There are those who refuse godly wisdom from their own number! Take Gamaliel’s prophetic words to the Sanhedrin:
Ac 5:34 But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while.
Ac 5:38 “Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. 39 But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”
Apart from a flogging and a warning not to speak in Jesus’ Name, the apostles were set free. Gamaliel’s words were taken seriously. The Sanhedrin listened … but other Jewish leaders did not! We read on:
Ac 6:8 Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people. 9 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, 10 but they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke. 11 Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, “We have heard Stephen speak words of blasphemy against Moses and against God.” 12 So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. 13 They produced false witnesses, who testified, “This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. 14 For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.” 15 All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.
1) Stephen the deacon. He was newly appointed … see:
Ac 6:5 This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.
We know this is the same Stephen because the “grace” of verse 8 and the “faith” of verse 5 link. Remember Paul tells us that it is by grace you have been saved through faith. God’s grace enables faith. Then the “power” of verse 8 links with “the Holy Spirit” of verse 5. Also remember that Jesus said power will be received when the Holy Spirit comes upon them. Luke here is expressing Stephen’s spiritual status differently in verses 5 and 8, but they mean the same thing. He needed grace, faith and power and these are gifting from the Holy Spirit to authenticate the Gospel amongst the Jews.
2) Stephen God’s servant. The great wonders and miraculous signs were due to the Spirit’s empowerment.
(1) Great wonders. The word “great” speaks of the volume as in many, especially as wonders is plural.
(2) Wonders and signs are normally linked together because “a wonder” appeals to the imagination whilst “a sign” appeals to the understanding. Simply stated, the wonder makes one curious and interested whilst the sign solidifies what is witnessed in the heart and mind as authenticating the Gospel Message. Interestingly, we do not know what these wonders were nor what the signs were. We do not need to know or speculate other than to accept this was from the Spirit to prove the apostles or in this case the deacon Stephen was from Jesus and whatever was said or done was of divine origin, supporting and confirming the Gospel Message as true, believable and authentic. Remember context is king … so as we look further into this passage we see Luke writing of the Stephen’s wisdom and the Spirit by whom he spoke. These wonders and signs were associated with the wisdom of God’s Gospel.
3) Stephen’s abilities are not duplicated today. Although this statement might rile some, our basis for whatever we do within Christianity needs to be the Scriptures. In those days they did not have the Bible as we do today. They had the Old Testament and the Gospel in oral form. True Luke, Mark and Matthew were written, but like the Old Testament, were not available to all. In the synagogue they had the Scriptures, but this was the Christians preaching wherever they could. Largely they had the oral Gospel and what they knew of the Old Testament. This is the reason that wonders and signs were important to convince hearers that what was happening was from God. Today we have the complete Canon of Scripture available in most main line languages … therefore we do not need wonders and signs … in any event, as we shall see in the Book of Acts and through Christian History as it unfolds, God withdrew these “spectacular things” because we have better, the Complete Word of God. An experience fades and needs to be replaced over and over whilst the Word of God is eternal. It lasts!
Ps 119:89 Your word, O LORD, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens.
Couple this to the following passages:
2Co 4:18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
Heb 11:1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
4) Stephen faced serious opposition.
(1) There were many synagogues in Jerusalem. If there were ten families (some say 10 grownups), then a synagogue could be constituted because with 10 wages earners tithing, they could support a rabbi.
(2) The Synagogue of the Freedmen, also known as The Libertines, were most likely Jews descended from prisoners taken to Rome and subsequently released or set free. After their emancipation they returned to Jerusalem.
(3) Jews of Cyrene. This city was located in Northern Africa (Eastern Libya). There was a huge Jewish following here. They received credibility from monies sent to the temple in Jerusalem.
(4) Jews from Alexandria. Alexandria was in Egypt on the Southern Coast of the Mediterranean. They also had a huge Jewish population. Jews from Cyrene, Alexandria, Cilicia and Asia had synagogues in Jerusalem.
We will get into their unhappiness tomorrow, but for now, consider the Jewish Ruling Council (Sanhedrin) listening to Gamaliel but these members of various synagogues not. The Word of God is Eternal. Do we listen to it?
Father, shape our lives and wills to follow Your Word. Amen.