Stephen's Martyrdom

by Dr. Samuel Lee   09/10/2000     0 reads


Acts 6:8-8:40

Key Verse: 7:59

“While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’”


1. Read 6:8-15. How is Stephen described?  What charges were brought

against him? Why? What was his attitude before the Sanhedrin?

2. Read 7:2-8. How did God call and train Abraham? How did God fulfill

his promise? What was God's purpose in chosing Abraham? (Ge 12:3b;

22:18) How can we see God's providence in the life of Joseph? (9-16)

3. How did Israel's situation in Egypt worsen? (17-19) Read verses

20-29. How and why was Moses saved and trained? Why did he flee from

Egypt? Read verses 30-34. How and why did God call Moses? What is

holy ground?

4. What was God's great purpose in training and delivering his people?

(Ex.19:5,6) Read verses 35-38.  What was the living word and the

promise which Moses received and passed on to his people?

5. How did the people of Moses' time and those of Jesus' time reveal

their lack of a sense of history and their failure to understand

God's purposes? How did God punish Israel? (39-43) What is the

purpose of the temple? (44-50) Mk 11:17)?

6. Read verses 51-54. How did Stephen rebuke them? How did they

respond? Read 55-60. How did Stephen testify to Jesus? What was his

prayer? (Lk 23:34) What do you think was the point of his whole


7. Who was Saul and what did he do? Why? How did God answer Stephen's

prayer? How did God use the blood of Stephen to spread the gospel?

What is the spirit of martyrdom?

8. Who was Philip? Describe his evangelistic ministry in Samaria? What

can we learn through the Apostles' encounter with Simon? Why did

Philip leave a large ministry and go to the desert? Describe

Philip's one-to-one Bible study. (26-40)



Acts 6:8-8:40

Key Verse: 7:59

“While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’”

  The twelve apostles decided to turn their responsibility of

business over to others in order to give their full attention to prayer

and teaching the word. So they chose seven spiritual men to handle the

church business. In reality, they handled both the church business and

the defense of the church. As a result, the word of God spread rapidly.

As the church grew, it confronted strong opposition. Today's passage

reveals mainly two things: (i) Stephen's spirit of martyrdom; (ii) the

growing church of Jesus in an adverse situation.

I. Stephen's speech on God's history (6:8-7:53)

  After the ascension of Christ, while the twelve apostles were

filled with the Holy Spirit, the Jewish rulers were filled with

jealousy. They felt threatened by the growing Christian church. While

the number of disciples rapidly increased in Jerusalem, their numbers

were dwindling. A large number of priests became obedient to the faith.

Since the Jewish rulers were greatly alarmed, they began to extensively

scout out debaters and sent them to the followers of Jesus of Nazareth

(6:8,9). These men began to argue with Stephen, but they could not

stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke (10). Then

they seized him and brought him before the Sanhedrin. They produced

false witnesses who testified, "This fellow never stops speaking

against the holy place and against the law. For we have heard him say

that Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this holy place and change the

customs Moses handed down to us" (13,14). This false charge against

Stephen was the same one they used to condemn Jesus to death. Now they

were using this trick on Stephen to put him to death.

  Why did they talk about the temple and the Law of Moses in

producing false charges? To the Jews, the temple was the place where

God was present, and they thought they were the only people who

possessed the temple of God. Moreover, the temple was the center of

their culture and history. The Law of Moses was also important to them.

They thought the Law of Moses was their unique possession.  They felt

superior to the lawless Gentiles because they had the Law. God intended

that they be Bible teachers for the Gentiles. But they failed to do so.

Stephen was accused of blasphemy in the Sanhedrin courtroom (14). All

who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, to see if

he would be scared to death. But to their dismay, his face was shining

like the face of an angel (15). At that moment, Stephen did not think

of himself; he thought of his people and gave them a speech about God's

history. He wanted them to know God's great purpose for them. He

mentions two persons: Abraham and Moses.

First, Abraham's obedience to God's calling (2-19). Look at verses 2,3.

"Brothers and fathers, listen to me! The God of glory appeared to our

father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in

Haran. 'Leave your country and your people,' God said, 'and go to the

land I will show you.'" When God called Abraham, he had a plan to save

and bless the world through one person, Abraham. God chose Abraham, who

was a 75-year-old man with a serious life problem because he had no

child. God commanded him to leave his country and his people and go to

the promised land. Abraham obeyed God's command. He left his homeland

in his old age and went to the promised land. But God gave him no

inheritance, not even a foot of ground, nor did he give him a child to

inherit his name. Still, Abraham believed God's promise. Later, God

gave him Isaac, and, to Isaac, Jacob-- who became the father of the

twelve patriarchs. Stephen told this story to remind them of God's

purpose in choosing Abraham. It was to bless all peoples of all nations

through him (Ge 12:3b; 22:18), because he was willing to obey God. As

he had promised, God gave Abraham a son, Isaac, and a grandson, Jacob.

Among the twelve sons of Jacob, Joseph was sold to Egypt because of his

brothers' jealousy.  But in this was God's providence to mold his

people into a nation (9-16).

Second, Moses' obedience to God's calling (20-53). God saw that his

people had grown into a nation. God also saw that they had suffered

under godless rulers. God called Moses to deliver his people from the

hand of the Egyptian king and lead them into the promised land.

  When God called Moses, he was already 80 years old, and he was used

to a family-centered life, surrounded by his many sisters-in-law. His

40 long years of hermit life made him a man of few words. He was afraid

to return to Egypt, because he had beaten an Egyptian to death. And

thus, he had identified himself to be Hebrew-born. This greatly

offended King Pharaoh. Moses thought he was living in a land of

nobodies. But God called this Moses and said, "Take off your sandals;

the place where you are standing is holy ground. I have indeed seen the

oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their groaning and have

come down to set them free. Now come, I will send you back to Egypt"

(33,34). This was the same Moses whom his own people had rejected,

saying, "Who made you ruler and judge over us?" God sent him to them as

their ruler and deliverer. It was a very hard command for Moses to

obey. But he obeyed God's command anyway. So, in the Bible he is known

as an obedient servant. When he obeyed God, God gave him strength to

lead his people out of Egypt and to perform wonders and miraculous

signs in Egypt, at the Red Sea, and for 40 years in the desert. On

Mount Sinai, God gave his people the Law of God through Moses, so that

they could overcome their slave mentality and be raised as servants of

God for all peoples of all nations (36-38).

  But the people of Israel refused to obey Moses. Instead they

rejected him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt. They longed for

delicious food and comfortable apartments in Egypt. While Moses went up

Mount Sinai, they told Aaron, Moses' spokesman, to make an idol in the

form of a calf, and they began to offer sacrifices to it. They did not

realize God's purpose for them in bringing them to the wilderness.

They brought the tabernacle of the Testimony to the promised land under

the leadership of General Joshua, and they kept it until the time of

King David. But they did not realize why they did so.

  When God delivered his people from bondage in slavery, he had a

great purpose for them. He intended to make them a priestly nation. In

other words, God wanted the whole world to overflow with the knowledge

of God through them. God wanted to bless all peoples of all nations

through them. Exodus 19:5,6 says, "Now if you obey me fully and keep my

covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession.

Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of

priests and a holy nation." How great God's purpose for them was! But

they did not realize it.

  The people of Israel in Jesus' time had the same problem. They also

did not realize God's great purpose for them. Neither did they realize

the meaning of the temple, nor did they realize the meaning of the Law

of Moses. They thought they were the only people who possessed the

temple of God. But the meaning of the temple of God was greater than

they had thought. The temple was to be a place of prayer for all

nations. Mark 11:17 says, "My house will be called a house of prayer

for all nations." But the Jewish rulers did not use the temple as a

prayer house for all nations. What a great purpose the temple had, but

they turned the temple into a market (Jn 2:16). Also, they did not know

the true meaning of the Law of Moses.  The Law of Moses was truly

great. But it was only a stage for the grace of God through his Son

Jesus. Moreover, they did not know God's purpose for them as a chosen

people. They did not know that God had made them his chosen people so

as to fulfill his purpose for world salvation.

  In the course of struggling for survival, they became so

near-sighted that they lost the ability to think of the world as a

whole. They were so bound by the present situation that they did not

know what they were doing. They persecuted the early Christians because

they appeared to be a growing threat to their security and comfort. In

short, their problem was that they had no sense of history. They saw

everything in light of the present situation, not in view of God's


  Stephen rebuked them for not living up to God's purpose for them.

Look at verses 51,52. "You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised

hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the

Holy Spirit. Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute?

They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One.

And now you have betrayed and murdered him..." They should have

realized God's great purpose for them through Stephen's rebuke. But

they did not.

II. The spirit of martyrdom (7:54-8:3)

  When they heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at

him. At this moment, what was the content of Stephen's feelings? We

learn three things from him.

First, Stephen's faith in Jesus. Look at verse 55. "But Stephen, full

of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and

Jesus standing at the right hand of God." At the crucial moment,

Stephen did not look at their faces distorted with anger. Instead, he

saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. In

short, he saw the kingdom of God. He saw that Jesus Christ is ruling

the world standing at the right hand of God. While his body was racked

with pain because of the stones, he knew he was dying physically, but

he believed that Jesus is God who owns his life. So he prayed, "Lord

Jesus, receive my spirit."

Second, Stephen's prayer. Evil men were most grieved to hear Stephen's

speech. So they covered their ears, yelling at the top of their voices.

They rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him.

The stones cut his flesh and broke his bones. Still, Stephen prayed for

his people. Look at verse 60. "Then he fell on his knees and cried out,

'Lord, do not hold this sin against them.' When he had said this, he

fell asleep." Stephen was a man of prayer. While they were stoning him,

Stephen prayed for them exactly as Jesus had prayed (Lk 23:34). Let's

read verses 59-60 again.

Third, Stephen's blood. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for

him. But they did not have to cry; though his body was killed, his life

of faith remains forever influential on earth. His body was killed, but

his spirit of martyrdom lives forever in the hearts of God's people. As

we know well, the flesh counts for nothing, but the spirit is

everything. There are many kinds of great spirits, such as the spirit

of giving, the spirit of conquest and the spirit of victory before

fighting. But the spirit of martyrdom is the greatest because it is the

expression of one's love for God.  Stephen's blood became an

unquenchable inspiration to the early Christians, who were willing to

die for Jesus' name's sake. Also, his blood begot St. Paul's

conversion. Paul, when he was Saul, watched the moment of Stephen's

martyrdom (8:1); he heard his prayer and couldn't forget it.

III. Philip's evangelism (8:4-40)

  On the day Stephen was martyred, a great persecution broke out

against the church in Jerusalem. Saul began to destroy the church.

Because of persecution, the early Christians were scattered throughout

Judea and Samaria. But wherever they were, they took the gospel with

them. The great work of God was done by these scattered Christians. The

church transposed from the established church (ecclesia) to the

scattered church (diaspora). Before this persecution, the people of

Jesus in the establishment were the unit of the church. But now, one

person who believes the gospel of Jesus is the church, wherever he may

be. These two kinds of churches have existed throughout church history.

In this part, the author explains in two ways how the church reached

out to Samaria and Ethiopia.

First, Philip's evangelism in Samaria. Philip was not one of the

Twelve. He was one of the seven deacons. He ran for his life to

Samaria. There he preached the gospel and healed the sick. So there was

great joy in that city. Where there was a work of God, there was great

joy. In that city there was a man named Simon. He was a witch-doctor.

He was smart enough to handle fearful people with his tricks. He

obtained the people's respect and their money. But he decided to become

a Christian, hoping to buy from the apostles the ability to heal the

sick (18). Peter rebuked him for his wrong motive (20-23).

  The early Christians were desperate because of persecutions. But

God was doing his own work. The apostles had no idea to come to

Samaria, because they were busy to maintain the church of Jesus in

Jerusalem amid persecutions. At that time, the Jews had no dealings

with the Samaritans (Jn 4:9). But God sent Peter and John to see about

God's work among the Samaritans (14). So the apostles came to Samaria

and saw the work of God in Samaritan people. They could not but approve

of them as the church of Jesus. In this way, Samaria was evangelized.

Second, Philip's one-to-one Bible study with the Ethiopian (26-40). An

angel of the Lord said to Philip, "Go south to the road..." (26). On

his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, the treasurer of the queen of the

Ethiopians. This Ethiopian must have been one of the seekers who came

to Jerusalem to worship God. He was reading the passage from Isaiah

concerning the suffering servant Jesus. Look at verses 32,33.  "He was

led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is

silent, so he did not open his mouth. In his humiliation he was

deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was

taken from the earth." The eunuch asked the meaning of the passage.

Philip told him that this passage was the good news about Jesus. Then

the Ethiopian wanted to be baptized. To him, baptism was a declaration

to the world that he was a child of God, no longer of the world. As a

queen's man, it was an impossible declaration to make. But he was

compelled to do so when he heard the good news about Jesus.

  In this way, the gospel of Jesus reached out to Samaria and

Ethiopia. In this way, the church of Jesus survived vigorously in the

adverse situation. In this way, the church of Jesus grew and grew, even

though kingdoms rose and waned. In this passage we learn that God does

not want us to be miserable because of our human situations. God does

not want us to be near-sighted like the Jewish rulers. God not only

wants us to overcome our human situation with faith, but also he wants

us to live up to his great and glorious purpose for each of us. Most

importantly, Stephen's martyrdom spirit influenced and gave birth to

Saul's conversion. God also wants us to have the spirit of martyrdom.

May God give us the spirit of martyrdom.