The Death of Stephen

by Jeffrey W. Hamilton

Text: Acts 7:51-60


I.         The early church started in Jerusalem, during the Feast of Pentecost when many Jews were visiting from wide-spread nations. Acts 2:9-11 lists some of the representative nations.

            A.        The church grew rapidly. Three thousand were added to the church on the first day - Acts 2:41

            B.        By Acts 4:4, it is mentioned that the number had swelled to 5,000 men.

            C.        Despite the large numbers, some of whom were not native to Jerusalem, the church managed to care for its own - Acts 4:32-35

            D.        Even those who would not leave Judaism, still held the saints in high regard - Acts 5:12-16

            E.        The Jewish leaders were not ignorant of these events. On several occasions they had the Apostles arrested - Acts 4:1-3; 5:17-18

II.        All was not perfect. Christians from the foreign nations began complaining that their widows were being overlooked in the distribution of food - Acts 6:1

            A.        Since the Apostles were busy with the teaching of God’s word, it was decided that seven men would be selected to ensure the food was evenly distributed

            B.        Among these men, who were full of the Spirit and wisdom, was Stephen.

III.       Why Stephen was stoned

            A.        The message continued to spread. Many priests were being converted - Acts 6:7

                        1.         It was no longer just the common people. People from the heart of the Jewish religion were being persuaded to leave Judaism.

                        2.         Among the disciples, Stephen was very visible - Acts 6:8

                        3.         He worked among the people, indicating that he was a key contributor to the conversions among the Jews.

                        4.         In order to destroy an enemy army, you attack its leaders. Stephen was a visible leader and so the attack was focused on him.

            B.        Jewish scholars rose up and debated Stephen - Acts 6:9-10

                        1.         Yet, they were unable to win their points.

                        2.         Stephen’s wisdom and the spirit of his delivery were too much for them.

                                    a.         This was in accord with Jesus’ prophecy - Luke 21:15

                        3.         They had intended to put a stop to this teaching by making Stephen look foolish against their scholarly arguments. Instead, they became the fools in the eyes of the people.

                                    a.         As Paul said - I Corinthians 1:22-25; 3:18-20

                                    b.         The warfare of Christians is conducted through words - II Corinthians 10:3-5

            C.        They could not defeat Stephen’s logic, so they attempted to smear his reputation - Acts 6:11

                        1.         This often happens and is a sign of weakness of those who stoop to such tactics. It happens in politics; it happens in religion.

                                    a.         Notice that the lies were propagated secretly.

                                    b.         They did not want the true source revealed.

                                    c.         We give greater weight to the words of people we think have nothing to gain from their statement. Knowing this, the enemies of Stephen made sure they were not connected with lies.

                        2.         I Peter 3:13-16 - People will slander those they cannot easily defeat

                        3.         This is why Christians are urged to live a pure life.

                                    a.         I Peter 2:12 - They might slander our good deeds, but they will have to admit one day that the deeds were good.

                                    b.         Titus 2:8 - Make them work at finding something bad to say

                                    c.         When people call good evil, it further shows the foolishness of their thinking.

            D.        In any smear campaign, some will believe the lies - Acts 6:12

                        1.         The people were stir up into a frenzy.

                        2.         It is similar to a later event when the city of Ephesus was stirred up against Paul - Acts 19:28-29, 32

                        3.         People in anger do not reason well. They act on emotion. - James 1:19-20

                        4.         The Jews could not win in a debate, so they stirred the people’s emotions so that reason was no longer considered.

            E.        They bolstered their position by the use of false testimony - Acts 6:13-14

                        1.         Few desire to reject someone because they don’t like what they hear.

                        2.         They feel the need to prove they have the right to reject a man’s words.

                        3.         David spoke of this problem - Psalm 27:11-13

                        4.         Psalm 35:11-12 - Reminds me of some of the Senate hearings I read about. Questions are asked and even when a person says “I don’t know what you are talking about,” they claim he is lying and covering up.

                        5.         Psalm 56:5-6 - Twisting a man’s words to mean what he did not say. This is what these men did to oppose Stephen.

            F.        They hated him for his looks - Acts 6:15

                        1.         When people try to tear someone down, they often get their jollies by watching the despair of their victim.

                        2.         It irritates people when they don’t get the reaction they wanted.

                        3.         They saw Stephen, in the face of slanderous witnesses, looking like an angel.

                        4.         Ecclesiastes 8:1 - Wisdom shows in a person’s face.

                        5.         It is what has been remarked on through history that Christian martyrs went to their death in peace – with smiles on their faces!

                        6.         The glory of God is reflected in us - II Corinthians 3:18

            G.        Stephen told the truth, they knew it, and they hated him for it - Acts 7:51-54

                        1.         I often tease that part of my job is to step on people’s toes.

                                    a.         People react in two ways:

                                                (1)       they sorrow over their error - II Corinthians 7:8-9

                                                (2)       or they become offended

                                    b.         A man, in jail for stealing, wrote me a letter with a poem in it. The poem was amazingly good. In fact, it struck me that I heard it before. I typed the title in a search engine on the Internet and I found many word-for-word copies of the same poem. The original author was a lady in Arkansas and it was copyrighted.

                                                (1)       I wrote back stating it was ironic that a man in jail for stealing, while asking for money from me, would use a stolen poem as his own.

                                                (2)       Do you think he was embarrassed to be caught? NO!

                                                (3)       He accused me of unfairly judging him

                        2.         Part of a preacher’s job is to rebuke those in error. Some of those so rebuked will turn from their sins, but others will turn on the preacher - II Timothy 4:1-5

                        3.         This is what happened to Stephen. They refused to listen - Acts 7:57

IV.      All these things contributed to why Stephen was stone. But there is another shameful reason why Stephen died. He died because others stood by and let it happen. - Acts 7:58, 8:1

            A.        When people don’t prevent, they consent - Romans 1:32

            B.        Stephen stood alone, facing the angry mob as they took stones and hurled them at him.

                        1.         But Stephen wasn’t truly alone - Acts 7:55-56

                        2.         Paul experienced the same thing - II Timothy 4:16-17

            C.        Notice that with God on their side, both men could not hold the actions of their accusers against them.

                        1.         Because they saw clearly that this life doesn’t matter.

                        2.         Their eyes were on the life hereafter.

                        3.         Psalm 56:4 - What can man do to me?

V.        Will you put your trust and hope in the God who can save your soul?

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