Acts 8:25-40 : Philip in Ministry

So, when they had solemnly testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they started back to Jerusalem, and were preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans.
26 But an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, “Get up and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza.” ([h]This is a desert road.) 27 So he got up and went; and there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure; and he had come to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and he was returning and sitting in his [i]chariot, and was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go up and join this [j]chariot.” 30 Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 And he said, “Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 Now the passage of Scripture which he was reading was this:
He was led as a sheep to slaughter;
And as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
So He does not open His mouth.
33 In humiliation His judgment was taken away;
Who will [k]relate His [l]generation?
For His life is removed from the earth.”
34 The eunuch answered Philip and said, “Please tell me, of whom does the prophet say this? Of himself or of someone else?” 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him. 36 As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch *said, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” 37 [[m]And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”] 38 And he ordered the [n]chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch no longer saw him, [o]but went on his way rejoicing. 40 But Philip [p]found himself at [q]Azotus, and as he passed through he kept preaching the gospel to all the cities until he came to Caesarea.

***

This is an incredible story of a man who, led by an angel, found a man ready to receive Christ. Yet what intrigues me is that though this story is found in the New Testament, no New Testament Scriptures were used (of course, because they were being written as this event took place). Yet I wonder, have we forgotten that the Bible is a book containing two Testaments and not just one? Philip heard the Ethiopian eunuch reading the text of Isaiah the prophet (it was customary for students of the Word to read the Scriptures out loud) and used that text to show Him Jesus. It begs the question, how can we use the Old Testament in our witnessing?

There are quite a few lessons that we can learn from this interaction with Philip and the eunuch for our own commissioning out to people in our world today:

First, we need to make sure that we are led by God. In this particular instance, Philip was being led by an angel. We don't hear this so often as the Acts of the Apostles is unfolding for us, yet let us not discount that the LORD can use many means to lead people - it just so happens that an angel was His choice this time around. The point here is we need to be ready to look for where the LORD is leading us, and respond.

Secondly, and I think most importantly, we need to go! Philip did have a choice as to whether he followed the angel's direction. It may seem like a simple statement but just longing for the LORD's leading is not enough - once we receive His guidance, we need to go. It is clear that there was a journey that was necessary for Philip, not unlike missionaries traveling overseas and leaving loved-ones behind. We need to not only be led by God but obey God as well.

Thirdly, we need to listen. There are two aspects to this point. One, note that Philip is listening very intently to the LORD, who is directing him. Luke writes, Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go up and join this chariot.” Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” (vss. 29, 30). But please note that just listening to the Spirit in our lives is not enough - we need to listen to whom He leads us to as well. The picture we have here is intentional listening on Philip's part - both to the Spirit as well as the eunuch. The story could have gone a lot different. Philip, in his excitement, could have yelled out to the eunuch, once he reached the chariot, and taught him about Christ in a way that he could understand (or in a way he thought he could understand), but instead, Philip listened to where the eunuch was and directed him on his level. I can't stress how important this is in our ministry! We cannot force concepts to our hearers if they are not ready. Often, we justify it by saying that it was what the LORD asked us to say to them. That might be true, but the hearer needs to be ready as well. So, somehow, someway, I believe that there needs to be an intermingling of what the LORD is saying to us as well as the person that we are discipling. 

Fourth, it's important for us to know the Scripture. I don't doubt that Philip knew the passage that the eunuch was reading very well. The book of Isaiah was used when Jesus came before the people in the synagogue (see Luke 4:14ff) so those who believed in His Name were presented with the connection of the Old Testament traditions and Jesus, who was standing right in front of them. This is what Philip did as well (and I would say what we need to do as well). The eunuch most likely had read this passage before, but had not had Jesus stand in front of them and say, Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing (Luke 4:21) - this was Philip's job - to reveal Jesus to this eunuch; and it is our job as well. As said already, too often we bring our thoughts and considerations when ministering the Word to people, but note how Philip was clearly communicating the Word on terms that the eunuch could understand. This is a great model of discipleship for us today!

Fifth, we need to look for a 'fruit of response'. The eunuch could have simply listened to what Philip was saying, but not believe what he said (not unlike the Jews of the day). Yet he was open to hear and responded that he wanted to actively communicate how much he understood with a public baptism. It's incredible to sit with people and receive such eagerness to follow the LORD. May we all continue to look for these people in our lives to share with them the living truth that they need!

And yet we have a final step that I don't think we like so much. Philip left. Why?! He had a budding new believer right in his midst! Why would the Spirit of the Lord snatch Philip away, as it says in Scripture? (vs. 39) This is a concept that I think we need to address much more in our lives. First, on the angle of gifting, it was clear that Philip was chosen for a specific task, at a specific time. He was not meant to continue to walk alongside the eunuch, but we do need to 'walk-along-siders' too. Just because the eunuch had now accepted Jesus as his Saviour and made a public profession, there was still much to be done in his life, but it wasn't for Philip to fulfill this need. The point here is we need to know our limitations and be ready to be obedient to what the LORD is calling us to, but also be very ready to step away and decrease as the LORD increases in peoples' lives (a model of John the Baptist, that we would all do well to apply in our own lives).  

The main point that I believe needs to be made here is that it is very clear that this interaction began by Philip being obedient to the LORD's leading - it continued in the same way - and ended in the same way. Philip was led by the Spirit, to reveal the Spirit, to give the Spirit to the eunuch and not, somehow, make it all about him. This is a great example of obedience for us today!
  

Acts 8:9-24 : In steps (another) Simon...

Now there was a man named Simon, who formerly was practicing magic in the city and astonishing the people of Samaria, claiming to be someone great; 10 and they all, from smallest to greatest, were giving attention to him, saying, “This man is what is called the Great Power of God.” 11 And they were giving him attention because he had for a long time astonished them with his magic arts. 12 But when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike. 13 Even Simon himself believed; and after being baptized, he continued on with Philip, and as he observed signs and great miracles taking place, he was constantly amazed.
14 Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, 15 who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. 16 For He had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had simply been baptized [e]in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they began laying their hands on them, and they were receiving the Holy Spirit. 18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give this authority to me as well, so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20 But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 You have no part or portion in this [f]matter, for your heart is not right before God. 22 Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the [g]bondage of iniquity.” 24 But Simon answered and said, “Pray to the Lord for me yourselves, so that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.”

***

In continuing to read through the Acts of the Apostles, all of a sudden, we start to see personal responses to the Word that is quickly spreading. As mentioned in the last post, this 'mini-revival' 'in Samaria was a turning-point for the Acts of the Apostles (as a book and as a group of men) and it was cultivated through persecution (namely Stephen's martyrdom). So in steps Simon.

Not to be confused with Simon-Peter (one of the Apostles) and Simon the Tanner (who we will meet later in the book of Acts; 10:6ff), this Simon is clearly a deceiver. We learn that he was claiming to be someone great and all the people were giving attention to him, saying, 'This man is what is called the Great Power of God' (vs. 9, 10). Something to consider, but when someone is given a name that includes an attribute of God and people know them by that name, we should use caution. It isn't so clear at the beginning of the text whether Simon has positive motives or not, but by the end of the chapter, his heart is revealed.

It's challenging to read a passage like this and learn of a man like Simon. He heard the words that Phillip was saying, he was baptised, followed Philip and observed the signs and miracles that Philip was doing and he was constantly amazed (vs. 13). But we begin to see his heart. Once Peter and John arrive in Samaria, they are there to lay hands on people so they can receive the Holy Spirit. Simon notices this and sees personal gain by owning this great property of real estate. He extends money to the Apostles, thinking that he could buy this gift and receives a rebuke from Peter.

There is clearly a disconnect in Simon's knowledge of the LORD. He believes he can buy his way into a relationship with God or worse, use His Spirit for personal gain. I hope we all know that this is simply impossible. No amount of money could ever, ever do this! Jesus' death and resurrection is priceless! And yet, Simon, in his charisma, desires to buy what cannot be bought. Furthermore, it is clear there is also a disconnect in his understanding of prayer. After receiving the rebuke, he asks the Apostles to pray for him, rather than he praying for himself (vs. 24). Again, clearly a misunderstanding of what the Apostles' were teaching. Simon clearly misunderstood some of the most important things that the Apostles and Phillip were explaining. And yet, he was baptised.

This text gives us cause for pause. We need to walk along-side people very closely. When there are questions that surface, we need to be willing to disciple them. This does not merit us walking away from people, but clearly teaching them where they are in the wrong and presenting them with the truth. Unfortunately, we don't hear anything further of Simon 'the great', but this is not uncommon in Scripture (see Mark 10:17-27; Matt. 19:16-26) which truly should cause us to remember that there are many that simply are not ready; the truth has been given but their hearts are cold. 

May we continue to seek out those whose hearts are open to the Gospel and can receive this great gift for His glory and honour. 

Acts 8:4-8 : In Steps Philip...

Therefore, those who had been scattered went about [b]preaching the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and began proclaiming [c]Christ to them. The crowds with one accord were giving attention to what was said by Philip, as they heard and saw the [d]signs which he was performing. For in the case of many who had unclean spirits, they were coming out of them shouting with a loud voice; and many who had been paralyzed and lame were healed. So there was much rejoicing in that city.


***

The characters are adding up in the Acts of the Apostles. Please note that it is not 'just' the Apostles' work any more - many will be doing 'the work of the apostles' as we continue to read this book, but it is not just their work; it was never supposed to be.

I find Philip to be an intriguing character. At this point, we know very little about him, other than he was chosen by the Apostles to serve the people (see Acts 6:5ff). He, along with 6 others, were characterised by the Apostles as a men with good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom [they] may put in charge (see Acts 6:3). Yet we see another characteristic emerge in Philip.

This text for today appears just after Saul begins to persecute the Church and Stephen's martyrdom. Due to this persecution, the people scatter to the regions of Judea and Samaria. But please note the similarities with Stephen and Philip. Both were chosen by the Apostles to do a specific work (helping widows and serving tables) and both sensed the LORD's drawing them into proclaiming the Word of God. Yet, as we can now see with this text for today, Philip chooses the same task as Stephen (perhaps to take up where he left off), but note the courage of this man. Stephen has just been killed for doing the very thing that Philip is now doing. Philip is exercising incredible faith as he goes down to the city of Samaria! 

Please be encouraged that the theme of the Christian faith is struggle but also a weight of glory; we will struggle, but there is hope on the horizon. Due to the martyrdom of Stephen and the persecution of the Church, the Church expands and grows in number. This is what we call a movement of the Spirit - it would have been exciting to be a part of it.

How can we, as followers of Jesus Christ, continue this same work of proclaiming the Word of God, in the face of struggle and even persecution? Something to think about.

Acts 8:1-3 : In Steps Saul...

Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death.
And on that day a great persecution [a]began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Some devout men buried Stephen, and made loud lamentation over him. But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.

***

Up to this point, we have been receiving report after report from Luke that the Church is growing and expanding; many were trusting Jesus as their own personal Saviour and LORD. But in steps Saul.

There is much to be told about Saul in Scripture* and yet it can all be summed up in the two descriptions of him that we find in this text - he was in hearty agreement with putting [Stephen] to death and he began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison. Saul was not a kind-hearted man when it came to his 'mission' to ravage the church. And he was very, very good at it. He had the determination that any manager would want on their team. He was doing his job and doing it well. 

The Acts of the Apostles as a book would most-likely be easier to read if we didn't have this section in Chapter 8. It's easier to read of a church built up of people coming to faith and meeting from house to house in community, giving what they had to others who were in need rather than learning of a man who ravaged it. But God clearly had a purpose, which we will read about soon (if you know anything about the life of Saul turned Paul). But it's important for us to read this text and take it in. There is despair in these words of violence. God's people are being dragged from their homes and put in prison, all because they believe in Jesus as their personal Saviour. These are horrible circumstances and we cannot gloss over them, especially with those of us who know the Scriptures well and can attest to what the LORD does in Saul's life - but before all the 'good news' began to shape, we are met with despair and, truly, a circumstance that none of us would want to be in. And yet I do need to point out what happens when people are persecuted: the Gospel spreads with them.

Every time we read of persecution in the Bible, the Gospel spreads. You could even make the case that persecution is necessary for the spread of the Gospel. Yet neither you nor I like that sentiment. Really, the essence of this text is that the First Christians of the Gospel Movement are now being brutally persecuted and they are spreading out from Jerusalem. This is exactly what Jesus said would happen: ...but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth (Acts 1:8). 

Why does it need to come from persecution? Why does it seem that the most rewarding things always have something challenging or painful beforehand? I don't have any answers for you, but I can tell you that the truth of the Gospel is that the LORD, in His mercy, allows these things for a greater purpose. Paul (post-Christ) put it this way: 

Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal (2 Cor. 4:16-18).

These people are seeing persecution. But in light of the eternal weight of glory, these things are temporary. May we seek to honour the LORD in our lives, even when their is persecution on the horizon - for the greater good of spreading the Gospel, for His namesake. 

* Taken from Wiersbe's New Testament Commentary:

- he was born in Tarsus in Cilicia (Acts 22:3)
- a “Hebrew of the Hebrews” (see 2 Cor. 11:22; Phil. 3:5)
- the “son of a Pharisee” (Acts 23:6)
- a Roman citizen (Acts 16:37; 22:25–28)
- educated in Jerusalem by Gamaliel (Acts 22:3) 
- a devoted Pharisee (Acts 26:4–5; Phil. 3:5)
- well on his way to becoming a great leader for the Jewish faith (Gal. 1:14)
- zeal for the law (Gal. 1:13–14; Phil. 3:6)
- when Christ spoke to Saul on the Damascus road, He compared him to a beast (Acts 9:5)
- persecuted both men and women “unto the death” (Acts 22:4)
- he had the believers imprisoned and beaten (Acts 22:19; 26:9–11)
- he described himself as “exceedingly mad against Christians” (Acts 26:11), a persecutor, and injurious” (1 Tim. 1:13)
- he described his actions as “ignorantly in unbelief” (1 Tim. 1:13)

Acts 6:8 - 7:60 : Stephen's Story

And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and [h]signs among the people. But some men from what was called the Synagogue of the Freedmen, including both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and [i]Asia, rose up and argued with Stephen. 10 But they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. 11 Then they secretly induced men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.” 12 And they stirred up the people, the elders and the scribes, and they came up to him and dragged him away and brought him [j]before the [k]Council. 13 They put forward false witnesses who said, “This man incessantly speaks against this holy place and the Law; 14 for we have heard him say that this Nazarene, Jesus, will destroy this place and alter the customs which Moses handed down to us.” 15 And fixing their gaze on him, all who were sitting in the [l]Council saw his face like the face of an angel. 

The high priest said, “Are these things so?”
And he said, “Hear me, brethren and fathers! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in [a]Haran, and said to him, ‘Leave your country and your relatives, and come into the land that I will show you.’ Then he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in [b]Haran. From there, after his father died, God had him move to this country in which you are now living. But He gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot of ground, and yet, even when he had no child, He promised that He would give it to him as a possession, and to his descendants after him. But God spoke to this effect, that his descendants would be aliens in a foreign land, and that they would [c]be enslaved and mistreated for four hundred years. And whatever nation to which they will be in bondage I Myself will judge,’ said God, ‘and after that they will come out and [d]serve Me in this place.’ And He gave him [e]the covenant of circumcision; and so Abraham became the father of Isaac, and circumcised him on the eighth day; and Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob of the twelve patriarchs.
“The patriarchs became jealous of Joseph and sold him into Egypt. Yet God was with him, 10 and rescued him from all his afflictions, and granted him favor and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and he made him governor over Egypt and all his household.
11 “Now a famine came over all Egypt and Canaan, and great affliction with it, and our fathers [f]could find no food. 12 But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent our fathers there the first time. 13 On the second visit Joseph [g]made himself known to his brothers, and Joseph’s family was disclosed to Pharaoh. 14 Then Joseph sent word and invited Jacob his father and all his relatives to come to him, seventy-five [h]persons in all. 15 And Jacob went down to Egypt and there he and our fathers died. 16 From there they were removed to [i]Shechem and laid in the tomb which Abraham had purchased for a sum of money from the sons of [j]Hamor in [k]Shechem.
17 “But as the time of the promise was approaching which God had assured to Abraham, the people increased and multiplied in Egypt, 18 until there arose another king over Egypt who knew nothing about Joseph. 19 It was he who took shrewd advantage of our race and mistreated our fathers so that they would [l]expose their infants and they would not survive. 20 It was at this time that Moses was born; and he was lovely [m]in the sight of God, and he was nurtured three months in his father’s home. 21 And after he had been set outside, Pharaoh’s daughter [n]took him away and nurtured him as her own son. 22 Moses was educated in all the learning of the Egyptians, and he was a man of power in words and deeds. 23 But when he was approaching the age of forty, it entered his [o]mind to visit his brethren, the sons of Israel. 24 And when he saw one of them being treated unjustly, he defended him and took vengeance for the oppressed by striking down the Egyptian. 25 And he supposed that his brethren understood that God was granting them [p]deliverance [q]through him, but they did not understand. 26 On the following day he appeared to them as they were fighting together, and he tried to reconcile them in peace, saying, ‘Men, you are brethren, why do you injure one another?’ 27 But the one who was injuring his neighbor pushed him away, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and judge over us? 28 You do not mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday, do you?’ 29 At this remark, Moses fled and became an alien in the land of [r]Midian, where he became the father of two sons.
30 “After forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in the flame of a burning thorn bush. 31 When Moses saw it, he marveled at the sight; and as he approached to look more closely, there came the voice of the Lord: 32 ‘I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.’ Moses shook with fear and would not venture to look. 33 But the Lord said to him,Take off the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground. 34 I have certainly seen the oppression of My people in Egypt and have heard their groans, and I have come down to rescue them; [s]come now, and I will send you to Egypt.’
35 “This Moses whom they disowned, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’ is the one whom God [t]sent to be both a ruler and a deliverer with the [u]help of the angel who appeared to him in the thorn bush. 36 This man led them out, performing wonders and [v]signs in the land of Egypt and in the Red Sea and in the wilderness for forty years. 37 This is the Moses who said to the sons of Israel, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet [w]like me from your brethren.’ 38 This is the one who was in the [x]congregation in the wilderness together with the angel who was speaking to him on Mount Sinai, and who was with our fathers; and he received living oracles to pass on to you. 39 Our fathers were unwilling to be obedient to him, but repudiated him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt, 40 saying to Aaron, ‘Make for us gods who will go before us; for this Moses who led us out of the land of Egyptwe do not know what happened to him.’ 41 [y]At that time they made a [z]calf and brought a sacrifice to the idol, and were rejoicing in the works of their hands. 42 But God turned away and delivered them up to [aa]serve the [ab]host of heaven; as it is written in the book of the prophets, ‘It was not to Me that you offered victims and sacrifices forty years in the wilderness, was it, O house of Israel? 43 You also took along the tabernacle of Moloch and the star of the god [ac]Rompha, the images which you made to worship. I also will remove you beyond Babylon.’
44 “Our fathers had the tabernacle of testimony in the wilderness, just as He who spoke to Moses directed him to make it according to the pattern which he had seen. 45 And having received it in their turn, our fathers brought it in with [ad]Joshua upon dispossessing the [ae]nations whom God drove out before our fathers, until the time of David. 46 David found favor in God’s sight, and asked that he might find a dwelling place for the [af]God of Jacob. 47 But it was Solomon who built a house for Him. 48 However, the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands; as the prophet says:
49 Heaven is My throne,
And earth is the footstool of My feet;
What kind of house will you build for Me?’ says the Lord,
Or what place is there for My repose?
50 Was it not My hand which made all these things?’
51 “You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did. 52 Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; 53 you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it.”
54 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him. 55 But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; 56 and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one impulse. 58 When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” 60 Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” Having said this, he [ag]fell asleep.


***

An incredible story. I had to include it in full on this blog for today simply because there was nothing that could be left out; we had to read the whole story in all its detail.

At the very outset, I have to mention something that might not have been picked up, but it most definitely is something that I am wrestling with. I need to point out that Stephen is not doing what the Apostles set out for him to do. I find this fascinating. 

Never in a million years am I suggesting that Stephen is being disobedient, and yet I do still feel the need to point this out for one specific reason: What one would think as the 'main ministry' of another, often can squelch the persons' potential. The text that we looked at previously had nothing at all to suggest that the Apostles were uncaring or unkind in their approval of Stephen who they believed was a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit (6:5). They clearly delegated Stephen to a very specific task, but he, clearly, was filled with the Spirit, to do another. 

Please note that the very thing that the Apostles didn't want to neglect was the very thing that Stephen clearly had a gift in - teaching and preaching the Word. If we would ever want a good, solid lesson on the link between the Old & New Testaments, we would have to look no further than this text today. So what do we do with this text?

I could very easily go down the dangerous road of 'what ifs' and say that because of Stephen's disobedience, he was the first martyr - if only he did was he was 'commissioned' to do, he would have not been put in this situation and the Church would not have, in its history, the first martyr by the name of Stephen (because of his disobedience). But I cannot agree with my line of thinking, simply because it is very clear to me that the Spirit was very much a part of what Stephen was doing; he was leaning very heavily on His leading (see vs. 8). So what do we do with this text? Is God the kind of God who leads people to disobey a clear calling set out by the Apostles? Stephen, in his new position, clearly had other responsibilities that the Apostles didn't even know about. Can we say that they made a mistake in praying for him and laying their hands on him?

It remains to be seen at this point exactly the outcome of Stephen's martyr, but I know enough of Scripture to know that the LORD often uses circumstances that we would see as pointless to shine His glory into the situation. This concept is all through Scripture - God restoring, rebuilding, reviving through uncommon means. 

Here we have the first martyr recorded in Scripture effectively through the ministry of the Apostles. Let us continue to trust in the LORD as we read through the Acts of the Apostles. Though the death of Stephen may look to our eyes as senseless, it is clear that the LORD is at work.

Acts 6:1-7 : Don't Overlook the Widows

Now [a]at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the [b]Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food. So the twelve summoned the [c]congregation of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the [d]ministry of the word.” The statement found approval with the whole [e]congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and [f]Nicolas, a [g]proselyte from Antioch. And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them. The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.

***

There's going to be conflict. I can guarantee it. The question is, what do we do with it? What I read very clearly in this text for us today is that there was conflict, yet people clearly knew what the conflict was because they chose to talk about it and desired to solve it together.

It was a simple complaint, really - not too complicated. It was a valid complaint too. The widows were being overlooked. This is a very touching part of this early Church. They cared for widows and they didn't want them to be overlooked. What they saw was that the widows were not being given their share of food. To put it bluntly, they were starving because people were forgetting about them. And so the Apostles stepped in. But how did they solve it? Their statements fly in the face of our 'cultured churches' today.

So many leaders and members alike see a problem and attempt to solve it themselves. The essence of this problem is that we simply cannot do everything. It's impossible. Far too many leaders in ministry are getting burnt out because they either don't know how to delegate (and leave the responsibility effectively) to others or don't know how to communicate clearly what their responsibilities are to others (and what they are not). A wise man knows both what he can and can't do and who are present that can fulfill what he cannot accomplish on his own. 

In this passage of Scripture, it is very clear to me that these apostles were not explaining that this complaint meant nothing by 'passing it off' but their reasoning to delegate we should all take notice of and exemplify. They clearly said that they did not have the time to devote to this need (again, not communicating it wasn't an important need) because they did not want to neglect the Word of God in order to serve tables (vs. 2). And so they passed off the responsibility to others. And the Church grew (see vs. 7).

The Apostles clearly had their hand in what qualifications should be present in these 'servants' and clearly communicated this - they said, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task (vs. 3). Yet note that this was in 'command form' - [you] select from among you - as if to say, we want you to take charge of this decision. No where do I see in these qualifications a 'passing off' as if this concern was not valid or unimportant. These are high qualifications. Clearly the Apostles saw this as important and needed men of good report to fulfill this task. And so they were appointed and the church grew.

There are a lot of good lessons here. We see in this text a very wise response from the Apostles. Note they didn't try to over-extend themselves but saw the value of this concern and met both their own needs as well as the peoples'. And as a result, the widows were not overlooked. Everyone remained happy and content because of this wisdom. A great example for us today as how we solve our emminent conflict.

Acts 5:17-42 : Acts of a Houdini

But the high priest rose up, along with all his associates (that is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with jealousy. 18 They laid hands on the apostles and put them in a public jail. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the gates of the prison, and taking them out he said, 20 “Go, stand and [i]speak to the people in the temple [j]the whole message of this Life.” 21 Upon hearing this, they entered into the temple about daybreak and began to teach.
Now when the high priest and his associates came, they called the [k]Council together, even all the Senate of the sons of Israel, and sent orders to the prison house for them to be brought. 22 But the officers who came did not find them in the prison; and they returned and reported back, 23 saying, “We found the prison house locked quite securely and the guards standing at the doors; but when we had opened up, we found no one inside.” 24 Now when the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them as to what [l]would come of this. 25 But someone came and reported to them, “The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!” 26 Then the captain went along with the officers and proceeded to bring them back without violence (for they were afraid of the people, that they might be stoned).
27 When they had brought them, they stood them [m]before the Council. The high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and [n]yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, [o]whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a [p]cross. 31 He is the one whom God exalted [q]to His right hand as a [r]Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses [s]of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.”

33 But when they heard this, they were cut [t]to the quick and intended to kill them. 34 But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the Law, respected by all the people, stood up in the Council and gave orders to put the men outside for a short time. 35 And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you propose to do with these men. 36 For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about four hundred men joined up with him. [u]But he was killed, and all who [v]followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. 37 After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census and drew away some people after him; he too perished, and all those who [w]followed him were scattered. 38 So in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or [x]action is of men, it will be overthrown; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.”
40 They [y]took his advice; and after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them not to [z]speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them. 41 So they went on their way from the presence of the [aa]Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. 42 And every day, in the temple and [ab]from house to house, they [ac]kept right on teaching and [ad]preaching Jesus as the [ae]Christ.

***

I sincerely hope you see by now that the Acts of the Apostles are a great example to us of a 'walk of faith'. We have seen this phrase countless times already - these apostles being 'witnesses of His resurrection' (see vs. 32) - and it is through this witness that they have the boldness of faith that they live in. Because they have been eye-witnesses of Jesus' resurrection and now have been confirmed by the Holy Spirit, they go in obedience, proclaiming this truth without worrying even of their own welfare.

They explain to the rulers that they must obey God rather than men (see vs. 29) and through this obedience, they are thrown into prison. Yet, as we will find out in a few verses, it is impossible to hold down the Truth of Jesus Christ. As I described in the blog-post title, these apostles become Houdini's - escaping with nothing to show for how they did it. Yet I assure you that this is no trick. We clearly read that the apostles were able to escape with the help of an angel and were found at daybreak preaching in the temple. An amazing escape. An amazing God.

The leaders gather together thinking all is well, and find out very quickly that the rug has been whipped out from under them. And in steps Gamaliel. He describes a concept that I believe we would all do well to sit up and take notice of. It is clear to me that this man is full of wisdom. It is not clear whether he actually is a believer in the risen Christ, but his words certainly help us to understand a very real truth about the Gospel: If it truly is the Gospel that is spreading, you cannot stop it. God's saving message is too powerful, too good, too glorious, too irresistible for any power, any throne, any authority to thwart it. Even the power of darkness is no match for it (see Matt. 16:18). And yet, there is still suffering.

Please note that even though the apostles have been set free from the bondage of a prison and now from the rulers of their day, they are not free from suffering. It is my belief that the climax of this story is in verses 41and following:

So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.

I cannot begin to tell you the implications of this as I believe that I am at the very beginning of this lesson in my own life. Yet I can tell you that these words are real. These words, breathed from the Holy Spirit into our souls, bring life. Suffering for His Name is a privilege. I cannot explain it nor would I even desire it, but the truth is, two themes in the Acts of the Apostles are very clearly presented to us: they were witnesses of Jesus resurrection and were target of suffering. We hold these two in separate hands and wonder how they fit together in the grand scheme of our lives that the LORD is painting for us. Yet all the answers will not be revealed until we are met face to face with our Saviour.

And yet, I am one that believes that in His presence, our answers will no longer be required. And that is what I long for. These Apostles clearly believed and lived out their belief in a daring way, even at their own physical expense. They rejoiced and considered themselves worthy to suffer shame for His name.

Incredible. Are we willing to do the same?