By KATHY HORAN|CONTRIBUTOR
As we pick up the storyline of Acts, Chapter 6 presents a conflict in the infant church. It involved the care of widows. There were two groups of Jewish Christians in the church. The Hebraic Jews were from Palestine and spoke Hebrew and Aramaic. The Greek Jews had come from Gentile countries and spoke Greek. Scripture tells us that the Hebraic widows had been taken care of by the church, but the Greek widows were being neglected. The apostles’ solution was to appoint deacons for this mercy ministry, and interestingly enough they appointed all with Greek names. We see the beginning of the Presbyterian Church government. To read more about how the PCA government works today, here is a link to the Book of Church Order. These men were ordained in the local church with congregational approval. The qualifications for this position were they must be of good reputation, full of the Spirit, and full of wisdom. Then, as well as today, this ministry was taken very seriously.
In this chapter, we meet Stephen, who was one of the men chosen by the church to oversee the equitable distribution of food to the needy widows. “And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people. (Acts 6:8)”.
As many began to believe in the Gospel message that Stephen preached, a group of Greek speaking Jews from the Synagogue of the Freedmen accused him of blasphemy which led to civil hearings. Stephen goes on trial for having taught what Jesus taught. The charges leveled against Stephen had to do with his alleged attack against the Temple and the Law of Moses. In response, Stephen gives a long and detailed sermon which begins with the retelling of the story of the Old Testament. It is interesting to note that in his sermon Jesus is not mentioned by name, nor his resurrection. In fact, there is no call to repentance or promise of forgiveness.
Stephen has been accused of blasphemy because he said the Temple will be destroyed. The Jews believed that the Land of Canaan was “the Holy Land” and that the temple was necessary for God to communicate with man. Stephen, through his narrative, points out that Abraham was called by God from his home outside of Canaan and that God did not need a temple to talk to him. He goes on with the story of Joseph and the patriarchs, and shows that jealousy was the sin committed by Joseph’s brothers, a sin now being repeated by the members of the Sanhedrin in their zeal to destroy the church.
He tells of Moses being raised by Pharoah’s daughter and then has to flee Egypt after killing an Egyptian taskmaster. In the lives of both Moses and Jesus, we see God has fulfilled his promises in the midst of difficult circumstances. In hindsight we can see that God used failures and impossible situations to bring about his plan. Does this revealing of God’s faithfulness encourage you in your life?
We will pick up next week as Stephen continues with the history of Moses and Israel’s rescue from Egypt.