Friday, October 12, 2012

WEEKLY SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSON
An international Sunday school lesson commentary
For Sunday October 14, 2012

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STEPHEN’S SPEECH AND MARTYRDOM
(The risks of living in the “Most High faith”)
(Acts 7)

In Acts chapter 7, verses 2-53, Stephen delivers the longest recorded speech in the Book of Acts. It was an Oration that would lead to his death, and caused him to become the first Martyr, after JESUS, in the Christian Church. His speech enraged the Jewish religious leaders, and caused “hatred’s insanity” to rear its ugly head like no other time since that recent Crucifixion of CHRIST. Once again the religious leaders had lost all sense of proportion, and totally forgot about the mercy that they had, so often, preached about in the Temple.
Stephen’s long and eloquent speech refuted the three most basic pillars that a first century Jew revered most. First of all, he refuted their belief that their land, the “Promised Land”, was the only land good enough to be deemed holy. He reminds them that GOD’s work often took place outside of the “Promised Land” (i.e. Mount Sinai; Exodus 3:5). He also reminded them that, wherever GOD is, it is there, that is considered to be “Holy Ground” (Acts 7:2-36).
Secondly, Stephen refuted their belief in the superior power of Moses, and his hand-delivered laws. He points out to them that even Moses foretold of a coming PROPHET who would be greater than himself, and he told them that, when HE comes, HE should be the one that they listen to (Deuteronomy 18:15). He also reminds them how the Israelites even rejected Moses, and embraced idols, just as they had rejected JESUS, and killed HIM (Acts 7:37-43).
And finally, he refuted their beliefs about the Temple. The Jews saw the Temple as a symbol of GOD’s past workings with Israel, and the only place by which GOD could dwell among them in the present. They could not see GOD dwelling among them in the person of JESUS CHRIST, and neither could they recognize the work and presence of the HOLY SPIRIT among them. As a result, they had no problem, not only killing JESUS, but they had no problem killing any of GOD’s many messengers HE had sent among them over the years, who, were only armed with GOD’s eternal truth.
And so we see that, Stephen had not only knocked down the three greatest pillars of the Jewish Faith, but he had also exalted JESUS by proclaiming HIM to be the MESSIAH. And that is why JESUS, Stephen, all of the Old Testament Prophets, and most of the New Testament writers and thinkers, had to die.
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, what I said in last week’s lesson becomes necessary to be repeated here. 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, without giving it a second thought, just as Stephen and many others have 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.
It is the opposition of both the willing, and, the unwitting components of satan that true Christians must endure. We know that, for JESUS, the only way back to the glory of Heaven was through the Cross, and so it is with those of us who follow HIM. With open eyes, JESUS accepted the circumstances of the Cross, so that, whosoever believes in HIM will not perish, but rather, will always have and enjoy, “Everlasting Life”.
For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”. We, as Christians, need to come to rest in this thought involving Physics, because it also applies spiritually, especially when we first begin our Christian walk. The more we act like a Christian in society, the more opposition satan is going to send our way. We have to make ourselves ready and stay strong by studying GOD’s word, by prayer, and, by associating and fellowshipping with other Christians.
We will also receive opposition from our own sin nature, however, by continuing to fill ourselves with the word of GOD, by prayer, and by allowing the HOLY SPIRIT to work within us, soon our Christian walk will move from being a thing of struggle, to being a thing of peace.
Pray constantly and earnestly to GOD for wisdom, strength, and courage in facing the pressures of opposition from the forces of satan, who is very busy trying to steal, kill, and destroy the lives of GOD’s people. Pray also for GOD to grant us the boldness of Stephen in our application of HIS word, in our everyday life.

A Sunday school lesson by,
Larry D. Alexander



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