Lesson Six: Reading Assignment Chapters 8-14, Memory Verse: Acts 8:30-31
OBJECTIVES IN STUDYING THIS CHAPTER
1) To note how the church in Jerusalem handled their internal problems
2) To examine the process of selecting and appointing those who serve in the Lord’s church
3) To evaluate the charges that were brought against Stephen
There are two words for “crown” in the New Testament: diadema, which means “a royal crown” and gives us the English word diadem; and stephanos, the “victors crown,” which gives us the popular name Stephen. You can inherit a diadema, but the only way to get a stephanos is to earn it. We can assuredly say that Stephen earned his stephanos in a most noble and godly manner.
As the disciples in Jerusalem multiplied in number, it is not surprising to read of problems increasing as well. This chapter describes problems from within and without the congregation.
Hellenists/Grecians (Jewish Christians who adopted Grecian culture) complained that the Hebrews (Jewish Christians who sought to preserve Jewish culture) neglected their widows in the daily distribution (2:44-45; 4:34-35). The apostles, desiring not to be distracted from their own work, summon the disciples and charge them to select seven men whom the apostles might appoint to take care of this responsibility. Seven are selected by the people and appointed by the apostles through prayer and the laying on of hands. With the problem solved, the word of God spread and the number of disciples multiplies greatly, including the obedience of many priests to the faith (1-6).
The Grecians were Hebrews with a background of Greek culture, while the Hebrews were those who still followed the Mosaic Law. The high plane to which the Spirit had brought the church was interrupted by the intrusion of satanic division and confusion.
We commonly call these seven men of Acts 6 “deacons” because the Greek noun diakonos is used in Acts 6:1 (“ministration”), and the verb diakoneo (“serve”) is used in Acts 6:2. The word simply means “a servant.” These seven men were humble servants of the church, men whose work made it possible for the apostles to carry on their important ministries among the people.
Positive Results (6:7)
The blessing of God continued and increased! The church was still unified (Acts 6:5), multiplied (Acts 6:7), and magnified (Acts 6:8). Acts 6:7 is one of several “summaries” found in the book, statements that let us know that the story has reached an important juncture (cf. Acts 2:41; 4:4; 5:12–16; 6:7; 9:31; 12:24; 16:5; 19:20; and 28:31).
Faith and Power of Stephen
“Full of faith and power” (v.8) – Stephen now took the stage. He would soon be martyred. He seems to stand in great contrast to the “great company of priests” (v.7) who were obedient to the faith.
By some means these unbelieving Jews were able to stir up the people and they accused Stephen before the Sanhedrin. The charge was twofold:
OBJECTIVES IN STUDYING THIS CHAPTER
1) To review Stephen’s defense to the charge of blasphemy against the temple and the Law
2) To note the remarkable manner in which the first martyr for Christ died
The previous chapter ended with Stephen before the Sanhedrin council facing accusations that he spoke blasphemy against the temple and the Law (6:13-14). Chapter seven contains Stephen’s defense to these charges, and the account of his martyrdom.
Stephen Begins His Message & Defense
This is the longest sermon recorded in the book of Acts. It is as long as the three of Paul’s put together. It is a great defense of the claims of Jesus, although His name is not used and He is referred to only in verse 52.
Stephen Speaks of Moses
Stephen then spoke of Moses (vs. 17-38). He pointed out how Moses, the deliverer, had been rejected by his own people at first. It was the second time Moses came to His people that they accepted him. He also spoke of how Moses prophesied concerning Christ who was to come (v. 37).
Stephen Applies His Message to the Sanhedrin
Finally, Stephen applied his message to the Sanhedrin. You, he said, are doing the same as your forefathers by rejecting God’s message through Jesus.
The Stoning of Stephen
As Stephen bore down on the truth, the members of the council began to murmur and become disorderly. Finally, under so much conviction of heart they interrupted his defense and rushed on him in preparation of stoning. So angered were they at him that they literally gnashed their teeth like ravenous beasts, stopped their ears so as not the hear him, cast him out of the city, and stoned him.
OBJECTIVES IN STUDYING THIS CHAPTER
1) To note the spread of the gospel into Judea and Samaria, as foretold by Jesus (Acts 1:8)
2) To review the conversions of the Samaritans and the Ethiopian eunuch
3) To examine the apostolic ministry of imparting the Spirit through the laying on of hands
Following the martyrdom of Stephen, the church in Jerusalem was severely persecuted. Prominent in leading the persecution was young Saul, going so far as to enter homes and dragging men and women off to prison (1-3).
Persecution of the Church
One of the chief persecutors, the man who now begins to dominate the book of Acts, was Saul. The intensity of his attacks is shown by the fact that he went into the homes, and that he included women in those he persecuted and arrested. Beating and loss of property would have been unavoidable with this kind of persecution.
God Grows His Church
God’s plan all along was for the church to grow and witness beyond Jerusalem. God’s plan was for the Gospel message to spread far and reach out into the whole world. God used the persecution of the church in this instance to grow the church.
Philip at Samaria
The Samaritans who populated the region of Samaria were a mixed people of partly Jewish and partly Gentile origin. Most Jews considered them unclean. The Samaritans maintained significant aspects of the Israelite religion but read their own version of the Pentateuch, had their own temple, and held differing views on the exact role and identity of the Messiah.
The Samaritans were attentive because of the exorcisms and healings being done by Philip through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Simon & Philip: Sorcery & the Gospel
Before Philip had arrived, Simon had been practicing sorcery in that city and had been amazing the people, all the while claiming to be someone great. The Samaritans therefore revered Simon. Their feelings about him can be summed up with what is recorded in Acts 8:10 “To whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God.”
Help from the Apostles
Peter had previously been given the keys to the kingdom in order to open the Gospel to the Jews, the Samaritans and to the Gentiles. (Matthew 16:19 – And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven…). The Apostles had come to see with their own eyes the work of the Lord in Samaria. They also came to sanction the work there.
Simon Tries to Buy the Holy Spirit’s Power
“When Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given” (v.18a) – watching all that was going on with keen interest was Simon the Sorcerer.
This is the reason we know this man is not truly saved. Simon Peter declares that his heart is not right with God. He is not converted. His big interest is money, power, prestige.
Wickedness & Bitterness
“Repent therefore of this thy wickedness” (v.22) – Peter now treats Simon as an unsaved man, Peter had a soul winners heart, and he urges Simon to repent.
Philip & the Ethiopian
Philip Follows God’s Leading
It may seem strange that God chose to remove Philip from the great revival in Samaria – and send him on a long journey to talk to one man.
God works on Saints & Sinners
When God led Philip, Philip went. When Philip arrives on the scene the Eunuch just happened to be reading (through the providence and sovereignty of God) the right scriptures. This should show us that God not only prompts us to witness, or leads us to witness, God is not only working on us in these situations, He is also working on those who will hear our witness.
In chapters 8, 9, and 10 we find the record of three remarkable instances of conversion. Chapter 8 gives us the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch, a son of Ham. Chapter 9 gives us the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, a son of Shem. Chapter 10 gives us the conversion of Cornelius, a Roman centurion, a son of Japheth. You will recall that the entire human race is descendent from the sons of Noah: Ham, Shem and Japheth.
A Great Starting Point!
Where was the Ethiopian eunuch reading?
He was reading from the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah. He was reading the seventh and eighth verses.
The Holy Spirit Will Use the Word of God
The Holy Spirit will use the Word of God. Conversion requires the Word of God. Simon Peter, whom God used so wonderfully in the conversions of multitudes, makes it very clear that the Word of God must be involved if a person is to be saved.
Salvation – then Baptism by Immersion
The Ethiopian eunuch then accepts Christ by faith as his Savior and asks Philip a question:
The Baptism was Clearly by Immersion
The baptism was clearly by immersion. In the first place, the type picturing the burial and resurrection of Christ requires it (Romans 6:4-5).
“The Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip” (v.39) – Philip was suddenly and extraordinarily taken away from the eunuch’s sight and company, that thereby the eunuch might be the more assured of the truth of those things which had been taught by him.