But as the believers rapidly multiplied, there were rumblings of discontent. The Greek-speaking believers complained about the Hebrew-speaking believers, saying that their widows were being discriminated against in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve called a meeting of all the believers. They said, “We apostles should spend our time teaching the word of God, not running a food program. And so, brothers, select seven men who are well respected and are full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will give them this responsibility. Then we apostles can spend our time in prayer and teaching the word.” Everyone liked this idea, and they chose the following: Stephen (a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit), Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas of Antioch (an earlier convert to the Jewish faith). These seven were presented to the apostles, who prayed for them as they laid their hands on them. So God’s message continued to spread. The number of believers greatly increased in Jerusalem, and many of the Jewish priests were converted, too.
Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed amazing miracles and signs among the people. But one day some men from the Synagogue of Freed Slaves, as it was called, started to debate with him. They were Jews from Cyrene, Alexandria, Cilicia, and the province of Asia. None of them could stand against the wisdom and the Spirit with which Stephen spoke. So they persuaded some men to lie about Stephen, saying, “We heard him blaspheme Moses, and even God.” This roused the people, the elders, and the teachers of religious law. So they arrested Stephen and brought him before the high council. The lying witnesses said, “This man is always speaking against the holy Temple and against the law of Moses. We have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy the Temple and change the customs Moses handed down to us.” At this point everyone in the high council stared at Stephen, because his face became as bright as an angel’s.Acts 6:1-15
This is a remarkable passage and one which has a very precise flow to it. This whole collection is to do one thing: to mark Stephen as a man chosen for a certain task. The apostles have just been through a rather harrowing encounter with the power and authority of the Sanhedrin arrayed against them. But they steadfastly stood their ground and followed Jesus their Messiah. Now we are told there are signs of discontent within the body regarding teething problems related to growth pains. So they heed the teaching of the Torah and they appoint “deacons” to serve the body, allowing the apostles to continue the work of teaching the Word of God. The deacons they chose were chosen according to the guidelines of Jethro. They must be men who are:
- Well respected
- Full of the Spirit of God
- Full of wisdom (the Godly sort)
- Full of faith
They chose seven such men and lay their hands on them to impart the Holy Spirit of God to them.
What was the result of this action?
- “God’s message continued to spread.
- The number of believers greatly increased in Jerusalem
- Many of the Jewish priests were converted”
This is an indication that the Godly lineage was continuing. These seven men were of the same godly character as the Apostles themselves and those appointed by Moses in past times. In other words, God is at work to ensure the growth of the church by placing on its leadership the same mantel of the Holy Spirit. Now the story focuses on the one who is to bear the mantel in a different way – Stephen. Take note of the verses I have highlighted for you. Apart from the fact it is made clear to us that Stephen is indeed one who fulfils all the criteria above, there is an extra portion of the unction of the Holy Spirit on this man. Note how the words (a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit) are uniquely applied to Stephen and not the other six men. The way Luke is writing this account is making it clear to us, God’s hand was on Stephen in a very special way. Note what else was added to the description of Stephen.
- Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed amazing miracles and signs among the people.
- None of them could stand against the wisdom and the Spirit with which Stephen spoke.
- His face became as bright as an angel’s.
All the indications are present that the Spirit of God is now with Stephen as He was with Peter and the apostles. The miraculous signs still follow and God’s wisdom is with Stephen, just as it has been with Peter. But more than that, did you catch the significance of the additional feature? His face became as bright as an angel’s. That is not a throw away line. There is weight behind that statement. Don’t miss the significance of the link between what the lying witnesses say and what God then does to (for) Stephen. The lying witnesses claim Stephen is changing the customs Moses handed down to them. Then instantly Stephen’s face becomes as bright as an angel’s. So much so that everyone in the high council stared at Stephen because his face was shining so bright. Does that remind you of something or someone? Of course, it is Moses himself. The link has been made not only to the work the apostles have been doing but at the mention of Stephen changing the customs of Moses. At that very moment, God made Stephen’s face shine like Moses once did. The inference is inescapable for those who are making false claims against Stephen.
This is a very short bridge to a new point in the story. We have reached a turning point in Acts between the Old Order and the New Order. The transitional phase is very brief. There is no long lead up. It is straight into the story of this Stephen, whom Luke has introduced to us. But some very significant things are said of him in a few words. So I will let you soak up the significance of this before we move on. Don’t miss the fact that as a result of the ministry of these new deacons, many Jewish priests were converted. Amazing. Ponder on these words for a while.
Many times in the Bible, a very small seemingly insignificant comment carries great weight. Don’t miss those momentous moments.Ian Vail
Do not despise these small beginnings, for the LORD rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand.” (The seven lamps represent the eyes of the LORD that search all around the world.)
Explaining the Old Testament without using Jesus is like living in the South (of USA) and not drinking sweet tea — you missed the point!Rick Godwin
In like manner, reading the New Testament without seeing the subtle allusions to the Old is missing the point.Ian Vail