Part VI

The Holy Spirit’s Ministry Challenged

As the church continued to grow, some problems began to arise and a plan was developed to deal with these challenges, as we can read in Acts 6:1-4

In those days when the numbers of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”

A group of deacons was selected to oversee the distribution of food. Their requirement was that they were full of wisdom and full of the Holy Spirit. Among the men chosen was a man named Stephen, as we can read in Acts 6:5 

This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism.

Stephen, as enabled by the Holy Spirit, did much more than taking care of the administration of food, for he preached the gospel and performed miracles among the people, as we can read in Acts 6:8

Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people.

We would expect everyone to be very appreciative of the ministry of Stephen but that was not the case. In fact, false accusations were made against him and he was eventually brought before the religious court, the Sanhedrin to prove his innocence, as we can read in Acts 6:9-12

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. These men 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 words of blasphemy 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.

Stephen used that opportunity to speak boldly, proving to them from their history that they were a stiff-necked people, just like their fathers had been, for they too had resisted the Holy Spirit and, as a consequence, had murdered the Righteous One, the Lord Jesus Christ, as we can read in Acts Chapter 7:2-53. The final words of his speech are recorded for us in Acts 7:51-53

“You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered Him – you who have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it.”

The religious leaders got so angry with Stephen that they stoned him to death, as we can read in Acts 7:54 – Acts 8:1a 

When they heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. 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. And Saul was there, giving approval to his death….

One of the people present at this stoning was a young man named Saul. We will come back to him later on.

Part VII