As the book of Acts continues, the church grows. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the apostles healed people and preached Christ to all who would listen (Acts 3). Despite being chastised, imprisoned, and beaten by the Jewish council, the apostles continued to boldly proclaim Christ (Acts 4–5).
The Church Handles a Complaint
Read Acts 6:1–6.
In this passage, we see a conflict arise between two groups of Jews: the more traditional Jews and the Hellenistic Jews who were more open to Greek influences. Some widows were being neglected. Clearly, this neglect was not in line with Jesus’ heart for the church; we are to look after widows in their distress (James 1:27). The church needed to respond. What would they do? How would they handle one of the first conflicts within the new church?
The twelve apostles called the multitude of believers together to discuss the matter. They chose seven Holy Spirit–filled men with good reputations to be in charge of caring for these widows so that the apostles could continue teaching the Word of God.
Read Acts 6:7.
In this verse, we find our second update on the newly founded church of Jesus. The Word of God kept spreading. The number of disciples grew greatly in Jerusalem. Even Jewish priests were coming to faith in Christ.
Stephen, the First Martyr
Read Acts 6:8–7:60.
Stephen was one of the men chosen to care for the widows. Through the Holy Spirit, he performed miracles and spoke God’s truth to all who would listen. He faced opposition and was brought before the Jewish council for blasphemy. When asked if this was true, Stephen responded with a poignant speech. He walked through the history of Israel up until the time when Solomon built the temple where God would dwell. When speaking of the temple, Stephen quoted the prophet Isaiah (66:1) and reminded the Jewish council that God does not dwell in houses made by human hands. Because the veil to the holy of holies (the place where God’s presence resided) was torn in the temple upon Jesus’ death, God’s presence now resides in us through the Holy Spirit.
The Jewish council was aggravated with Stephen because he implied that God could be worshipped outside of the temple (Shelley 2013). Stephen also called them out for rejecting Jesus as the Savior (Acts 7:51–53). The Jewish council was enraged at Stephen’s speech. They drove him out of the city and stoned him. As they were stoning him, Stephen saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God and asked the Lord to not hold this sin against them. In that moment, Stephen became the first martyr of the Christian faith.
Think about Stephen’s dedication to Christ. He truly believed that Jesus was the promised Savior. His belief in Christ, his love for Christ, his desire to see all people come to a saving knowledge of Jesus led him to his death—a death he did not resist. Rather, he prayed grace for his murderers as he took his last breath.
From the beginning, the church consisted of people who truly believed the words of Jesus, proclaimed His message, and gave their lives for the truth of the gospel. May we follow in their footsteps!