Devotional Reading: Ephesians 6:13-20
Lesson Scripture: Acts 7:51-8:1a
Lesson Aims: To understand the charges against Stephen; to affirm that standing for Jesus requires boldness; and to always remember that God is with you in the midst of life’s situations.
Background: Blasphemy, “not giving reverence to God,” (The New International Dictionary of the Bible) was a serious charge that, if convicted, death by stoning would follow. The false witnesses from last week accused Stephen of blasphemy against Moses (the law), the Temple, and ultimately, God.
When given the opportunity to defend himself, Stephen retold the Jews’ history from the days of Abraham to the present. In doing so, he highlights their rejection of Moses, the Temple, the prophets and God. A Hellenist Jew (born and raised outside of the Holy Land he spoke Greek), the deacon delivered a scathing indictment against them. Another key point he made was that God didn’t reside in a man-made building only! How often do we act like God is American only?
Lesson: His testimony ends with a declaration of Israel’s past and present rejection of the prophets, including the Righteous One, Jesus. When you think about it, his defense will indict all of us! Stephen describes them like God did. They can’t stand what is being said. They cover their ears; grit their teeth and yell, according to some translations. They don’t want to hear Stephen’s words.
The deacon, full of the Holy Spirit, completes his testimony by sharing his vision (face like an angel) in heaven that Jesus is standing at the right hand of God. Some scholars believe this represents “Jesus welcoming the martyr home” (The New Jerome Biblical Commentary). Emotions are high as the mob drags him out of the city and begins to stone him. While enduring this agonizing slow death, the deacon’s last words are “Don’t hold this against them.” That is powerful! Paul holds his clothes and nods approvingly.
Application: Life has a way of testing what we believe. Our tests may not be as dramatic as Stephen’s, but the impact will be the same. Situations will come that force us to take a stand for God. Rejection may come in many forms – threats, ostracism or being passed over or sat down. It can be scary, but take heart; God is with you. You can maintain your integrity just as Stephen did. It therefore becomes important for every believer to know the Word of God for themselves! Is Sunday School attendance going up? I pray that it is! See you there on the fourteenth.