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 6:8-7:1. How is Stephen described? (3,5,8,15) Who accused him

of what? Why? To whom did he make his defense?

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

him? Read 7:9-16. How can we see God's providence in the life of


3. Read 7:17-29. When and how did God prepare the Israelites to leave

Egypt? How did God save and educate Moses? Why did Moses leave

Egypt? What training did he receive in Midian? Read 7:30-34. How and

why did God call Moses? What is holy ground?

4. Read 7:35-43. What did Moses do as ruler and deliverer? What were the

living words and the promise which Moses received and passed on to his

people? How did their forefathers begin the history of disobedience

and rejection? How did this continue and what was the tragic result?

5. Read 7:44-50. What was the history of the temple? What did Solomon,

the temple builder, say about it? How does this answer one charge?

Read 7:51-60. How did Stephen rebuke them? When he was being stoned,

how did he testify to Jesus?

6. Read 8:1-3. Who was Saul and what did he do? Why? How did God use the

blood of Stephen to spread the gospel? What is the spirit of martyrdom?

7. Read 8:4-8. Who was Philip? Describe his evangelistic ministry in

Samaria. What can we learn through the Apostles' encounter with

Simon? (9-25) 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, these men handled both the church business and the

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

the church of Jesus 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.

First, 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 Jesus' disciples rapidly

increased in Jerusalem, their numbers were dwindling. Moreover, a large

number of priests accepted Jesus and became obedient to the Christian

faith. The Jewish rulers were greatly alarmed. They began to extensively

scout out debaters and send 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 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" (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 that the temple of God was exclusively for them.

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 be so. Now they were using the Law

as a political tool. 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 God and he thought of his

people. He 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.

Abraham obeyed 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 said, "I will bless you...and all peoples

on earth will be blessed through you" (Ge 12:2,3). God chose Abraham,

a 75-year old man with a serious life problem^Öhe 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. 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. Later, 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 bring his people to Egypt and mold them into a great nation (9-16).

Moses obeyed God's calling (20-53). God saw that his people had grown

into a great nation in Egypt. 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 to the promised land.

When God called Moses, he was already 80 years old. He was used to a

family-centered life, surrounded by many sisters-in-law. His 40 long

years of hermit life made him a man of few words. Moses had 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).  Moses was afraid to return

to Egypt, because he had killed an Egyptian; thus, he had identified

himself to be Hebrew-born. This greatly offended King Pharaoh. Also, his

own people had rejected him, saying, "Who made you ruler and judge over

us?" Nevertheless, God sent Moses 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. Later, they

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

leadership of Joshua, and 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 the meaning of the Law of Moses. They thought

that the temple of God was exclusively for them. 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." What a great purpose the temple

had! But the Jewish rulers did not use the temple as a prayer house for

all nations; they turned the temple into a marketplace (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 only set the stage for the grace of God through

his Son Jesus. Moreover, they did not know God's purpose for them as

a chosen people. God had made them his chosen people so as to fulfill

his purpose for world salvation.  But they did not know God's purpose

for them.

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 lost

their own identity and the meaning of their existence. They were so bound

by the present situation that they did not know what they were doing. As

a result, they persecuted the early Christians when 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 only saw present reality

with no view of God's history.

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..." Through Stephen's rebuke they should

have realized God's great purpose for them and repented. But they did not.

Second, the spirit of martyrdom (7:54-8:3). When they heard Stephen's

rebuke, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. At this moment,

what did Stephen see? We learn three things from him.

(i) 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.  His body was racked with pain because of the

stones. He realized that he was dying physically. But he knew that Jesus

is God who owns his life. So he prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."

(ii) Stephen's prayer. Evil men were furious at Stephen's speech. They

didn't want to hear anymore, 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). Look at verses 59-60.  "While they were stoning him, Stephen

prayed, ^ÑLord Jesus, receive my spirit.' Then he fell on his knees and

cried out, ^ÑLord, do not hold this sin against them.' When he had said

this, he fell asleep."

(iii) 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 expresses 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.

Third, 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 Jerusalem establishment were the unit of

the church. But now, wherever he may be, one person who believes the

gospel of Jesus is the church. These two kinds of churches have existed

throughout church history. In chapter 8, the author explains how the

church reached out to Samaria and even to Ethiopia.

First, Philip evangelized in Samaria (5-25). Philip was not one of

the Twelve. He was one of the seven deacons (6:5). He ran for his

life to a city in 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 their respect and their money. But when he saw

Philip's popularity, he decided to become a Christian. He hoped to buy

from the apostles the ability to give the Holy Spirit. 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. Besides, 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.

Next, Philip had one-to-one Bible study with an 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.