Have you ever paused to consider the word martyr?
The Oxford dictionary defines the word as “a person who is killed because of their religious or other beliefs”
Merriam-Webster refines the definition to include “a person who voluntarily suffers death as the penalty of witnessing to and refusing to renounce a religion.”
Martyr goes much deeper than witness or testify.
In our legal system a person may be punished with fine and/or imprisonment for falsely testifying under oath.
But in both of the English definitions we pick up on something that was in the original Greek meaning of the word—death.
A pair of Greek experts who studied synonyms lists μάρτυς as 7 in a list of 27 words to describe killing or a killer.
Today’s sermon tells the story of the first Christian Martyr—Stephen.
The Significance of Stephen (6:5-6)
A Dedicated layman
Respected, full of the Spirit, & wisdom – not a bad epitaph!
Set apart (appointed) by the Twelve
Pleased the whole gathering.
A win/win – the widows got fed, the complainants were heard, the leaders stayed in their “sweet spot”
Hellenistic Jews (6:1; 5)
The 6 names in v.5 are not Hebrew names
If I told someone that the names of our Elders are: Jose, Philipe, Pablo, Raul, Ernesto and Alejandro.
What might you conclude about our church?
2. Likewise, the names of the first Deacons revealed that they were not traditional Jewish names
3. The 12 named in Acts 1 are all Hebrew names, the body of leadership now integrates 6 with a different cultural background.
Mission entrusted to “Progressives”
1. I’m not speaking of political ideology, but rather those who observed the world around them and adjusted to the situation.
It is one thing for me to go to Mexico and expect locals to speak English.
It is another thing for me to live in Mexico and never learn Spanish.
It is even more difficult to reconcile how Texans would continue to speak Spanish after the territory became part of the United States.
2. Hebrew, Aramaic, Yiddish & English are good examples.
a. Hebrew was the language spoken by Abraham’s descendants.
It remained a distinct language during the Egyptian years.
It got adapted during the Babylonian Captivity and became Aramaic.
(Hebrew and Aramaic overlap like English that is spoken by a California Surfer, and Louisiana Shrimper and a Maine salesman.)
Hebrew morphed into Yiddish when Jews were exiled to Germany.
(difference between Hebrew and Yiddish is the difference between YHVH and Jehovah)
In the early 1900s as Great Britain reestablished Israel as an independent country there was significant debate if the official language should be English (due to British dominance), Yiddish (so that Hebrew could remain a distinct language of their holy book) or modern Hebrew as a return to their birthright.
3. The selection of men with Greek names is that the Gospel is beginning to be shared with those who spoke with a different accent.
4. Interestingly, as Luke writes this book, he writes in the language that Stephen spoke!!
Transition: Stephen was a Jew with a Greek name, but he was able to speak to the Jewish Religious leaders about their common ancestry.
Stephen was accused of rebellion, and he responded with familiar, yet modified understanding of their common history.
The Story Stephen told (7:2-50)
Land - God gave Israel, but could work outside of Israel (2-22)
The “true” (trying to preserve their history, language, and power) Hebrews were threatened by Greek culture and Christian allegiances.
God called Abraham while in Mesopotamia, then Haran (7:2-8)
God protected and delivered His people in Egypt (7:9-34)
Stephen reminded God isn’t limited to narrow boundaries
Law - Forefathers pushed against Moses and Aaron (23-43)
Israelites rejected Moses (vv.35-39)
Israelites chased after false gods (vv.40-43)
Babylonian exile softened their resolve (began to speak Aramaic, had to build a 2nd temple (v.43c)
Stephen basically reminds the High Priest that their people have not always agreed on their current understanding of the rule of law.
Just as someone today may point out that Democratic talking points today include things that Democrats opposed historically, AND Republicans seem to be against some things that they used to be for, Stephen reminds that application of the Law and obedience to the Prophets had been hit and miss in their own history.
Temple - God’s glory extends beyond the Temple (44-50)
v.47 Solomon built a Temple to replace the Tabernacle
God continues to rule after first Temple is flattened (vv.48-50)
God would continue to rule after the 2nd Temple was destroyed (about 10 years after Luke wrote this account of things that happened 20 years earlier).
Transition: Tit is abundantly clear that the religious leaders do NOT like Stephen’s spin on their history!
So the next 8 verses detail…
The Stoning of Stephen (7:51-59)
Sinners were guilty (51-53)
After recounting thousands of years of “our people didn’t always get it right”, Stephen reveals an inconvenient truth – so do you.
I don’t read these verses as Stephen being angry or judgmental.
He is not saying that they are the most evil people of all time.
He is simply stating, “you are making the same mistake our ancestors made.”
Yesterday I had the privilege of teaching through our Statement of things that we believe as a church.
There are some things in our statement that society at large may not agree.
They are free to disagree with us and bear the consequences of that choice.
We are not hateful, angry or fearful of their disagreement.
We simply wish for their own good that they would embrace what God has revealed in His Word.
I titled this sermon Service meets Sacrifice.
I believe Stephen was serving the people’s best interest and was truly loving them by confronting them with truth (even if they didn’t want to hear it!)betraying
and murdering the Righteous One
Receiving and breaking the law.
This sounds like he is inciting anger; but he is simply warning that they are in a dangerous situation.
His attitude that we will notice in v.60 indicates that his truth was wrapped in compassion.
He seems to be saying, “You are no worse than your fathers, you’re just repeating what you’ve seen, and it is up to you to break the cycle.”
The Spirit was present (vv.55-56)
· Sometimes God comforts in the midst of conflict.
Even thought the people around are enraged (v.54), by the time Dr. Luke gets around to recording these events he, being inspired by the same Holy Spirit who filled Stephen, records that the Holy Spirit gifted Stephen with a vision of his reward, his Savior and his God.
Our prayer list contains many who are burdened with emotional, relational, spiritual and physical burdens.
Though our faith strengthens and waivers, most of us could testify that God’s Spirit ministered to us in the midst of “enraged” circumstances.
The Stoning was fatal (vv.57-59)
Just as the Romans knew dead, and Jesus was truly dead when laid in the tomb, The early church knew dead.
They had witnessed it with Ananias and his wife in chapter 5 and they are not seeing it again at the end of chapter 7 as witnessbecomes martyr for the first time since the resurrection.
This was observed by several!
The religious court rushed toward him
AND witnesses took of their coats
That were attended by Saul.
If only 20 years passes between the events and the records, there would still be eyewitnesses who could debunk this account if it were not true.
Yes, today we have some who deny the lunar landing was actually on the moon, but men have been there since and found the evidence that we had been their previous.
There are those who question who killed Kennedy, but no denying that something happened in Dallas on 11/23/63.
There are some who surmise some conspiracy on this date 21 years ago, but there is no denying the pile of rubble.
Likewise, there is no historical doubt that Stephen was stoned to death!
Transition: While death is never pleasant, in Stephen’s case as in all who know the Lord and serve Him faithfully, His death is described beautifully as…