengthen all the churches. Guys–there’s hope for us to be used by God!!!!
Note: later Scripture seems to indicate they resolved their fight (see 2 Tim. 4:11).
and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.
A good test of false leaders: do they want you to follow them, or point you past them to the Word/Lord?
having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust. So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man.
but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.
I think this is the most succinct definition of repentance I can think of:
- turn to God
- deeds/works prove the repentance, but are not part of the repentance itself