In Greek, martyr means witness.

Heroes of the Faith –

Stephen, the First Christian Martyr

Acts 6:1-15, Stephen is Arrested.
Acts 7:1-29, Stephen Begins to Summarize the History of Israel.
Acts 7:30-50, Stephen Continues Summarizing the History of Israel.
Acts 7:51 – 8:2, Stephen is Martyred for the Faith.

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Acts 6:1-15, Stephen is Arrested. (1/18/2010)

My weekly cleaning crew is made up of one English speaker, one English speaker who is learning some cleaning-related Spanish, one Spanish speaker who is learning some cleaning-related English, and one completely bilingual speaker.  First-century Judea had a similar mixture of Hebrew (actually Aramaic) and Greek speakers.
In the very early Church, all the Christians were Jews.  They came in three slightly different flavors:  Hebrew-speaking Jewish Christians, Greek-speaking Jewish Christians, and bilingual Jewish Christians.  Although Greek-speaking Jews were probably in the majority overall, they were scattered all over the known world.  The Hebrew speakers were concentrated in Judea and were greatly in the majority in Jerusalem.  Sometimes there was a little tension between the two groups, probably mostly because of the language barrier, just as there is here in New Mexico.  We’re going to read about Stephen, one of the Greek speakers, for a few days this week.  
You may have observed by now that I don’t normally translate from Acts or Paul’s writing.  The Greek is too difficult.  By coincidence, however, our readings from Acts this week are the chapters I have to translate for Greek class this Friday.

Acts 7:1-29, Stephen Begins to Summarize the History of Israel. (1/19/2010)

After Stephen was arrested, he took the opportunity to give a speech to the Sanhedrin, the ruling religious body in Judea.  He began by reminding them of their history, beginning with Abraham.  He quoted scripture – some of your translations will have the quotations indicated by italics, and that’s what the italics below show, also.  (Remember that in the King James and some other early versions, italics indicate words that are not in the original, like this:  And it was in the time of the sheep shearing, and the shearers were tired.)  You can see below that Stephen really knew his scripture and his history.  Probably some of the religious leaders, at this point, were wondering why such a knowledgeable and devout person had been brought before them.

Acts 7:30-50, Stephen Continues Summarizing the History of Israel. (1/20/2010)

A long time ago, a fellow who was reviewing a technical paper of mine taught me a lot about the process.  First he said what a privilege and honor it was to be selected to review this fine work, which was probably going to win a Nobel prize (I exaggerate, but not a whole lot).  I was convinced that he was a man of intelligence and discernment.  He then proceeded to rip the paper to shreds, but since I had already recognized his intelligence and discernment, I took his comments very seriously.
Stephen used a similar technique in his speech before the Sanhedrin.  We saw yesterday, and the Sanhedrin saw, that Stephen was a man of intelligence and discernment who was thoroughly familiar with the scriptures (remember that the italics indicate direct quotes), and that he held the patriarchs in high regard.  Stephen continued his speech about the heroes of the faith with a discussion of Moses, David, and Solomon.  At this point, however, he begins to introduce a new theme:  the children of Israel’s rejection of the great hero Moses, and God’s resulting displeasure.

Acts 7:51 – 8:2, Stephen is Martyred for the Faith. (1/21/2010)

Probably you are familiar with the saying, “Now you’ve stopped preachin’ and gone to meddlin’!”  It means that you have stopped making general statements that I agree with – people shouldn’t drive too fast – and started making statements that apply specifically to me – you saw me driving too fast last Sunday right outside the church parking lot, which I shouldn’t do.
Stephen preached at length about the early heroes of the faith – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the patriarchs, and Moses.  Everybody in the Sanhedrin was probably nodding in agreement.  Then Stephen started talking about the way that the children of Israel resisted Moses.  Probably some people in the Sanhedrin kept nodding, and others started narrowing their eyes a little.  But then, Stephen started meddlin’!  He said that his listeners were exactly like their forebears:  resisting the person sent by God to deliver them.  Now all of them were offended. 
At the last, though, he had a vision of God and Jesus at the right hand of God that they considered to be blasphemous.  They seized him, took him outside the city, and stoned him to death.  With his last breath, he forgave them.  Stephen was a true hero of the faith.

More Heroes of the Faith

Introduction: The Heroic Faith of Our Ancestors

Old Testament Heroes
Abraham and Sarah
Caleb & Joshua
Esther and Mordecai
Shadrach, Meshach, & Abednego
King Josiah of Judah
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego

New Testament Heroes
Peter & John
The Woman with a Hemorrhage
The Canaanite Woman

Preaching in Difficult Circumstances
Courage to Challenge the Status Quo

Copyright 2010, 2012 by Regina L. Hunter.  All rights reserved.

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