Are You Willing to Take a Risk?

MEMORY VERSE: “Let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” —Hebrews 12:1,2

ACTS 6:8-11

OUR lesson today is concerned with Stephen, the first Christian martyr. It will be recalled that in a former lesson Stephen was one of several who had been chosen to be a deacon and to assist in the serving of tables. No doubt Stephen was faithful in these duties, and now, upon the basis of faith, had expanded his service into other fields. Verse 8 tells us that he was “full of faith and power” and “did great miracles and wonders among the people.”

It is not surprising to find that Stephen soon incurred the opposition of certain prominent Jews “of the synagogue, which is called the synagogue of the Libertines, and Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and of them of Cilicia and of Asia, disputing with Stephen.” But Stephen, filled with faith in the power of the Lord and guided by the Holy Spirit, was too much for these who would oppose him. The record states that “they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake.”

Not being able to refute the teachings of Stephen, these enemies of the cross resorted to the same method that was used in connection with Jesus; that is, they sought those who would bear false witness against him, and in such cases there are always those who are willing to oblige. We read of some who said, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses, and against God.” Blasphemy in Jewish circles at the time was the misuse of the name of God, and naturally anything that was said concerning him or his promises could easily be construed as a misuse of his name.

ACTS 7:54-60

Ultimately Stephen was called before the council (probably the Sanhedrin) and formally charged with blasphemy. False witnesses were provided to make sure that a good case was established against this noble soldier of the cross.

Speaking to the Sanhedrin, Stephen related much of God’s dealings with the descendants of Abraham, and as a result of this they should have realized that he held very nearly to the faith of their fathers. He recalled to them the fact that their fathers had persecuted one after another of their prophets, and then referred to his listeners as being stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart. “When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth.”—vs. 54

But Stephen was not looking to the hypocrites of the council for his source of strength. We read that he “being full of the Holy Spirit, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God.”—vss. 55,56

This his audience construed to be a further evidence of his blasphemy. “Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul” This particular witness later became the apostle Paul, who confessed that he was the least of all the apostles because he had participated in the murder of his brethren.—vss. 50-58

And as they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” And he knelt down, and cried with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.”—vss. 59,60, RSV

How wonderful that the Heavenly Father should give Stephen this faith-strengthening vision at this time of his great need! However, it does not imply that Stephen went immediately to heaven when he died. The record states that he “fell asleep.” He fell asleep in Christ, as did all the faithful ones in the Early Church and throughout the age, and Paul explains that their hope is the hope of the resurrection. “If there be no resurrection of the dead, then those who have fallen asleep in Christ are perished.”

Our memory verse is a very meaningful one. It reminds us that as followers of Jesus we should all expect to have severe trails in the way of persecution and otherwise. This reminds us that one of our great sources of strength is to look unto Jesus, to note how he suffered and how he endured. Our memory verse tells us that it was for the joy that was set before Jesus that he “endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb. 12:1,2) In the prophecy concerning Jesus we read, “Thou wilt show me the path of life: in thy presence is fullness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.”—Ps. 16-11

Dawn Bible Students Association
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