This was Stephen’s reply: “Brothers and fathers, listen to me. Our glorious God appeared to our ancestor Abraham in Mesopotamia before he settled in Haran.”
Stephen has been accused of blaspheming against the Temple and the Law of Moses.
He starts his testimony by reminding the council of their ancestors. The patriarch Abraham was called by God to leave his home and come to the land of promise.
God gave Abraham the covenant of circumcision which has continued down the generations. Joseph was sold into slavery but became the saviour of his family and of the nation.
At first glance, this seems like an odd way of defending oneself on a charge of blasphemy. But by reciting the history of Israel, or at least part of it, Stephen is saying that he is a part of the story. He is a descendant of Abraham just as the members of the council are.
He reminds the council that God appeared to Abraham long before there was a Temple and a Law. In fact, Abraham’s first encounter with the Lord was outside of Israel. Much of Israel’s history in fact was spent outside the land.
I think the message Stephen is trying to get across is that the Lord is sovereign. He often does things we don’t expect. The latest of these unexpected things for Stephen was the death and resurrection of the Messiah.
The difference between the truly spiritual person and the religious person is humility. The religious person constantly tries to control God, to keep Him safely contained in a box. But God refuses to be contained or controlled by people.
Humility lies in knowing that God is bigger than we are, that He is in control and this is a good thing.
Heavenly Father, thank you for the knowledge that you are everywhere and not contained in a building. You have called me to follow you. Please help me to do this in humility, always letting you direct my paths. Amen.
Here is my commentary on Ephesians2:2. I am publishing these once or twice a week, but you can read all of the available articles at our web-site.
“ … in which you used to live when you followed the ways of the world, and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is still at work in those who are disobedient.”
We used to live in “sins and transgressions” until Christ set us free. We all have a history “Before Christ”, and when we are tempted to judge others from a position of self-righteousness, it is good to remember that we, too, once lived in sin.
Sin is so all-encompassing that it is no exaggeration to say that we once lived in it. Sin is like the air around us. It is always there even if we are not aware of it.
Sin is living for ourselves without reference to God’s will. In parts of the Bible it is described as lawlessness, rebellion, and witchcraft. When we live for ourselves without reference to the Lord, we are truly living in sin.
We used to follow the ways of the world before Christ came in.
Those who live in the world have their ways, just as christians have their ways. Whereas christians leave to serve Christ, the people of the world live to serve themselves. Vices are renamed virtues. Sins are redefined to make them more palatable.
The word “world” is not the physical planet on which we live, but the masses of humanity who go their own way, ignorant or rebellious against God.
God loves the world so much that He sent his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
God loves the world, but the world does not love God. The world sets up its systems which deliberately exclude God.
The people who follow the ways of the world live for themselves. They work for money that does not last; their priorities can be summed up in the proverb, “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.” Their attitude is to live life to the fullest because they see no prospect for eternity.
The people of the world think that they are being wise in their own ways, walking in their own freedom. Yet they are directed by the” ruler of the kingdom of the air.” The kingdom of the air is satan’s realm. It is the second heaven according to some people, the first being the celestial realm of the sun, moon and stars.
When people live for themselves, they are living for Satan. Despite their claims to be free, they are in the deepest of bondage. Having abandoned any sense of duty to their Creator, they have fallen into captivity to the devil.
That is why the world always sets itself in opposition to Christians. This is why so many Christians around the world face severe persecution. This is why society loves all manner of perversion and decadence, and they hate the church.
Those who walk in the ways of the world are really being directed by satan who is the ruler of the kingdom of the air. We cannot ever expect anything different. Sinful people, unredeemed people, sin because they are separated from God and in fellowship with Satan.
Many Christians are unaware of the spiritual war that they are fighting. This will be discussed in Ephesians 6 where the nature of the war is elaborated. For now we must recognise that the war is being waged, and humans are the prize on both sides.
There is no neutrality in this war. Satan will destroy everyone regardless of whether they are fighting for him or ignorant of him. He leaves alone those who are already on the path to hell. He takes great delight in causing suffering and distress to those whom he considers his enemies.
Those who are disobedient to God are those who allow the spirits of evil to work in their lives. The more determined people are to oppose God, the more they have allowed the spirits to work in them and through them.
People indulge in all kinds of evil acts including violence, sexual perversion, lust, theft, fraud, blasphemy and so on. They argue that anything is justified as long as nobody gets hurt. They overlook the fact that any act of disobedience causes hurt to someone even if it is only the disobedient person.
Human beings were created in the image of God. We are created for his purposes and any disobedience to God is a denial of our reason for being. We mar that image that is in our hearts whenever we indulge our selfish desires.
Acts of disobedience amongst christians are acts of surrender to the evil one. We deny our Creator and Redeemer. We turn away from the path of separation to God and back to the ways of the world which lead to bondage and captivity.
Key points in this verse:
We were once Sinners but have been set free by Christ.
Sin is following the ways of the world
Whether by intent or in ignorance, the world sets itself in opposition to God
God loves the world but the world does not love God
Those who live in the world are really in bondage to satan who is the ruler of the kingdom of the air
We are in spiritual war and need to be aware of this
Following the ways of the world leads to disobedience
We are created for God’s purposes and must obey him
So brothers, select seven men who are well respected and are full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom. We will give them this responsibility.
As the church rapidly grows, there are rumblings of discontent. The Greek-speaking widows believe that the Hebrew- speaking widows are getting preference in the food distribution. The Twelve call a meeting of the church and say, “This should not be our responsibility. We need to teach and to pray. Select seven men who are full of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom to oversee this.”
The seven are chosen, and the church continues to grow.
Then some men who are jealous of Stephen’s miracles and the wisdom with which he speaks, lie about his words and have him brought before the high council. They repeat their false testimony, but Stephen’s face is transformed as bright as an angel as he begins his defence.
The food distribution program was at the heart of the church’s active care. One group of widows came to believe that they were being discriminated against, and so a potential conflict arose.
The apostles knew that their calling was to pray and teach and to steer the church as it grew like crazy. They had no time to run a food program.
They delegated this role to men with these qualifications:
full of the Holy Spirit
full of wisdom
Often the church delegates the hands-on roles to the less spiritual people. If you have a heartbeat you can do the job, regardless of spiritual maturity.
The apostles saw that this was not just a food program, but a genuine ministry of reconciliation at a critical time. The Hebrew speakers and the Greek speakers could have allowed the resentment and bitterness to build up to such a peak that a church split would happen.
This was a spiritual issue because the power of the church lay in them being of “one heart and mind.”
When we think about who does what in the church, often it is not enough to call for volunteers. Sometimes we need to stop, pray and look for the people who are “full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom.”
Lord, bring wisdom to your church. May we all be men and women who are full of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom, so that all things are done your way and to your glory. Amen.
The apostles left the high council rejoicing that God had counted them worthy to suffer disgrace for the name of Jesus.
The guards go and collect the apostles, bringing them before the council. The high priest says, “We ordered you not to teach in the name of Jesus.” Peter replies, “We must obey God, not man.”
The high council decides to kill them, but Gamaliel urges caution. He tells them to leave the men alone. If it is just a thing born out of people, it will be overthrown, but if they oppose it they could be opposing God.
The council has the apostles flogged. They leave rejoicing that God counted them worthy to suffer disgrace for the name of Jesus.
In the west, we have a phenomenon called “Consumer Christianity.” This describes an attitude where people come to church expecting their needs and desires to be met.
This is so different to the attitudes of the apostles who counted suffering as something to be celebrated.
I can’t imagine the pain of being flogged. We do all that we can to avoid pain. I don’t like having blood samples taken much less being attacked by someone wanting to inflict pain.
What do the apostles think of this?
They rejoice! No self-pity here! They see something in the spiritual realm that corrects a purely physical perception.
They rejoice that God counts them worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus. The spiritual elite are the people who suffer for the name of Jesus. We might be impressed by preachers who live in big houses and fly private jets. God is impressed by those who are strong enough to thrive in suffering for His sake.
On earth money and influence mark the powerful.
In heaven humility and suffering mark the spiritual.
In all things, God’s standards are at odds with those of the world. There will always be a conflict in values.
Who will I let define my value systems?
Lord I see that your followers must see things differently to the world. May I become one who rejoices in suffering, should that be necessary. Amen.
Then he told them, “Go to the Temple and give the people this message of life.”
Filled with jealousy, the High Priest has the apostles put in jail. An angel comes at night and sets them free, telling them to go and give the people the message of life.
The High Priest then convenes the Council, but when they send for the apostles, they are told that they are not in the jail. Then a report comes that the men are preaching in the Temple.
Christians can always be certain to have enemies. There are people around who do not like the idea that there is a God who judges and forgives sin.
The angel gives a commission to the apostles as they are liberated from the jail: go to the Temple and give the people the message of life.
The Gospel is Good News because it brings life- real life, abundant life, eternal life.
The Gospel is about real life because it connects us to God, the source of life. Most people live a half-death in which their bodies function and their brains work, but their spirit is dead. When the Holy Spirit comes in, our human spirit is born again and, connected to our power source, we live life as it was intended.
The Gospel is about abundant life or life in all its fullness. As I write this, the coronavirus is wreaking havoc right across the world. The Australian economy has partly shut down, and tens of thousands of workers are suddenly unemployed. People who believed in the power of money to provide meaning to their lives suddenly find their whole existence is under threat. God gives us so much more than coffee and avocado on toast.
The Gospel is about eternal life. Eternity is life without end, life without limitations. We will live with God forever, and that gives (or should give) christians confidence, peace and joy in every situation.
This is the message of life. Our Saviour who lived without sin took our sin on His body and put it to death. Death is dead, and we are alive!
Thank you Father for this “message of life” bu which we experience fullness of life. Amen.
But no one dared to join them, even though all the people had high regard for them. Yet more and more people believed and were brought to the Lord- crowds of both men and women.
Ananias and Sapphira sell some land and bring some of the money to the apostles, claiming it is the full amount. First Ananias and then Sapphira are struck down dead by the Holy Spirit. Great fear grips the church and those who hear of it.
The apostles perform many signs and wonders, and all the believers gather regularly in the Temple area. No one else dares to join them, even though they respect the christians, but more and more people are getting saved.
The experience of Ananias and Sapphira reminds us that God is holy and He will not be mocked. Often we take God somewhat for granted.
The result of this episode is a great conundrum. Everyone gets on with being the church, and its strength as a community increases. The awe of God’s judgement sobers the people and those outside, and everyone is too scared to join the church.
Despite this, people are getting saved- both men and women.
People are afraid to be drawn in. But, like moths to the flame, they some in anyway.
Our Lord is both loving and holy.
I wonder what would happen if our worship was so dynamic that is attracted the manifest presence of God. I wonder what kind of miracles we could experience. And what kind of judgement also.
Is the current coronavirus pandemic a part of this? Have we, the church, been too comfortable for too long? Are we so much like the world that we are no longer any use as salt in the world?
There is very little awe in the church or in the world for what God is able to do in and through His people. I have a sense that God is about to change this. Whether that is through our current adversity, I cannot say, but I do know that whatever signs and wonders we currently experience, they are nothing compared to what is coming.
Father, your love is like a hurricane- wild and uncontrollable. Help me to cultivate that sense of awe in your presence. Amen.
After this prayer, the meeting place shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Then they preached the word of God with boldness.
After Peter and John are freed, they return to the believers. They all lift their voices to God. They marvel that the attacks they might expect to come from the Gentiles are happening in Jerusalem. They call on God to send more healing power, more signs and wonders.
I have never been in a prayer meeting where the building shook and all the people are filled or re-filled with the Holy Spirit. This sounds like a kind of mini-Pentecost. Whenever christians gather to pray there should be manifestations of the Holy Spirit.
So what is the prayer that triggered this response?
1. It was united. All the believers were already one in heart, mind, and purpose. The Body of Christ showed no disharmony.
2. It was a response to growing persecution. The believers were surprised that the Jewish leaders continued to reject Jesus as Messiah, despite the strong testimonies concerning the resurrection by those who had walked with Him.
3. Prayer for boldness in preaching. They didn’t want to step back from their confident proclamation that Jesus is Lord and He has conquered sin and death.
4. Prayer for healing power, for signs and wonders. They did not want a theoretical faith, an intellectual ideology. They wanted a God who is real, experiential, and working in the world.
This is the prayer they prayed, and they received an immediate answer- they were filled with the Holy Spirit and went out to preach the word boldly.
At a time when the world is falling apart in fear and panic, the church needs to keep on stepping forward with peace and power. We need to be praying hard for God to heal people. We need to demonstrate that God is still in control. We need to speak boldly to people’s hearts- Jesus died for their sins and He is alive.
Come and shake the building, Lord. Fill your people. Give me boldness to preach your word. Amen.