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Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Day 320: Stephen, the first martyr

The apostles seem unstoppable.
The apostles imprisoned, but set free
Acts 5:17-25
They testify to the council
Acts 5:26-33
The advice of Gamaliel
Acts 5:34-39
The apostles are released
Acts 5:40-42
Deacons are appointed
Acts 6:1-7
Stephen is falsely accused
Acts 6:8-15
His defence before the council
Acts 7:1-50
He reproves the Jewish leaders
Acts 7:51-53
Stephen’s martyrdom
Acts 7:54-60

The apostles appear to be on collision course with the Jewish council. Having defied them once, they are arrested again, miraculously released by an angel, arrested yet again, only to defy the council once more. There is rage and unthinking fury in the council, they are powerless and angry about it.
Fortunately for the apostles, for good sense and for peace, Gamaliel stands up with some incredibly wise words. He has been able to step back and see clearly what is going on. He hasn’t become a Christian, he’s not convinced that these ex-fishermen are right, but he does believe in the power of God. Let them go, he says, if they’ve got no real power behind them, this will all fizzle out. But if God really is on their side, you won’t be able to stop them.
The church now runs into its first problem of growth, and the apostles very sensibly decide to delegate some of their jobs. They choose seven people to assist them with the more mundane work, so they can concentrate on preaching and prayer. But at least two of the seven prove to be capable of much more that that, and Stephen in particular is a powerful and gifted speaker.
Unfortunately he reignites the fury of the Jewish leaders, by not mincing his words.
He sounds like a prophet as he tells the Israel’s history, with a slant that the people have never been faithful to God, they have always rejected the prophets, and now they are rejecting God’s anointed. This is too much for them, and their anger boils over and they stone Stephen to death for blasphemy. Stephen dies, as his master did, with prayers of forgiveness on his lips.

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