2016 01-10 ‘The Face of an Angel’ Acts 6 8-15

“The Face of an Angel”
Acts 6:8-15

I. Introduction
“Martyrdom!” The very word reminds us of those whose faith in Christ was unshakeable and whose courage reminds us of what it can mean to be a believer in this world.

With the exception of John, all of the apostles were martyred before the end of the first cen-tury. Most scholars believe John escaped martyrdom and died of old age in Ephesus around 100 A.D. John’s brother, James, was beheaded in 44 A.D. Sixteen years later Matthew was beheaded in Ethiopia. Jesus’ half-brother James was thrown down from the temple’s tower. Peter was crucified upside down in Rome. Jude and Peter’s brother Andrew were crucified in Edessa. Simon and Nathanael were also crucified – one in India, the other in Samaria. Matthias was stoned and beheaded in Jerusalem. Thomas was run through with spears in India. And Philip was beaten to death in Phrygia.

There is also historical evidence that Luke was hung in Athens in 93 A.D. and Timothy was beaten to death in Ephesus in 97 A.D. And with the dawn of the second century, it only got worse. Polycarp, a disciple of the Apostle John and pastor of the church at Smyrna, was arrested for preaching Christ and burned alive when he refused to betray his Lord in 120 A.D. When given a final chance to deny Christ, he replied, “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He has done me no wrong. How can I speak evil of my King who saved me?” When he had finished his prayer, his executioners lighted the fire.

Justin, beheaded for the faith in A.D. 165, said, “The more we are persecuted, the more do others in ever increasing numbers embrace the faith and become worshippers of God through the name of Jesus.” Of course, he was right. For the next twelve hundred years countless Christians laid down their lives for their faith in Christ. Then came the beginnings of the Protestant Reformation.

Jan Hus was a Czech priest and one of the earliest of the Protestant reformers. He spoke out against the Roman Catholic practice of the selling of indulgences. According to “The Doc-trine and Practice of Indulgences,” an apostolic constitution issued by Pope Paul VI on Janu-ary 1, 1967, “…an indulgence is the remission before God of the temporal punishment due for sins already forgiven…” An indulgence can be applied to either the living or the dead. Further, an indulgence can be partial or plenary, depending on whether it does away with part or all of the temporal punishment that is due. Such indulgences are controlled by the Catholic Church and often cost a great deal of money.

Hus railed against the sale of indulgences a hundred years before Martin Luther, but where Luther survived, Hus didn’t. He paid the ultimate price for his protest. In 1415 he was con-demned as a heretic, chained to a pole, and burned alive in the city of Prague.
As he was dying he cried out, “God is my witness that the things charged against me I never preached. I am ready to die today… Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy upon us.” Hus died, not cursing his murderers, but singing praises to God as his body was consumed in the flames.

Just as there were countless martyrs before Jan Hus, so too there have been countless mar-tyrs since. Tertullian, one of the early church fathers said, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.” What causes someone to refuse to deny Christ? In nearly every known case of martyrdom, all the victim had to do was deny, reject, or blaspheme the name of Jesus. That’s simple enough, isn’t it? But for the last two thousand years vast numbers of believers have preferred death in Christ to denial of Christ. Why? I would suggest to you it’s because they knew and were convinced that Jesus is who He says He is; His gospel is true, and His promise of eternal life in His presence is absolute.

This morning we will begin looking at Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Luke’s account of Stephen’s death in Acts 7 will provide us with insight into the man and his faith. And we’ll come to see the effect his martyrdom will have on the church and the spread of the gospel. Stephen’s stoning will introduce a major turning point in the history of the young church. And one more thing – we’ll also get a glimpse of the special grace God gives to dying saints in their final moments.

II. Review
In Acts 6:1 dissension arose within the church because a certain group of Greek Christians thought that the needs of their widows were being ignored. The twelve apostles recognized the problem and, knowing that they did not have the time to deal directly with it, ordained seven men to organize and provide the necessary services. A potentially divisive situation was resolved and the church continued to grow and prosper. Acts 6:7 says, “And the word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem…”

One of the seven men chosen for the task was Stephen, “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit (Acts 6:5).” We’ll meet him this morning.

III. Text
But before we do I want to remind us of something Jesus said when He was teaching his dis-ciples about the last days.
*Luke 21:12-15
12 “But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and will perse-cute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name’s sake.
13 It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony.
14 “So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves;
15 for I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute.

I can’t help but wonder if these words of Jesus weren’t ringing in Stephen’s ears when he was brought before the Council. But just before we go to this morning’s text, I want us to understand that what will happen here marks the first major transition in the Book of Acts.

Stephen, his defense of the faith, his accusation against the Jewish leaders, and his death are a bridge that will take the gospel from Jerusalem out into the world beyond. Until Stephen’s martyrdom Peter, supported by the other eleven apostles, has been the primary figure. But after Stephen’s martyrdom, Saul of Tarsus (Paul) would begin to emerge as the single most important person in Acts. In fact, by Acts 13, the focus will be almost exclusively on Paul.

This makes Stephen a key figure in the early history of the church. While he was important historically, he may have more importance as an example to every Christian since. His life, though brief, should be all the proof we need that one Spirit-filled, courageous, and commit-ted Christian can have a massive effect on the world around him.
*Acts 6:8-15 (Please stand with me in honor of reading God’s Word.)
8 And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people.
9 But some men from what was called the Synagogue of the Freedmen, including both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and argued with Stephen.
10 And yet 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 blasphe-mous words against Moses and against God.”
12 And they stirred up the people, the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and dragged him away, and brought him before the Council.
13 And 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 Council saw his face like the face of an angel.

As we work our way through Acts 7 please keep this in mind. Stephen was a great man. He wasn’t great by the standards of the lost world. The lost world measures greatness by things like power, popularity, fame, money, and material wealth. But the lost world is totally blind to true greatness. Didn’t it kill Jesus? And didn’t it murder John the Baptist, and crucify Peter, and behead Paul, and stone Stephen? But I’m getting ahead of myself.
*Acts 6:8
8 And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people.

Back in v. 5 we were told that Stephen was full of faith and the Holy Spirit. To those are now added grace and power. This young man was “filled up” with those things. Therefore, he was controlled and driven by them.

First, consider Stephen’s faith. What did he believe? In his sermon before the Sanhedrin we’ll see that he knew God was sovereign over history. He knew that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, the Christ. He knew that Jesus had been resurrected, and was alive in heaven at His Father’s right hand. And he knew that he was safe in Jesus’ care – so safe that he could face death calmly and without fear. Stephen was filled up with faith.

Oh, to have such faith! How blessed we would be! But so many of us are like the father of the demon-possessed boy whom Jesus healed in Mark’s gospel. Do you remember the inci-dent? The father said he believed but admitted his faith was weak. He said to Jesus…
Mark 9:22b-23
22b “…if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!”
23 And Jesus said to him, “‘If You can!’ All things are possible to him who believes.”
24 Immediately the boy’s father cried out and began saying, “I do believe; help my unbelief.”

We trust God to take care of us in eternity. Why do we not trust Him to take care of us in the here and now? I struggle with that. Do you struggle with that too? Are we like that man who said, “I do believe; help my unbelief.”? Stephen didn’t have that problem.

Second, consider the fact that Stephen was full of the Holy Spirit. One of the most insidious lies taught today is that only a very few Christians are full of the Spirit of God. Many in the modern Pentecostal movement teach that the fullness of the Holy Spirit can only be obtained by the diligent seeking of a so-called “second work of grace.” They say that speaking in tongues is the “proof” that someone has received the Spirit. But that is deception. Every true Christian has received the Holy Spirit.
Romans 8:9b-10
9b But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.
10 And if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness.

The question is not, “How much of the Holy Spirit do you have?” The question is, “How much have you submitted yourself to Him?” The answer to that question can be found in the answer to these: Are you being led by God? Are you seeking His will? And are you – as best as you are able – obeying Him? Stephen’s answer to all three was a resounding, “Yes!”
Third, Stephen, full of faith, was given a full measure of grace. His trust in God was so com-plete that the grace of God poured out of him. He could face anything with total confidence that God would accomplish His purpose, not only in Stephen’s life and ministry, but also in his death. This is the peace of God that is often called “Philippians peace.”
Philippians 4:7
7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

This is supernatural peace. It is a peace this world cannot give because it doesn’t have it to give. The world knows nothing of such peace because it only comes from the Lord Himself.
John 14:27
27 “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.”

Thus Stephen could place himself in God’s hands, and he could pray for those who would kill him, even as they were committing the act. As he was being crushed to death under the weight of the stones, he cried out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit (Acts 7:59)!” and “Lord, do not hold this sin against them (Acts 7:60)!” Stephen was filled with the grace of God and the peace that comes with it.

Fourth, Stephen was full of power. Jesus spoke of that power in His final words to His dis-ciples before His ascension.
*Acts 1:8
8 “…you shall 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.”

In Acts 6:8 we see Stephen – commissioned by the apostles, though not an apostle himself – “was performing great wonders and signs among the people.” It is apparent that Stephen was specially gifted by God with miracle working power. Outside of the apostles, the only other men so gifted were Philip and Barnabas.

So what do we know about Stephen? We know a lot! Acts 6:3 tells us that he was a man “of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom.” Acts 6:5 tells us that he was “full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.” And Acts 6:8 tells us that he was “full of grace and power.”
And so he “was performing great wonders and signs…” Stephen was doing great things.

Think about this for a moment. The fact that a righteous man will do righteous deeds is a fundamental principle of biblical Christianity. James 2:14-26 clearly teaches that doing good deeds can save no one, but everyone who is truly saved just naturally does good deeds. Good deeds can’t put the lost on the road to salvation, but good deeds confirm that the saved are on that road. That’s because good deeds just naturally flow out of faith, the filling of the Holy Spirit, and God’s grace.
Therein lies the key to real spiritual power. We may not heal the sick or raise the dead, but don’t think for a moment that the power of God isn’t released through His children when we humble ourselves, lay aside our pride, trust Him, and obey His Word. How can you experi-ence such power in your life? It’s really a two-step process. Paul tells us about it in his letter to the church at Colossae. The first step is to deal with the things we need to put off.
*Colossians 3:5-17
5 …consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amount to idolatry.
6 For it is on account of these things that the wrath of God will come,
7 and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them.
8 But now you also, put them all aside – anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abu-sive speech from your mouth.
9 Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil prac-tices…

The second step is to consider the things we are to put on. Continuing with v. 10…
10 and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him
11 – a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circum-cised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian (a warlike tribe from central Asia), slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.
12 And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience;
13 bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.
14 And beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.
15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.
16 Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
17 And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.

In all of this we see the character of a godly man – a man like Stephen. But there’s even more. If we would be like Stephen, we’ll have to hear a little more from Paul.
*Ephesians 4:1-3
1 I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called,
2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love,
3 being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

These are the things that exemplify a true Christian. They are the things that you and I are called to do and to be. Such is the result when we are full of faith, the Holy Spirit, and the grace of God. Listen, the power of God is displayed in our lives when we obey Him. It is humility and obedience that make a great Christian such as Stephen. The results are eternal.

What does this temporal world think of great Christians? You already know, don’t you?
*Acts 6:9-14
9 But some men from what was called the Synagogue of the Freedmen, including both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and argued with Stephen.
10 And yet 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 blasphe-mous words against Moses and against God.”
12 And they stirred up the people, the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and dragged him away, and brought him before the Council.
13 And 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.”

Synagogues are Jewish places of worship. According to the Talmud (the book of civil and cere-monial law) there were four hundred eighty synagogues in Jerusalem in the first century. It was men from three of those who took issue with Stephen. The Freedmen were descended from Jews who had been set free from slavery in Rome. The Cyrenians and Alexandrians were from North Africa. Cilicia and Asia were in what is modern day Turkey.

What has Stephen been saying that has the Jewish religious leaders so incensed? Luke does not report the exact words, but we know that Stephen has spoken of Jesus as the Messiah. In doing so he has said that only faith in Jesus can save. That meant that nothing the Jews held dear could save them. Therefore the Law of Moses, the rites, rituals, and traditions of temple worship, and all of their customs were of no eternal value.

Stephen was saying that everything they trusted for their salvation – all of their religious work – was essentially worthless. But Stephen wasn’t making emotional arguments. Rather, he was reasoning with them from the Scriptures, the writings which they claimed to believe were from the hand of God. Look again at Acts 6:10. “…they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. These brilliant and learned men, these keepers of their ancient religion, these leaders of Israel were flummoxed by the superior logic and divine truth put forth by Stephen.
Not only did they not want to hear what he said, but their pride in their debating skills and their own human wisdom was taking a beating. The reality is that they weren’t arguing with Stephen. They were going up against the Holy Spirit. It wasn’t a fair fight.

So in vv. 11-14 the religious leaders decide to do the same thing they did with Jesus.
Matthew 26:59-61
59 Now the chief priests and the whole Council kept trying to obtain false testi-mony against Jesus, in order that they might put Him to death.
60 and they did not find any, even though many false witnesses came forward. But later on two came forward,
61 and said, “This man stated, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to rebuild it in three days.’”

Here in Acts 6 the very same Council would do the very same thing. Why not – it worked before, didn’t it? They would make baseless charges and back them up with false witnesses. In v. 11 Stephen was accused of speaking blasphemy against Moses and God. In v. 13 he was accused of speaking against the temple and the Law. And in v. 14 he was accused of saying that Jesus would destroy the temple and change the old customs. Infuriated by these charges v. 12 says that “…they came upon (Stephen) and dragged him away, and brought him before the Council.”

There is something fascinating about the charges against both Jesus and Stephen. The things that were said were not, in and of themselves, untrue. But the false witnesses made them untrue by twisting what was said. F. F. Bruce, in his commentary on Acts, says this…
“They are called ‘false witnesses’ as those who brought similar testimony against Jesus are called. But in both cases the falseness of their testimony consisted not in wholesale fabrication but in subtle and deadly misinterpretation of words actually spoken.”

We will begin to hear Stephen’s own defense next time, but it won’t be anything like what you and I normally think of as a typical defense in a court of law. Stephen will actually go on offense. If you think the Council has been offended by what he has already said, just wait until they hear what else he has to say. But first there is one more verse for us to consider.
*Acts 6:15
15 And fixing their gaze on him, all who were sitting in the Council saw his face
like the face of an angel.

What an amazing statement! All of a sudden this man, accused of blaspheming God, Moses, and the Law, begins to radiate the glory of God. God put His glory on the face of a man only one other time. It happened to Moses when God gave him the Law on Mount Sinai. We read of it in Exodus. Let me read once more just two of the verses Brock read at the beginning of this morning’s service
Exodus 34:29-30
29 And it came about when Moses was coming down from Mount Sinai (and the two tablets of the testimony were in Moses’ hand as he was coming down from the moun-tain), that Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because of his speaking with Him.
30 So when Aaron and all the sons of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. (back to Acts 6:15)

Wouldn’t you think that one of these learned and religious leaders would recognize what he was seeing on Stephen’s face? Wouldn’t you think that at least one of them would make the connection? God was putting His “stamp of approval” on Stephen’s face. In v. 15 we are told that his accusers saw it, but they were blind to the truth. Such is spiritual blindness!

Do you sometimes wonder why the truths of the gospel and the Scriptures cannot be seen by intelligent men and women? The answer is found in spiritual blindness. Unless and until God opens their spiritual eyes, they will never see it.

IV. Conclusion
What have seen in Stephen today? We’ve seen Christian character, conviction, and courage. As we work through Acts 7 and the first few verses of Acts 8, we’ll see what God can do with one believer who is filled with faith, the Holy Spirit, and the grace of God. We’ll see the power of one believer who humbles himself before God and obeys Him at all costs. The Apostle Paul will tell us how to do that, and then we’ll close in prayer.
*Ephesians 6:10-17
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might.
11 Put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.
12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.
13 Therefore, take up the full armor of God, (so) that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.
14 Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth and having put on the breastplate of righteousness.
15 and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace;
16 in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming missiles of the evil one.
17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Then Paul goes on to tell us that we need to be in prayer for each other and for ourselves.
~ Pray ~