by Jerry Senn

In Acts 6, we are introduced to one of the most courageous followers of Christ of the first century, the first Christian martyr. The first half of the chapter records a division that emerged in the early church and the establishment of a diaconate in order to resolve that problem. Stephen was among those first deacons.

The second half of the chapter focuses on Stephen’s evangelistic ministry and the opposition that begins—against him—opposition that will ultimately lead to his martyrdom at the end of chapter 7.

The latter half of Acts 6 and all of chapter 7 focus on Stephen, the first martyr of the church. He has already been introduced in Acts 6:5 as one of the deacons chosen by the congregation. There, Luke also indicated that Stephen was “a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit.” In verse 8, Luke reintroduces him as “full of grace and power … doing great wonders and signs among the people.”

As Stephen was doing “wonders and signs,” some from the “synagogue of the Freedman” opposed and “disputed” with him (v 9). As the name implies, the synagogue of the Freedmen likely refers to Jews who had been freed from slavery, either from Cyrene or some other Gentile territory. Stephen’s responses to his opponents dumbfounded them. Luke records that when Stephen refuted his opponents, they “could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking” (v 10). This statement actually fulfills the words of Christ in the Gospel of Luke when he told his followers, “I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict” (Luke 21:15).

Acts 6:11-15 records the angry response of the crowd to Stephen’s message. His opponents, clearly unable to refute Stephen, decided to get back at him through trickery and false accusations. They “secretly instigated men” who accused him of trumped up charges alleging that he had spoken “blasphemous words against Moses and God” (v 11). They did not stop there, but also “stirred up” the crowd as well as its leaders so that Stephen was seized and brought to trial (v 12).

"And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw his face like the face of an angel. 
— Acts 6:15

Stephen’s great sermon follows as he was asked “Are these [charges] true ?” (7:1). His defense of the truthfulness of his message about Jesus covers the entire seventh chapter.

I encourage you to read Stephen’s defense carefully as it contains historical information going back to God’s dealings with and promises to Abraham. This material is essential to a proper understanding of the gospel plan of salvation.

In my sermon series, presently underway, we’ll not be exploring all aspects of this mighty sermon, but will focus on the hardness of the Jewish leaders, and their radical and brutal response.

The aftermath of Stephen’s death will bring extreme changes in the evangelistic efforts of the church and should challenge each of us to reflect on our personal spiritual commitments.

Adapted, R Albert Mahler, “Acts 1-12 For You” (pp 89-94).