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However, the Most High does not live in houses made by men.

~Acts 4:48

Lesson38-image001Materials Needed: A WhiteBoard or Easel.

Notes to the Leader: In this lesson, we will study the powerful message of one Christian, Stephen, and the angered response of the Sanhedrin. All of this ends in the stoning and death of Stephen. The way Stephen stood up for his beliefs offers us an opportunity to examine the responsibilities of each Christian and the consequences (sometimes) of standing up for one’s beliefs.

The lesson concludes with a survey that can be done either together as a group or individually. You may want to consider having the survey prepared as a hand out for the end of the lesson. There is a lot of Scripture to read so you might want to also consider assigning verses ahead of time to speed up the process.

Introduction

When you hear a sermon, How do you determine its value to you?

  • There are many criteria that people apply. Some respond positively if:
    • They agree
    • Feel spiritually moved to do so
    • Believe that it is generally beneficial to others
    • Makes them feel good about themselves
    • Negative responses come from:
    • Message causes discomfort or change of lifestyle
    • Brings back painful memories

When you hear a message that is difficult to believe or goes against your own set of beliefs, what is the proper response?

  • God speaks to many of us through our pastoral messages, Bible studies, books, etc. While no man can represent himself as always interpreting Scriptures correctly, our first response should never be anger.
  • Examination of the message against God’s own Word should be considered a personal responsibility of each Christian. We are held accountable for our own beliefs. There may be times when we must stand up for our faith.

Section One: A Witness

Have someone in your group read Acts 6:1-10. Before you start, you may want to use this question to build a list on your white board or easel. Re-read the verses several times, asking your group to work through the question.

Can you find the attributes that describe who Stephen was and what type of person he must have been like?

  • He had a Greek name, therefore, Stephen was a foreign-born member of the Grecian Jews in Jerusalem.
  • His most effective ministry was among the Grecian Jews (v. 8-10).
  • He had a good reputation in the Christian community (v. 3).
  • He was full (living and working in the energy, under the influence) of the Holy Spirit (vv. 3, 5, 10).
  • He was full of wisdom (vv. 3, 10).
  • He was known for his faith (v. 5).
  • Both the apostles and the church affirmed him as Spirit-filled and gifted (vv. 5-6).
  • He was “full of grace,” indicating that God was pleased with him and his ministry was marked with a spirit of acceptance and gentleness (v. 8).
  • His ministry was effective (v. 8).
  • His ministry was accompanied by evidence of spiritual reality (v. 8).
  • He had an apostolic style ministry of preaching and healing among the people (v. 8).
  • He was a skillful apologist, able to frustrate the arguments of the Gospel’s detractors (6:10).

Section Two: The Indictment

Have someone in your group read Acts 6:9-10.

Note: The Freedmen were emancipated slaves or children of former slaves who had migrated to Jerusalem from far away places.

What evidence do you see that Stephen’s message was correct and effective?

  • Stephen’s message was frustrating to those who could not defend against it.
  • His enemies dug in their heels in angry resistance.

Have someone in your group read Acts 6:11-14.

What was Stephen talking about that got him in trouble?

  • Note: Blasphemy comes from the Greek word blasphemeo, meaning to slander or speak lightly of the sacred. To speak negatively against the Law which was given by Moses and by God was to blaspheme.
  • Stephen also was establishing Jesus as the messiah. Jesus had specific teachings about the temple and the Law. These were being used against Stephen.
  • Since Christ had come, the is obsolete as a place to worship God (John 4:23-24; Luke 21:6).
  • The Law and all its sacrifices and rituals have been fulfilled in Christ and the church (Matt. 5:17).
  • With the advent of the Holy Spirit, the Law was written on the minds and hearts of believers (Jer. 31:33; Heb. 8:10; 10:16).
  • The Gospel must be carried to the Gentiles as well as the Jews (Matt. 28:19).

What other reasons can you think of that would upset the leaders so much about Stephen’s comments regarding the temple?

  • The temple was the economic advantage for those in charge. Tithes were coming in from all over the region.

Read Acts 6:15 to your group. As with Moses (Ex. 34:29-35), Stephen had the physical evidence of being close to God. While Stephen was on trial, he was visibly in God’s presence (Matt. 28:20).

Why didn’t God protect him from the Sanhedrin?

  • It is always hard to understand God’s purpose and plan. In retrospect only, can we see that protection was not what God wanted for Stephen. His martyrdom forever altered the Christian church. That was a much more godly and noble purpose.

Section Three: The Defense

If you have time, read Acts 7:2-53. Stephen’s message establishes two key points:

  1. They accused him of slandering Moses and God. He argues it is the Jews who keep rejecting Moses and God (7:27, 35, 39-43, 51-53).
  2. They accused him of speaking against the temple by saying God will be worshiped in other places. He argues that God Himself demonstrates that He is not tied to a man made house of worship, by has always met men wherever they were (7:2, 9, 30-33, 39, 48-50).

This is the longest speech recorded in Acts. It is a complete summation of Stephen’s faith.

Have someone in your group read Acts 7:2-8.

What were the points of Stephen’s story up to his point?

  • God originally called a man out of paganism to be the father of Israel.
  • Men worshiped God long before the Law or temple or any designated “holy place” existed.
  • People who respond with faith to God’s revelation of Himself are not limited to a particular spot for worship.
  • Abraham ha no tangible object to trust — he believed and acted upon “the bare Word of God.”

Have someone in your group read Acts 7:9-16.

Can you continue and find the points Stephen is building for his defense?

  • Exile from the Promised Land does not mean separation from God.
  • Israel’s pattern of rejecting God’s intended rescuers began with the patriarchs (Joseph’s brothers).
  • Like Abraham, Joseph had no tangible object in which to place his trust — He believed and acted upon his faith and God’s revelation of Himself (Gen. 37:5-11; 39:2).

Have someone re-read Acts 7:17-41.

Again, can you find the points made about our God that are being made?

  • God did not forget Israel when the were far from the Promised Land.
  • God sent Israel a deliverer in Moses, but again, they rejected the one God sent.
  • Israel’s rejection could not alter the plan of God — the rejected deliverer became their ruler and judge.
  • God declared a spot in Gentile territory “holy ground.” The point, the presence of God makes a place holy.
  • Moses had no earthly object to trust — be believed and acted upon God’s words.
  • Israel’s pattern of rejection continued even after God delivered them from slavery.
  • While on “holy ground,” (Sinai), Israel rejected Moses and God.
  • Israel’s pattern of rejecting God persisted until the exile in Babylon.
  • Idolatry is defined as worshiping what our hands have made (v. 41).

Have someone in your group read Acts 7:44-50.

Can you find the blueprint that God gave Moses for the tabernacle?

  • Furnishings which were shadowy pictures of spiritual realities to be realized in personal relationship with God through Jesus (v. 44; Heb. 9,10).
  • Mobility, so Israel would have a reminder that God was dwelling among them as they moved from place to place (v. 45).
  • So many of the Jews believed that God dwelled in the temple. The temple was looked upon as the only place to find God and worship God. To do this was, in essence, limiting God. Stephen’s message was later summarized and taught by the apostles. The message is this:
  1. 1 Corinthians 3:16 – “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?”
  2. Ephesians 2:22 – “In Him (Christ) you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit.”
  3. 1 Peter 2:5 – “You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

If these three points are the framework for God’s dwelling place, what problems do you see in today’s society or even today’s Christian church with respect to these points?

  • We don’t treat each other like God is in the other person; we don’t treat ourselves like God is in us.

Have someone in your group read Acts 7:51-53.

What is Stephen’s indictment of the Sanhedrin based upon?

  • They never stop resisting the Holy Spirit (v. 51; Isaiah 63:10).
  • They are implicated, with their ancestors, in the persecution and martyrdom of the prophets (v. 52).
  • They are guilty of betrayal and murder of the Messiah (v. 52).
  • They are guilty of disobedience to the Law the claim to defend (v. 53).

Section Four: Our First Christian Martyr

Read Acts 7:55-56 to your group.

Stephen is given a rare glance at Jesus standing at God’s right side. This is a reminder that Jesus is to be the focus of our faith, and the guarantor of our salvation.

Have someone from your group read Acts 7:57-60.

Aside from the example of Stephen following Christ’s forgiving spirit at death, what is the significance of Stephen’s prayers?

  • Stephen committed his spirit to Jesus, thereby, showing that Jesus was on the same level as God.
  • We get a first glimpse of the apostle Paul here too.
  • Take a Stephen Survey. How would you respond in Stephen’s circumstances?
  • Issue Yes No Undecided

What are the questions to ask yourself?

  • Telling the truth in every circumstance?
  • Exposing idolatry when you find it in your life?
  • Exposing idolatry when you find it in your church?
  • The belief that people are more important than sacred buildings?
  • Confronting leaders with their sin?
  • Freedom to meet God anywhere?
  • Refusal to allow religious institutions to take the place of God?
  • Challenging Christian organizations to be true to God’s Word?
  • An opportunity to win someone to Jesus?
  • Freedom to do what you believe is right regardless of what others think?
  • Loyalty to your fellow Christians?

Bible Truth Being Taught

God meets His people anywhere. No human structure can contain Him. Yet people easily turn sacred places and experiences with God into idols they worship instead of God.

Our Response

To understand that no earthly place is intrinsically sacred. We need to worship God as Spirit in the context of a personal relationship with Him.

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