Friday, October 5, 2012

An international Sunday school lesson commentary
For Sunday October 7, 2012

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 (Faith gives us grace and power to speak out)
(Acts 6)

Racial hostility and ethnic disputes are not problems of opposition that were born during the infancy stages of our nation’s existence, but rather, they are problems that have been around since the infancy of human existence. In Acts chapter 6, verses 1-7, Luke gives us a vivid description of a case of “ethnic opposition” that led to the birth of the “Deacon concept” in the Christian Church.
Here in this particular passage, we see rumblings of discontent involving Greek speaking Jewish believers, who were being discriminated against by Hebrew speaking Jewish believers. The Hebrew speaking Jews were unfairly distributing food, showing favor to their own respective widow population. In order to resolve these disputes, the twelve Disciples of CHRIST called a meeting of all the current believers.
At that meeting, they cited that they, as Apostles, need to spend their time preaching and teaching the Word of GOD, not administering a food program. They called on the believers to choose from among themselves, seven men, who were full of the HOLY SPIRIT, and wisdom, and put those men in charge of the food distribution program.
This pleased the people of both groups, and they chose from among them, Stephen, a man full of faith and the HOLY SPIRIT, Philip, who later went on to preach the Gospel from Samaria to Caesarea, Procorus, Nicanor, Timmon, Parmenas, and Nicolas of Antioch, a Gentile convert, first, to the Jewish Faith, and then later, to Christianity. The Apostles then ordained them and prayed for them, while laying hands on them. Afterwards, GOD’s message was preached in ever-widening circles, and the number of believers greatly increased in Jerusalem, and also, many Jewish Priests were converted to Christianity.
With that said, let us now focus on one of those seven men, who was chosen that day to serve in the Church at Jerusalem, the one who is called, Stephen. Stephen, whose name means “wreath”, or “crown”, was a man who was full of GOD’s grace and power. He performed many amazing miracles and signs among the people of Jerusalem. In fact, his ministry, arrest, and trial are very similar to that of our LORD, JESUS CHRIST. And like anyone whose life is patterned after JESUS in this world, opposition arose against Stephen one day in the form of a group of men from the “Synagogue of Freedmen”, a Temple in Jerusalem that was dedicated to the Jews who were former slaves of Roman citizens.
These men were also called “Libertines”, and, they came from Cyrene and Alexandria in northern Africa, the province of Asia, and Cilicia, Paul’s home country, where Tarsus is located. They had all converted to “Judaism”, following their release from slavery.
Now apparently, these men tried to debate against Stephen, and were not able to prevail against him in a public theological debate forum, and so, they began to conjure up lies about him, falsely accusing him of blaspheme against Moses, and, against GOD, both offenses which were punishable with “death by stoning”.
Their accusations aroused the crowds, the elders, and the teachers of religious law against Stephen, and as a result, he was placed under arrest and brought before the high council. These “lying witnesses” spoke of the time when they heard Stephen re-iterate the misunderstood words of JESUS, when HE said HE would destroy the temple, and change the customs of Moses. Of course these words that they spoke of were taken way out of context, and in fact, had been totally perverted.
Whenever we side with CHRIST JESUS, we automatically put ourselves in the position to be opposed by the world. JESUS HIMSELF warned of this in the Gospel of John (John 15:18-25), after HE had taken HIS twelve apostles into private teaching, shortly before HIS crucifixion. He told them that, “When the world hates you, remember it hated ME before it hated you. The world would love you if you belonged to it, but you don’t. I chose you to come out of the world, and so it hates you” (John 15:18-19) - NLT).
JESUS went on to tell them, that, “Since they persecuted ME, naturally they will persecute you. And if they had listened to ME, they would listen to you! The people of the world will hate you because you belong to ME, for they don’t know GOD WHO sent ME. They would not be guilty if I had not come and spoken to them. But now they have no excuse for their sin. Anyone who hates ME hates MY FATHER too….This has fulfilled what the Scriptures said: “They hated ME without cause” (John 15:20b-25) (NLT).
In the biblical Greek, the word used for “witness” is the same word from which the word “martyr” is derived. That word is “martus” (mar-toos) and it means not just to witness with words, but, in the biblical sense, it means to witness with the giving of one’s life for CHRIST, literally.
And so, when we say we are witnesses for CHRIST, we are really saying that we are ready to die for CHRIST on a moment’s notice, just as Stephen and many others have since done, since the infancy stages of the Christian Church. If we are not ready to do that, then we are “false witnesses” in the biblical sense. And so, “professed Christians” need to be careful what they say under the witness of GOD.
Stephen was a “true witness” for CHRIST, and that is evidenced in his allowing himself to become the first martyr, after JESUS, for the sake of Christianity. Without a doubt, Stephen was able to see the theological implications of “Justification by Faith”, and, “the fulfillment of the Law in JESUS CHRIST”. He also was able to discern that, if the Gospel was intended for the whole world, Jews and Gentiles, then GOD must have surely intended for “the Law of Moses” to be a temporary arrangement.
In the Greek, the word used for “World” is “Kosmos”, and it is from that word that we derive our English word “Cosmos”. In the spiritual sense, “it is that complex intertwining of sinful desires that shape our world of “lost humanity”. When we choose the “Christian Walk”, we automatically become strangers to “worldly behavior”. We are no longer permanent residents of this earth, but rather, we become citizens of Heaven, and therefore, the Laws of GOD, just as they were to Stephen and many other “true witnesses”, who have lost their lives because of the opposition in this world against JESUS CHRIST, must become paramount to us, also.

A Sunday school lesson by,
Larry D. Alexander

                                           LARRY D. ALEXANDER- Official Website

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