3.3.19 - The Persecution of Stephen (Kenny Camacho)
SCRIPTURE: Acts 6-8:3 (Acts 7:51-8:3)
As the early church grows in numbers and influence, the Jewish leaders in the Sanhedrin continue looking for ways to suppress the movement. These efforts come to a head in the trial and execution of Stephen, a Hellenistic Jew and the church’s first “martyr.” Stephen is accused of proclaiming that Jesus intends to destroy the temple and change the Mosaic Law. In response, Stephen reminds his judges of the full scope of God’s story with Israel, focusing on the ways the Jewish people have repeatedly underestimated the scope of God’s plans for his creation in favor of exclusive dogma, arrogance, and pride. As we have seen in the previous chapters, Stephen implies that Jesus’s Kingdom isn’t a diversion from God’s story as revealed to the Jews but a culmination of it. This week, we want to investigate the danger that “thinking small” still presents for us and to be reminded of the unstoppable mission God has been on for millenia. How can we know what part we have to play? And how can we act in both confidence and humility?
At the beginning of Chapter 6, a dispute arises about the pastoral care of the community, and the original disciples ask the body of the church to “choose seven from among you who are full of the Spirit and wisdom” so they can turn the issue over to them. Why do you think the disciples hand this job over to others? Why are these two criteria the ones the disciples choose? And what are the implications of this story for our own church?
At first, Stephen’s “begin at the beginning” approach to his defense can feel overwhelming or even excessive. But what does his decision to retell so much of Israel’s story tell us about him and how he is trying to defend himself? What does it tell us about the foundations of his faith? About his view of Jesus? About his fears for the current leaders of the Temple?
Why do you think Stephen tells the members of the Sanhedrin that they are a “stiff-necked people”? What is he accusing them of? Why?
Have you ever been “stiff-necked” in your own life? How did God challenge this behavior in you? What values can you develop in your life to resist this temptation in the future?
How would you define the word “martyr”? How does it apply to Stephen? What impact do you think Stephen’s death might have had on the average members of the early church?
What are some ways that you fall victim to “thinking small” when it comes to God’s mission? How do churches sometimes do this? What can we do about it?