2018-05-20 – Acts 6.8-15 – Full of Grace and Power

Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and others of those from Cilicia and Asia, stood up and argued with Stephen. 10 But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit[c] with which he spoke. 11 Then they secretly instigated some men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” 12 They stirred up the people as well as the elders and the scribes; then they suddenly confronted him, seized him, and brought him before the council. 13 They set up false witnesses who said, “This man never stops saying things against this holy place and the law; 14 for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth[d] will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses handed on to us.” 15 And all who sat in the council looked intently at him, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.

2018-05-20 – Acts 6.8-15 – Full of Grace and Power
Good morning everyone. It is so nice to be able to spend some time with you all in fellowship with the Lord. Thank you and God bless you for being with us.

Today, churches around the world are celebrating or at least recognizing Pentecost Sunday. It is the 50th day after Jesus ascended into heaven, and it marks the birth of the New Testament Christian church. In the New Testament, we can read about this event in Acts 2. It was the day that the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples of Jesus.  [Watch Video]

Again Pentecost is when Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to the church and specifically to the church believers. It empowered the Apostles and the first Christians, to be brave, and to speak with God’s authority to the world. And today we are going to see that in the context of these next sermon verses in this book of Acts.

Last week we read how the Apostles chose seven men to minister to the needs of the Hellenist widows, to ensure they were properly taken care of. They cared so much to do the right thing, even to what some would consider to be a trivial matter. They called all the disciples together to deliberate, and as a result the last verse 7 said, “The word of God continued to spread; the number of the disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.”  So that is the prelude to today’s message.

Please turn in your Life Book Bibles to Acts 6:1, pg 123 in the Inspired, Infallible and Living Word of God, and let us start with prayer.   [Prayer]

So again the disciples chose seven men to serve, and one of those men was Stephen, who we will be reading about today. Verse 8 says: Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. 

This Stephen, was chosen to minister and feed the Greek speaking widows. He was to make sure the food was distributed appropriately to all the people. And he is now mentioned in the very next paragraph as one who was “full of grace and power”. Being that his serving position required much wisdom and compassion, being full of grace you would think would be one of the other attributes required of this type of leader as he was dealing with the people. But this says he was also full of power and did great wonders and signs among the people. That is interesting because if you looked at his job description, you wouldn’t think that doing great wonders and signs would be something that was required of him. But in fact that is what he was obviously gifted by God to do. You see, we all have our jobs, both inside and outside of this church. A job is important, and God desires for all of us to do everything we do with excellence. In Colossians 3:23 it says, “whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as onto the Lord”. God wants us to do great work as if we are working for him in the task.

As Stephen was doing his job, he was also exercising his gift by doing great wonders and signs. Each one of you have a gift or gifts given to you by God. Some of you know what is your gift, however I would bet that some of you probably don’t realize what your gift is yet. If you haven’t ever done a spiritual gift assessment and would like to, please let me know. Stephen is out among the people and people are seeing miracles happen. It doesn’t elaborate on exactly what the “wonders and signs” were, but one could guess it could be healings or prophesying, and as a result he was getting a lot of attention.

Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and others of those from Cilicia and Asia, stood up and argued with Stephen. 10 But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke. 

We know from the previous verses as we covered them last week, many were believing the message and believed that Jesus was their true savior. And many priests even were joining the church. These agitator folks here in this verse were coming from the local synagogues and were upset already that some of their leadership was leaving the Jewish faith, so they rose up against Stephen.

As a side note, we also know that a fellow named Saul was among the agitators of that time, and might have been amongst them. We will see at the end of this chapter that Saul was an active participant in the persecution of these first Christians. This same Saul later converted to Christianity, and subsequently was known by the name of Paul who later wrote a third of our New Testament. That is amazing grace, Amen?

Even though they were arguing with Stephen here, verse 10 says they couldn’t stand-up against the wisdom and Spirit that Stephen was exhibiting. Noticed the verse here uses the word Spirit with the capital letter, indicating it was the Holy Spirit. You see, when we go out and speak and defend Christ to the world, we are never alone. The Holy Spirit will even give us the words to speak. That is what is happening here in these verses. The Holy Spirit is giving Stephen the words to say, and Luke writes that Stephen’s words were full of power and wisdom, and he was shutting-down the agitators. And knowing that Saul was there, who at the time was being trained up to be a high priest, one who I would imagine was not timid or unwise.. I am sure it was a tense situation. And they were being frustrated here by Stephen. It says, “they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke”. God was working through Stephen that day.

Over the years, since I started speaking out for Christ, I have experienced that kind of dynamic myself many times. When you take a step-out in faith and start speaking of Godly things to the world, the Holy Spirit will give you His words and His power. I can’t tell you how many times after such an event I think to myself, “thank You Holy Spirit, that was awesome”. And you know what, it isn’t about me and it isn’t about Stephen, it is about Jesus using us to save eternal lives. I pray and hope that you all choose to do that in your own Christian walk. Step out in faith, and when you do, please tell me what happened. It will surely bring me much joy. Verse 11 says:

11 Then they secretly instigated some men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.”

So here, since they couldn’t shut Stephen down, they decided to start mud-slinging instead. And notice how they did it, they instigated some other men. They didn’t even want to get their own hands dirty. We have all seen this type of behavior in life before. Today these guys would be called bullies. If they can’t debate or argue with logic and truth, then they start slinging mud any way they can. They bring out the big guns and start using all kinds of four letter expletives to get attention. Lies and false accusations. So sad to see, but when it happens, please know that God is with you too. Don’t bow down to their tactics in response and then lose your witness and testimony. That is a trap, that is their intent, don’t give them that satisfaction. Stephen is a great example for us today.

 12 They stirred up the people as well as the elders and the scribes; then they suddenly confronted him, seized him, and brought him before the council. 13 They set up false witnesses who said, “This man never stops saying things against this holy place and the law; 14 for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses handed on to us.” 

They couldn’t accuse Stephen using truth, so they decided to set up false witnesses against him instead. Remember this same thing happened to Jesus. And they used the exact narrative with Stephen and Jesus. Now Jesus did say, as written in John 2:19, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up”, but as John pointed out, Jesus was talking about the temple being His body. But they used that statement against Stephen, in this case just as they did Jesus.
To elaborate a little on the topic, Jesus is the Son of God, part of the Trinity. Anywhere the Triune God is, is considered a temple. Just like now we Christians have the Holy Spirit in our heart, and therefore this body is also the temple of God, and thus we should be treating it as such. And Jesus’s body was the Temple He was referring to.

These false witnesses here were setting up Stephen to be convicted and then persecuted by the council. Things were looking bleak. Have you ever been in that type of situation, where your whole life is passing before you as you are being accused of something you did or did not do? It is a horrible experience indeed. When that happens to you, and like in this case, it seems that all the world is coming down on you, you get scared. You get nervous. Have you ever been in such a situation? I pray not, but if you do, please call me. I will come a running.

Lets see how Stephen deals with this mega stressful situation. Verse 15 says: 15 And all who sat in the council looked intently at him, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.

Wow. That must have been something to witness.
Have any of you ever served on Jury duty? I have three-times and I consider it my duty and an honor to represent and be part of the judicial process. But I remember being on the jury during some pretty awful circumstances. And when you are in that Jury booth, sitting in that Jury chair, listening to the accusations and the testimonies, and seeing all the evidence before you, you can’t help but to look over at the accused to see his or her reactions and demeanor. It is quite telling to see. It is human nature to look at their eyes, their posture, their movements to see what they might render as to help in the jury’s deliberation and eventual rendering of guilty or innocent. In this verse, that is kind of the picture of where this deliberation with Stephen was at this point. But it says when they looked at Stephen, they were amazed at what they saw. “they saw that his face was like the face of an angel”. Wow! To be honest, I really don’t know what that might look like. Maybe Stephen looked like Moses when he came off the mountain. The Bible says his face shined. Exodus 34:29 “When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him.”

Or maybe this was more like how Jesus glowed when He came down from the mount of transfiguration. Matthew 17 says, “There He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light.” Or maybe it was simply more like how a new bride looks, or a new mother looks like right before they have a baby. The glowing expression of joy, contentment and love. Maybe that is what Stephens face of an angel looked like. Anyway about it, God’s word says that Stephen’s face was like a face of an Angel, all the while as he was being persecuted. Only the Holy Spirit could provide that type of contentment, joy and peace, and I am sure the council was just flabbergasted. Probably thinking, “how could anyone exhibit so much peace in the middle of such difficult circumstances?” Well, you and I too can have such peace.

So today, as we are observing this Holy Spirit Pentecost Sunday, please believe that the Holy Spirit and Comforter can give you that same type of “peace in the valley” when you need it as well. And you only need a “mustard seed” of faith, to have to access all of God’s wonderful Holy Spirit peace. Do you have that faith?

So the takeaways for today’s message is this:

  1. Just as Stephen was full of Grace and Power, God wants you to have and exhibit that same Grace and Power
  2. And Just as Stephen had Peace as he was being persecuted, God wants you too to have such peace.

I will close today with a related message from Jesus Himself, as written in John 14:15:

“If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me.
Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

And then in verse 25 of that same chapter 14 Jesus said:

25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Please stand, and Let Us Pray: Heavenly Father..