Acts 6: 8 – 15 Stephen seized
Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called) – Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia – who began to argue with Stephen. But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke.
Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, ‘We have heard Stephen speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.’
So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. They produced false witnesses, who testified, ‘This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.’
All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.
* * *
Stephen, having been chosen as one of the seven responsible for the distribution of food to the needy, found that his calling required him to testify about Jesus. His faith must have been great, because his ministry was validated by great wonders and signs among the people. When he spoke, the Holy Spirit gave him words that others found unanswerable.
St Luke writes that members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen secretly persuaded some men to say, “We have heard Stephen speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.”
The early church still identified itself as Jewish. The disciples spent many hours worshipping in the temple. Peter and the apostles taught and healed in Solomon’s Colonnade, in the temple. The early church looked at the Jewish Law and Prophets and saw Jesus as the Messiah, the one who fulfilled what was written there. And their message was getting through. “The numbers of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.” (Acts 6: 7)
The established leadership of the Israelites saw this as a threat. They failed to defeat Stephen in debate, so they made out he was a law-breaker, and had him seized and dragged before the Sanhedrin. The charge was revealing. “…we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.”
Temple worship would disappear. The customs handed down from Moses would be changed. These were the things that gave the chief priests and teachers of the law their power, status and wealth. They weren’t going to let that happen without a fight. The infant church was about to face the might of the established religion.
The orthodox Jews had seized and charged Stephen. There he stood, alone, before seventy-one influential men, only a few of whom would be prepared to give him a fair hearing.
And yet St Luke can write, “All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.”
Please inspire your church today to pray for your Holy Spirit to be poured out on us, so that we may be true to your vision of the kingdom of heaven, and not trapped by custom and self-interest.
In Jesus’ name, Amen