Thursday, May 21, 2020

Acts Study | Session 15 | 5:41-7:16

Today we cover Acts 5:41-7:16. We see that the apostles are still very much involved in life at the Temple, seven are chosen to help with the distribution in Jerusalem, Stephen is arrested and begins his speech before the council.

VERSES 41-42: And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name. (42)  And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ. Instead of being bitter about the whole thing, they counted it an honor to suffer shame for his name. Also, notice that they continued daily in the temple.

The Temple was still fully operational and the center of Jewish life. Nothing had changed in that regard at all. When we get to Paul, we will find that other than a vow that he took to reach the Jewish nation, he will have nothing to do with the Temple. He doesn't tell the new converts that they have to go to Jerusalem at all. Instead, fellowships are started in homes.

In reality, the entire concept of a building as a meeting place was foreign to the early church. The big building we meet in today is simply throwbacks to the Roman Churches as they attempted to set themselves up as the new Israel. Again, while the church may have begun, the age of grace certainly had not.

Chapter 6
VERSE 1: And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. 
Here we start to see problems with the Common Store. Three possible reasons:
1. No doubt, just like in Jamestown, and in our society today, there were those who wanted to take out who had not put in. 2. Maybe it was just beginning to dry up. 3. Or it just may have been too much trouble for the apostles to tend to themselves which seems to be the more obvious answer. Of course, we do know that it did eventually run out (1Co 16:1-4; Rom 15:25-26).

The next obvious question is who were the Grecians? Hebrews is obvious. A Grecian was simply a non-Palestinian Jew. They were also referred to as Hellenists. Remember that there were Jews who had been carried away into Babylon and never returned to Jerusalem. They grew up outside of Jerusalem but maintained their Jewish faith. These were those referred to as Grecians who had returned to Jerusalem and had accepted Christ as the Messiah and were now part of the Kingdom Church. Albert Barnes says of these, "These were not proselyted Gentiles, but those of Jewish origin who were not natives of Judea, who had come up to Jerusalem to attend the great festivals." Obviously, their widows were being neglected in the daily ministration or distribution of food. There was some obvious prejudice against them.

VERSE 2: Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. Many today in the church will go straight to these verses and say that these were the first deacons in the church. The Bible never calls these men deacons. While there were certainly the forerunners, they were not deacons in the Body of Christ sense.

VERSES 3-7: Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. (4)  But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word. (5)  And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch: (6)  Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them. (7)  And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith. Again, many churches will use the verses to justify congregationally elected deacons. This verse simply cannot be used to justify that practice. I have served and ministered in enough Baptist churches to know that this practice doesn't always work that well. They are little more than popularity contests in my experience. Too often they are used to "keep the preacher in check". I am also not a fan of congregational polity. However, I do believe in what I used to call "family meetings" to keep the congregation updated and to even seek their input. Too many churches are built upon the flimsy foundation of these verses and Mat 18:15-20.

VERSE 8: And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people. Make no mistake, Stephen is still a continuation of the apostolic ministry ministering exclusively to the house of Israel.

VERSES 9-14: Then there arose certain of the synagogue, which is called the synagogue of the Libertines, and Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and of them of Cilicia and of Asia, disputing with Stephen. (10)  And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake. (11)  Then they suborned men, which said, We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses, and against God. (12)  And they stirred up the people, and the elders, and the scribes, and came upon him, and caught him, and brought him to the council, (13)  And set up false witnesses, which said, This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words against this holy place, and the law: (14)  For we have heard him say, that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered us. What were they so upset about? The message that Stephen preached was the King and the offered Kingdom. Understand, what he preached put their livelihood at stake. If what Stephen was preaching truly came to pass, there would be no need for them anymore.

VERSE 15: And all that sat in the council, looking steadfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel. To me, this simply means that they saw something in Stephen that was beyond the ordinary. Of course, he was filled with the Holy Spirit.

Chapter 7
VERSES 1-2: Then said the high priest, Are these things so? (2)  And he said, Men, brethren, and fathers, hearken; The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran, (3) And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed. 
These verses are interesting in that they go beyond the Genesis 12 account which simply says that the Lord had said unto Abram to The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham. So that means that God actually appeared in, most likely, a human form, thus a Theophany. Stephen, as we will see, reviewed Israel's history beginning with Abraham, and how God in the past had consistently prepared the nation for their coming King and Kingdom.

VERSE 4: Then came he out of the land of the Chaldaeans, and dwelt in Charran (Haran): and from thence, when his father was dead, he removed him into this land, wherein ye now dwell. (5)  And he gave him none inheritance in it, no, not so much as to set his foot on: yet he promised that he would give it to him for a possession, and to his seed after him, when as yet he had no child. The point is that God had made a promise to Abraham that had not yet been fulfilled in his lifetime.

VERSES 6-7: And God spake on this wise, That his seed should sojourn in a strange land; and that they should bring them into bondage, and entreat them evil four hundred years. (7)  And the nation to whom they shall be in bondage will I judge, said God: and after that shall they come forth, and serve me in this place. This is speaking of the bondage that Israel endured in Egypt. And, of course, God judged them when he delivered them out of the hands of the Egyptians under Moses with the plagues.

VERSES 9-10: And he gave him the covenant of circumcision: and so Abraham begat Isaac, and circumcised him the eighth day; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat the twelve patriarchs. (9)  And the patriarchs, moved with envy, sold Joseph into Egypt: but God was with him, (10)  And delivered him out of all his afflictions, and gave him favour and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh king of Egypt; and he made him governor over Egypt and all his house. This speaks of the betrayal of Joseph's brothers in selling him into slavery, where he, through a series of events, ends up being the governor over all of Egypt. I believe this is a type and a foreshadowing of how Israel had also sold its Redeemer not knowing who he was.

VERSES 11-13: Now there came a dearth over all the land of Egypt and Chanaan, and great affliction: and our fathers found no sustenance. (12)  But when Jacob heard that there was corn in Egypt, he sent out our fathers first. (13)  And at the second time Joseph was made known to his brethren; and Joseph's kindred was made known unto Pharaoh. This is when Jacob sent the remaining brothers to get grain in Egypt because of the drought that the land was going through (Gen 42:1-3; Gen 42:8). Verse 8 there in Genesis reminds me of Joh 1:11. Later we find that Joseph could not restrain himself any further and revealed himself to his brothers (Gen 45:1-4; Gen 45:15).

In the same way, Israel did not recognize Jesus as their Redeemer, but one day they will according to Zec 12:10-12 and Zec 13:6. Stephen is making an attempt to show the nation that what their forefathers had done to Joseph, they had done to Jesus! But, as we have already mentioned earlier, they did it in ignorance (Act 3:17). Also, we discussed, had they known who he was and done what they did in total knowledge, God would have brought judgment down on them immediately. Jesus even said from the cross, Father forgive them for they know not what they do.

Interestingly enough, Stephen will later declare the same words as they are stoning him later in Act 7:60. He asked God to forgive them for their ignorance! Why was this so important that their ignorance is brought out? Because, again, had they known full well what they were doing, God would have destroyed them according to the law of murder. The law makes it clear that if someone knowingly, premeditatively killed someone, it was life for life. However, if it was an accident, grace was extended for the person to flee to the City of Refuge (cf. 1Co 2:6-8).  The example of that grace is furthermore displayed in the next verses.

VERSES 14-16: Then sent Joseph, and called his father Jacob to him, and all his kindred, threescore and fifteen souls. (15)  So Jacob went down into Egypt, and died, he, and our fathers, (16)  And were carried over into Sychem, and laid in the sepulchre that Abraham bought for a sum of money of the sons of Emmor the father of Sychem. Joseph showed his brothers mercy, just as God was about to show mercy to Israel as we will see in little bit through the very man that would oversea Stephen's stoning: Saul (v.58).

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