The Martyrdom of Stephen - Part 1 (Acts 6:8-15)

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Welcome & Announcements

There are a few announcements that I’ve made a handful of times, but to save time and not bore you with those announcements again, they’re in your worship guides.
Instead, let me just give you a couple of new announcements:
On December 11th, 2022, we’ll have a brief special business meeting after AM Worship.
On December 17th, 2022, Ladies Cookie Baking Extravaganza starting at 11am until finished.
Let me remind you to continue worshiping the Lord through your giving. To help you give, we have three ways to do so, (1) cash and checks can be given at the offering box. Checks should be written to Grace & Peace; debit, credit, and ACH transfers can be done either by (2) texting 84321 with your $[amount] and following the text prompts or (3) by visiting us online at www.giving.gapb.church. Of course, everything you give goes to the building up of our local church and the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Prayer of Repentance and Adoration

Call to Worship (Ps 67)

Our Call to Worship is Psalm 67, which is an anonymous psalm in which the psalmist calls for the blessing of God to be upon the people. Though it is anonymous, some think that this may have been written by Abraham, but that is an educated guess, based on some of the terminology used in the psalm itself. Please stand and read with me Psalm 67—I’ll read the odd-numbered verses; please join me in reading the even-numbered verses.
Psalm 67 ESV
To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments. A Psalm. A Song. 1 May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, Selah 2 that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations. 3 Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! 4 Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. Selah 5 Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! 6 The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, shall bless us. 7 God shall bless us; let all the ends of the earth fear him!

Congregational Singing

By Faith (361)
Christ, the Sure and Steady Anchor (406)
My Faith has Found a Resting Place (404)

Scripture Reading (Acts 6:8-8:3)

Now normally, our Scripture Reading works chapter by chapter through the Bible, but because of where we’re at in the book of Acts, we’re actually going to be reading through Acts 6:8-8:3. The reason for this is simple, the section of Scripture that I’m preaching through is Acts 6:8-15, but that’s not the full context of the passage. To best help us understand everything going on in the text that I’m preaching through, we’re going to read through the whole section every week that we’re working through Stephen’s martyrdom. This will help us keep it all in context as we work through the three sections of the text. Tara can you read Acts 6:8-8:3?
Acts 6:8–8:3 NASB 2020
8 And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people. 9 But some men from what was called the Synagogue of the Freedmen, including both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and argued with Stephen. 10 But they were unable to cope with his wisdom and the Spirit by whom he was speaking. 11 Then they secretly induced men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” 12 And they stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes, and they came up to him and dragged him away, and brought him before the Council. 13 They put forward false witnesses who said, “This man does not stop speaking against this holy place and the Law; 14 for we have heard him say that this Nazarene, Jesus, will destroy this place and change the customs which Moses handed down to us.” 15 And all who were sitting in the Council stared at him, and they saw his face, which was like the face of an angel. 1 Now the high priest said, “Are these things so?” 2 And Stephen said, “Listen to me, brothers and fathers! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, 3 and He said to him, ‘Go from your country and your relatives, and come to the land which I will show you.’ 4 Then he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran. And from there, after his father died, God had him move to this country in which you are now living. 5 But He gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot of ground, and yet, He promised that He would give it to him as a possession, and to his descendants after him, even though he had no child. 6 But God spoke to this effect, that his descendants would be strangers in a land that was not theirs, and they would enslave and mistreat them for four hundred years. 7 And whatever nation to which they are enslaved I myself will judge,’ said God, ‘and After that they will come out and serve Me in this place.’ 8 And He gave him the covenant of circumcision; and so Abraham fathered Isaac, and circumcised him on the eighth day; and Isaac fathered Jacob, and Jacob, the twelve patriarchs. 9 “The patriarchs became jealous of Joseph and sold him into Egypt. Yet God was with him, 10 and rescued him from all his afflictions, and granted him favor and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and he made him governor over Egypt and his entire household. 11 “Now a famine came over all Egypt and Canaan, and great affliction with it, and our fathers could find no food. 12 But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent our fathers there the first time. 13 And on the second visit, Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and Joseph’s family was revealed to Pharaoh. 14 Then Joseph sent word and invited his father Jacob and all his relatives to come to him, seventy-five people in all. 15 And Jacob went down to Egypt, and he and our fathers died there. 16 And they were brought back from there to Shechem and laid in the tomb which Abraham had purchased for a sum of money from the sons of Hamor in Shechem. 17 “But as the time of the promise which God had assured to Abraham was approaching, the people increased and multiplied in Egypt, 18 until Another king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph. 19 It was he who shrewdly took advantage of our nation and mistreated our fathers in order that they would abandon their infants in the Nile, so that they would not survive. 20 At this time Moses was born; and he was beautiful to God. He was nurtured for three months in his father’s home. 21 And after he had been put outside, Pharaoh’s daughter took him away and nurtured him as her own son. 22 Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was proficient in speaking and action. 23 But when he was approaching the age of forty, it entered his mind to visit his countrymen, the sons of Israel. 24 And when he saw one of them being treated unjustly, he defended and took vengeance for the oppressed man by fatally striking the Egyptian. 25 And he thought that his brothers understood that God was granting them deliverance through him; but they did not understand. 26 And on the following day he appeared to them as they were fighting each other, and he tried to reconcile them to peace, by saying, ‘Men, you are brothers, why are you injuring each other?’ 27 But the one who was injuring his neighbor pushed him away, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and judge over us? 28 You do not intend to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday, do you?’ 29 At this remark, Moses fled and became a stranger in the land of Midian, where he fathered two sons. 30 “After forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in the flame of a burning thorn bush. 31 When Moses saw it, he was astonished at the sight; and as he approached to look more closely, the voice of the Lord came: 32 ‘I am the God of your fathers, the God of abraham, and isaac, and jacob.’ Moses shook with fear and did not dare to look closely. 33 But the Lord said to him, ‘Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground. 34 I have certainly seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their groaning, and I have come down to rescue them; and Now come, I will send you to Egypt.’ 35 “This Moses whom they disowned, saying, ‘who made you a ruler and a judge?’ is the one whom God sent to be both a ruler and a deliverer with the help of the angel who appeared to him in the thorn bush. 36 This man led them out, performing wonders and signs in the land of Egypt and in the Red Sea, and in the wilderness for forty years. 37 This is the Moses who said to the sons of Israel, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet Like me from your countrymen.’ 38 This is the one who was in the assembly in the wilderness together with the angel who spoke to him at length on Mount Sinai, and who was with our fathers; and he received living words to pass on to you. 39 Our fathers were unwilling to be obedient to him; on the contrary they rejected him and turned back to Egypt in their hearts, 40 saying to Aaron, ‘Make us a god who will go before us; for this moses who led us out of the land of Egyptwe do not know what happened to him.’ 41 At that time they made a calf and brought a sacrifice to the idol, and were rejoicing in the works of their hands. 42 But God turned away and gave them over to serve the heavenly lights; as it is written in the book of the prophets: ‘you did not offer Me victims and sacrifices for forty years in the wilderness, did you, house of Israel? 43 You also took along the tabernacle of Moloch and the star of your god Rompha, the images which you made to worship. I also will deport you beyond Babylon.’ 44 “Our fathers had the tabernacle of testimony in the wilderness, just as He who spoke to Moses directed him to make it according to the pattern which he had seen. 45 Our fathers in turn received it, and they also brought it in with Joshua upon dispossessing the nations that God drove out from our fathers, until the time of David. 46 David found favor in God’s sight, and asked that he might find a dwelling place for the house of Jacob. 47 But it was Solomon who built a house for Him. 48 However, the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands; as the prophet says: 49 Heaven is My throne, And the earth is the footstool of My feet; What kind of house will you build for Me?’ says the Lord, ‘or what place is there for My rest? 50 Was it not My hand that made all these things?’ 51 “You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did. 52 Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, and you have now become betrayers and murderers of Him; 53 you who received the Law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it.” 54 Now when they heard this, they were infuriated, and they began gnashing their teeth at him. 55 But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, looked intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; 56 and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 But they shouted with loud voices, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one mind. 58 When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” 60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” Having said this, he fell asleep. 1 Now Saul approved of putting Stephen to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except for the apostles. 2 Some devout men buried Stephen, and mourned loudly for him. 3 But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house; and he would drag away men and women and put them in prison.

Preaching of God’s Word (Acts 6:8-15)

Introduction

As you noticed from our Scripture Reading, we’re in a large passage of Scripture concerning a specific event that’s of great importance in the early church. It’s of great importance because in it we see two different people—we see Stephen, who becomes the first martyr of Christendom and we’re introduced to the man who not only witnessed the death of Stephen but approved of his death—a man who later repents from his sins, believes in Jesus, and makes a significant impact on Christianity.
This morning, we’re only working through the first eight verses of the passage, which will give us everything that leads up to the sermon that gets Stephen killed.
Keep this in mind as we read Acts 6:8-15 together.
Acts 6:8–15 ESV
8 And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people. 9 Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and disputed with Stephen. 10 But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. 11 Then they secretly instigated men who said, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” 12 And they stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council, 13 and they set up false witnesses who said, “This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, 14 for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.” 15 And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel.
As we study these verses together, we’re going to break the text into two parts: (1) The Setting (8-10) and (2) The Opposition (11-15). It is a smaller amount of text, but there are a lot of details worth us sitting on a thinking through. What we’ll see as we study through this text is Stephen, who was just selected to be deacon, doing the work of ministry and those who oppose the Gospel making up lies to rile up the people against him. Our message this morning will encourage us to not wait to do the work of the ministry and to not be discouraged when people oppose the message of Jesus Christ.
Prayer for Illumination

The Setting 8-10

Our text starts by narrowing in on a specific person—his name’s Stephen, we read, “Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people.”
Remember, this is the same Stephen that we just read about last week in Acts 6:1-14.
If you remember with me last week’s passage, we saw the apostles lay hands on seven men selected by the congregation and approved of by the elders to serve in a specific role within the church.
They were selected because they were men full of the Spirit and their specific purpose was to serve the local church in meeting the temporal needs of the church.
And we see Stephen doing just this, serving with grace and power, doing great wonders and signs among the people.
Notice how he doesn’t hesitate whatsoever in fulfilling the role that Jesus has for him.
He didn’t wait around to start serving in the capacity that he was asked to serve in.
He didn’t wait around waiting for a sign from God to confirm that he wasn’t supposed to do this.
No, he was selected for a role and he steps straight into serving how he was meant to serve.
Note also, that the performing of great wonders and signs among the people, much like in the case of the apostles was not a normative situation.
Stephen didn’t get selected to be a deacon and go out to perform signs and wonders—that wasn’t his intent.
He went to serve and the signs and wonders occurred for a specific reason—to validate the message that he was about to proclaim, which we won’t even get to today. We’ll get to the message itself next week.
All we see so far is that Stephen was called by the apostles to serve the church in meeting the temporal needs of the congregation.
And he didn’t hesitate, he jumped straight into serving and he did so in a way that was full of grace and power.
There’s a lot that we can learn from Stephen—especially considering his desire to serve without hesitation.
Consider how many times we feel a calling of God to serve in a certain way and instead of immediately doing it, we question God and we test God’s calling on our life—if this happens, God, then I’ll know that you want me to do this.
Consider how many times we know what God has told us to do and instead of doing it, we do something else or we avoid doing it altogether—like when we know that Jesus has commissioned us to make disciples of every nation, but then we choose not to even bother; or we know that God has commanded us to love one another, but we choose not to.
It is significant that Stephen was called to a specific role—he was commissioned and instead of hesitating, instead of waiting, he jumped straight into the role that God had called him into.
In vv. 9-10, we see how the people respond to Stephen doing these things. In particular, we see how certain unbelievers respond to the work that Stephen was performing, v. 9, “Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedman (as it was called), and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and disputed with Stephen.” Now there’s a lot going on in this verse, so let’s take a few minutes to break it down.
Luke mentions several different groups of people that are all members of what are called the Freedman synagogue.
It being a synagogue tells us that Stephen’s opposition were Jewish—this opposition isn’t from pagan unbelievers outside of Judaism—it’s from those who are faithfully attending the Jewish synagogue.
The term freedman that’s used to describe this synagogue could have one of two meanings:
Either it’s referring to Jewish people who were either once enslaved but now free and those who were never enslaved but always free.
Or it’s referring to those who had been separated in what’s referred to as the diaspora and are now together as a Jewish synagogue. I think this is more likely since Luke makes it a point to mention where they were from.
So, we have Jewish people from Cyrene, Alexandria, Cilicia, and Asia.
Which simply tells us that they’re coming from all around the southern Mediterranean, the Eastern Mediterranean, into modern-day Turkey.
There were Jewish people from all around the area disputing that of what Stephen said, but because all that Stephen said was wisdom from God in the Spirit of the Lord, there really isn’t much that they could say. V. 10 says,. “But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.”
We would say it like this—they heard what Stephen was saying, they didn’t like it, but they couldn’t disagree with what he was saying or how he was saying it.
They heard what he was saying and wanted to argue against it, but nothing Stephen said was wrong and the way he said it wasn’t incorrect.
Or in other words. he was speaking truth and he was speaking truth correctly—probably in the same way that he was serving—with grace and with power.
As he confronted them with the truth, he did it with power or boldness and he did it graciously.
The issue is and you’ve heard me say this before, when someone doesn’t want to believe, when they don’t want to hear the truth. When they don’t want to follow Jesus, they won’t. They will refuse to believe, they will reject truth, they will follow their own path and that’s precisely what these people did concerning Stephen. Take a look at vv. 11-15.

The Opposition 11-15

Acts 6:11–15 ESV
11 Then they secretly instigated men who said, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” 12 And they stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council, 13 and they set up false witnesses who said, “This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, 14 for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.” 15 And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel.
These individuals so hated what Stephen said that they riled up the people against him.
But remember, v. 10, “they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.” What Stephen said and how he said it was right; they just didn’t want to believe him, so they resorted to lies.
Which let’s be honest, because Stephen was proclaiming the truth according to God—the Gospel of Jesus Christ and only the Gospel of Jesus Christ, there was nothing that the people could complain about what Stephen was saying.
And because he was proclaiming the truth according to God—the Gospel of Jesus Christ with power and grace, there was nothing that the people could complain about how he was saying what he was saying.
But again, they didn’t want to believe, they didn’t want to hear the truth, they didn’t want to follow Jesus, so they made up lies against Stephen.
In particular, they claimed that he was speaking blasphemy against Moses and God.
Blasphemy is a very specific sin that many people misunderstand, so let’s briefly discuss what it is so that we can see what the accusation against Stephen was.
According to the Lexham Bible Dictionary, blasphemy is “a verbal insult uttered intentionally and malevolently against God” that reveals the offender’s contempt towards God.
I’d add to that definition, that blasphemy doesn’t have to be verbal—you can blaspheme against God not only through verbal word, but you can blaspheme against him in written form and to some extent through physical actions.
I’d also point out that even though the people in v. 11 claim that Stephen is blaspheming against Moses, the term blasphemy is typically reserved for God and the Holy Spirit.
The only reason that they would think someone could blaspheme against a person is because they essentially venerated Moses because he spoke face-to-face with God.
To the Jewish people, Moses was an important person who was to be respected and viewed a certain way—thus, if someone would speak against Moses, the Jewish people would treat that like the person spoke against God.
I hope you can see the problem with that mindset—the idea that any person could be blasphemed against the same way that God could be blasphemed against is utterly absurd and is the definition of blaspheming against God. By placing Moses at the same level of God—able to be blasphemed, they themselves blasphemed against God.
But remember, Stephen didn’t blaspheme against God—he said nothing wrong whatsoever.
In addition to accusing Stephen, these people in v. 12, “stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council, and they set up false witnesses.”
Despite the fact that Stephen didn’t say anything wrong and despite the fact that what he did say, he said with grace and power, those who opposed what he said sought to not just discredit him, but to completely remove him.
The elders and council refer to the same group of people who have been charging the apostles to not proclaim the name of Jesus, this is the same council who crucified Jesus.
In our modern context, when we think of scribes we typically think of those who copy and recopy books. During Bible times, scribes were a little different—because they were copyists who copied and recopied books, they copied and recopied the Scriptures over and over. And because they had copied them so frequently and because they were relatively learned people, they also served as teachers and they also served (to an extent) as something almost like a jury in a court setting.
The people who opposed Stephen recognized that if they wanted to get rid of Stephen, then their best bet of doing so is by riling up those in charge—the elders, the scribes, and the council.
They instigated or provoked men and caused them to claim that Stephen was blaspheming God and Moses.
They stirred up the people and the elders and scribes, who then brought Stephen by force to the council.
The “set up false witnesses who said, ‘This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.”
Of course, we know that a false witness is someone who claims to have seen or heard something that is untrue. In this passage, we’re told what their false accusation is and anyone familiar with the life of Jesus or the New Testament as a whole would realize how nonsensical all their accusations are.
They essentially accuse him of saying two different things — (1) they accuse him of speaking against “this holy place and the law” and (2) they accuse him of claiming that Jesus would “destroy this place and” change their customs.
The holy place being referred to is the temple mount—remember, that is where the council met and since Stephen was forcibly taken to the council, we can assume he’s somewhere in the temple mount. Of course, the law refers to the first five books of the Old Testament; both of which, simply aren’t true.
We know what Stephen was proclaiming by nature of who he is. He is a deacon of the church and the church was led by the apostles who proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus Christ—we can assume that Stephen was simply preaching the Gospel.
We’re also told in v. 10 that those who opposed him “could not withstand the wisdom and the spirit with which he was speaking.”
The way that he was speaking and what he was saying was filled with wisdom—if its filled with wisdom to the extent that no one could withstand it, then it couldn’t have come purely from himself; he must be speaking the words of God.
Now the accusation that Jesus would destroy this place—meaning destroy the temple, this is the same accusation they lobbed at Jesus.
In John 2:19 “19 Jesus answered [the Pharisees with], “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.””
They assume he’s speaking of the physical temple standing in front of him, but he actually means his own physical body. We know they’re misunderstanding him because they immediately respond with “it has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” and the passage continues with John 2:21 “21 But He was speaking about the temple of His body.”
It is possible that those seeking to get rid of Stephen would bring this accusation back up thinking that it would be almost like a trump card.
And the statement that Jesus wanted to change the customs from Moses is untrue in one sense—Jesus never sought to change the law, in fact, he made it abundantly clear that he came to fulfill the law, not abolish it.
The issues in which Jesus confronted the Jews and required them to change were matters of their own opinion that they had turned into the law.
Jesus was confronting issues that the Jews claimed were biblical that weren’t actually biblical—he didn’t seek to change the customs that Moses gave them, but rather the customs that they had that came during the intertestimental period that we find in the apocryphal books and the Talmud and Midrash.
The reality is that it didn’t really matter to these people that what they were saying was untrue—they knew that by claiming that Stephen was doing these things, that those in charge would get angry, those who followed those in charge would become irate, and the popular opinion of Stephen would quickly turn against him.
They weren’t concerned with telling the truth, they were just trying to get Stephen to shut up and the best way for them to do this quickly was to get the elders, scribes, and council riled up; to convince the people to act riotously; and essentially to let the sinful behavior of the people end Stephen.
Patrick Schreiner makes a good point concerning their accusations, “The opponents view Stephen as attacking the central tenets of their faith: the temple, the law, and therefore, their God himself . . . they accuse him of repeating Jesus’s words that he will destroy the temple and change the customs of Moses. This is similar to the accusation against Jesus found in Mark 14:57-64, and therefore this whole scene is hammered out in the shape of Jesus . . . Stephen is accused like Jesus, tried like Jesus, and died like Jesus . . . a disciple is not above his master; Stephen too must take up his cross and follow Jesus.” (Patrick Schreiner, Acts, Christian Standard Commentary, (Holman Reference, 2021), 225)
The people heard the truth through Stephen, but instead of accepting what Stephen said, they determined to do everything they possibly could to discredit him and quiet him.
I can’t help but to think of Romans 1:21-23 “21 For even though they knew [about] God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their reasonings, and their senseless hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and they exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible mankind, of birds, four-footed animals, and crawling creatures.”
They heard all about God, but they refused to honor Him as God or give thanks, they became futile in their reasonings, and their senseless hearts were darkened—they lied about Stephen, they slandered him, and they accused him of blasphemy.
Truly, claiming to be wise, they revealed themselves to be fools.
Stephen proclaimed truth, but the people that heard him didn’t want to hear the truth—so, acting in foolishness and in sin, they not only rejected Stephen, they rejected the truth and ultimately rejected Jesus—they rejected God. But what Stephen said was still truth and God shows us this in v. 15, “And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel.”
Now, there is some debate as to what exactly this verse means, so let me start with one fact that it doesn’t mean before I explain what I think it does mean.
This does not mean that Stephen was an angel.
We can see that clearly because of the figurative language used, “his face was like the face of an angel.”
This is called a simile, which simply means that he isn’t literally an angel, but his face looked similar to that of an angel.
Stephen didn’t become an angel and even after his death, he never becomes an angel—human beings do not become angels nor do they get wings like angels.
Humans and angels are different and neither becomes the others.
Humans are humans; angels are angels.
So, the question is, what does Luke mean when he says that Stephen’s face was like the face of an angel?
Consider every instance in the Bible when someone sees the glory of God. Let me give you a few instances:
Moses in Exodus 34:29-30 “29 And it came about, when Moses was coming down from Mount Sinai . . . , that Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because of his speaking with [God]. 30 So when Aaron and all the sons of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to approach him.”
Or consider Jesus’ transfiguration in Luke 9:29 “29 And while He was praying, the appearance of His face became different, and His clothing became white and gleaming.”
Or even more particular, consider when Samson’s mother speaks to and angel. Consider how she describes the angel of the Lord in Judges 13:6 “6 Then the woman came and told her husband, saying, “A man of God came to me, and his appearance was like the appearance of the angel of God, very awesome. So I did not ask him where he came from, nor did he tell me his name.”
When the Bible says that Stephen’s face was like that of an angel, consider that angels can be in the very presence of God and being in the presence of God causes people to shine or glow.
Ecclesiastes 8:1 says “1 Who is like the wise person and who knows the meaning of a matter? A person’s wisdom illuminates his face and makes his stern face brighten up.”
Or in other words, Luke writes that Stephen’s face was like the face of an angel because his face shone the glory of God as one who had been in the very presence of the Lord.
“The description is of a person who is close to God and reflects some of his glory as a result of being in his presence (Exod. 34:29ff.). It is a divine vindication of Stephen, and an indication of his inspiration to make his defence.” (Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 139.)
Stephen’s face shone like that of an angel who had been in the presence of God proclaiming the truths of God as he was taught by the apostles.
Patrick Schreiner, “As the temple is holy because the presence of God is in it, so Stephen is sanctified because he has the Spirit of God, in contrast to the Sanhedrin.” (Patrick Schreiner, Acts Christians Standard Commentary (Holman Reference, 2021), 226.)
Stephen’s face shone like that of an angel because he was being vindicated as one who proclaimed the message of God—just like the apostles, just like Jesus, just like the prophets, just like the patriarchs, and just like Moses.
Which is ironic since he was being accused of denigrating the Law according to Moses.
Stephen was serving the Lord in grace and in power, but was confronted by those who refused to hear the truth, believe the truth, and follow the truth. Those who refuse to follow Jesus are riling up the people against Stephen and in the next two weeks we’ll see how desperate of a situation this really is. Until then, let’s focus on some application concerning Acts 6:8-15. As we jump into application, we’re going to look at the text in one unit.

Application

In the first three verses we’re given the setting of what’s happening—we see who the main characters are, where the issue was taking place, and what exactly is going on. We see Stephen, who was just selected to serve the church as a deacon, actually serving full of grace and power. As part of his serving, we see many signs and wonders but immediately, we see opposition—those of the synagogue of the Freedman opposed what Stephen was doing and what he was proclaiming. But here’s the issue, what Stephen was saying as he defended himself was completely true and he was saying it in such a way that they could find no fault in him. So, in the last five verses, they make stuff up—they accuse him of blasphemy, they lie and slander about him, and they rile the people up against them.
We can learn a lot from this exchange, but let me point out some details from which our application will come:
Stephen wasted no time when it came to serving—remember that this is the same Stephen that we read about last week, who had just been selected by the congregation and commissioned by the apostles to go and serve the church.
This is notable because this isn’t typically how we respond today. How do I know? Think of your own experiences—particularly when it comes to issues of calling.
God calls all Christians in two ways—there is what I call a general calling given to all Christians regardless of where you live, what you do for a living, or how old you are; and then there is a more specific calling given to individual Christians that pertains to whether you serve as a pastor, a school teacher, a janitor, or any other number of jobs.
Now concerning the general callings—the general calling of God is simple—He has called us to be disciples, those who genuinely follow and obey Jesus, He has called us to be holy like He is holy, He has called us to love Him and love others. Jesus has called us to go and make more disciples, to be ready to defend our own faith, to seek Him, and to trust Him.
The general callings of God never change—He always expects us to be His disciples, He always expects us to obey Him, He always expects us to be holy like He is holy. He always expects us to love Him and others, to go and make more disciples, to be ready to defend our own faith, to always seek Him and to trust Him.
Concerning specific callings—specific callings of God can be a little more complicated and the reason for it is that there’s a little bit of subjectivity and they can change.
The subjectivity is because what you’re called to do can change and you have to rely on how God is working within you to determine what it is.
For instance, God may have called you to be a school teacher now, but in the future, he might lead you to be a school principal or superintendent. A lot of that is based on how you feel God is leading you.
Or maybe, God called you to serve to the best ability in a warehouse or local factory, but now He’s working within you to develop within you a heart for missions because He’s calling you to the mission field or He’s calling you to pastor a church.
You can see how there’s a little bit of subjectivity there.
I bring all this up, because I want you to think of your life—how often do you know what God has called you to do and instead of doing it, you don’t?
Concerning general callings—how often do you remind yourself that God has called you to be holy and then immediately fall into sin again? Or how often do you remind yourself that you are to love Him and love others and immediately act in unloving ways towards others and towards God? How often do you remind yourself that you are called to make disciples, but then refuse to actually talk to others about Jesus?
Concerning specific callings—how often do you realize that God is working within you towards a specific field or ministry and you refuse to obey? For instance, if God is working within you, calling you to preach, how often do you ignore that calling and do something else (I have some experience with this)? How often do you feel God calling you to serve Him in different ways and you refuse to do it—whether it’s due to your own sin or maybe fear of man or any number of other reasons?
Stephen was called by God to serve the local church just a few verses before this section—and instead of disobeying, instead of hesitating, instead of doing something else; he jumped straight into serving God how God had gifted him to serve.
God is calling you to love Him, to love others; He’s calling you to be a disciple-making disciple who proclaims the truth in power and grace. God is calling you to be holy as he is holy and to seek Him and follow Him with all that you have.
Are you you actually actively doing this? Are you obeying the general calling of God on your life?
Or do you allow your sin to stop you from doing this?
Are you loving Jesus, do you love others? Do you make disciples and proclaim the truth in power and grace? Are you seeking to live in righteousness and holiness?
Or do you love yourself more than Jesus? Do you love yourself more than others? Do you live in fear so you don’t proclaim the truth in power and grace? Are you concerned that people won’t like you, so you don’t make disciples? Do you allow your fleshly desires to prevent you from living in righteousness and holiness?
Now of course, we all fall short, but the key is for us to continuously get back up and keep loving Jesus, keep loving others and be disciples who make disciples. The key is for us to lean on Jesus more to live in a way that brings glory to Him.
When Jesus calls, do you obey His call? If not, let me call you to repentance.
Our first application is this, you need to obey Jesus and the callings that He has placed on your life.
As Stephen proclaimed the truth and obeyed His calling, opposition came, but when opposition came, Stephen simply spoke with wisdom and with a certain spirit.
Or in other words, Stephen knew what his purpose and calling was in life and no amount of opposition from those who would want to subvert the truth stopped him from doing what Jesus had called him to do.
Why do you think that Stephen responded to this opposition like this? Let me give you two reasons:
He wasn’t proclaiming his own opinions or his own thoughts—he was proclaiming wisdom from God, he was proclaiming the Gospel. Even his opposition realized that they couldn’t argue against what he was saying—that’s why they decided to lie, to slander, and to rile the people up against him.
If all you’re proclaiming is God’s wisdom—what we know from His Word, and if all you’re proclaiming is the Gospel, which is what we’re told to proclaim, there really is no reason to fear and there really is no reason to change what you’re saying.
The reality is that if you’re accurately proclaiming God’s Word, then their opposition isn’t against you, it’s against God—they’re not disagreeing with you, they’re disagreeing with God.
So, why would we need to change what we’re saying or speak our words in a way that isn’t characterized by power and grace?
In reality, if we’re accurately proclaiming the truth and we’re speaking with wisdom and with the right spirit, then we’ve done nothing wrong.
Unfortunately, much like Stephen’s case, there will always be those that simply don’t want to hear the truth and will revile those who proclaim the Gospel.
What ought we to do in these sorts of situations? Stephen gives us a pretty decent idea.
If you’re proclaiming the truth according to God’s Word; if you’re proclaiming the Gospel and people are reviling you because of this proclamation:
Don’t allow their sinful deeds against you to stop you from proclaiming the truth.
Just keep speaking truth with the right spirit or the right heart.
Place your complete trust in the Lord to handle the situation—even if it means martyrdom.
And keep speaking truth with grace and power.
Our second application is this, people will always oppose the Gospel—proclaim the Gospel anyway with grace, power, and the right spirit and trust God to handle the outcome.
Put simply, what we learn in Acts 6:8-15 is that God is calling you generally and specifically: (1) obey His call and (2) when people oppose you for obeying His call, obey Him anyway. Proclaim the truth with grace, power, and the right spirit and trust God regardless of the opposition you’ll face.
Obey God in all that He calls you to do.
Pastoral Prayer

Congregational Singing

O Great God (35)
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