Saturday, November 05, 2011



After Stephen had been falsely accused, he uses the opportunity to speak one of the longest messages recorded in the Bible. He rehearses the history of God working with the people of Israel through their leaders over the centuries. When he gets to Moses, he says: 20"It was at this time that Moses was born; and he was lovely 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 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 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 deliverance 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 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; 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 sent to be both a ruler and a deliverer with the help of the angel who appeared to him in the thorn bush.

36"This man led them out, performing wonders and 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 LIKE ME FROM YOUR BRETHREN.' 38"This is the one who was in the 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, 40SAYING TO AARON, 'MAKE FOR US GODS WHO WILL GO BEFORE US; FOR THIS MOSES WHO LED US OUT OF THE LAND OF EGYPT-WE DO NOT KNOW WHAT HAPPENED TO HIM.' 41"At that time they made a calf and brought a sacrifice to the idol, and were rejoicing in the works of their hands.

The shocking scene of the children of Israel urging Aaron to make a "god" for them, because of their impatience in waiting for Moses to come down from his meeting with God, cannot compare with the next statement Stephen shares with his hostile audience. 42"But God turned away and delivered them up to serve the 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 ROMPHA, THE IMAGES WHICH YOU MADE TO WORSHIP. I ALSO WILL REMOVE YOU BEYOND BABYLON.'

NOTE what is said here: The children of Israel brought along other gods to worship on the side throughout their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. They were not single-minded in worshipping Yahweh, but included many ADD-ONS on their journey. This is precisely what we do today. We become impatient with what God is doing or not doing, then ask for some sort of god more tangible. And, in order to feel most comfortable that we've covered all our bases, we collect so many add-ons to our faith and we infuse these add-ons with great importance. ADD-ONS are normally externals or tangibles. An add-on might be a certain form of baptism, church membership, denominational affiliation, keeping a certain list of righteous acts or avoiding certain things as the most sinful. But ADD-ONS take away from the centrality of the message-the centrality of God. This is why we are so stubborn in our beliefs of JESUS PLUS NOTHING! Stephen goes on to say,

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 Joshua upon dispossessing the 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 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?'

God doesn't live in our church facilities or in our altars. He is more awesome than that, can't be localized or limited in that way. Then he turns the corner and goes directly at them with: 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; 53you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it."

Well, they didn't like it and, as we'll see, they will actually kill Stephen over his attitude and message. This shouldn't be surprising. Jesus warned His disciples that they would be hated by the world, because of their relationship with Him. But, who is this "world" that will hate us? I've always been liked by the world. The only trouble I've experienced has been with the religious world. After reading John 15:18-27 where Jesus speaks of this, it is clear that the "world" He is referring to is the religious world. Jesus never made the non-synagogued world unhappy, but all His trouble came from the people of the synagogue (the church).

There's nothing more lethal and ugly than a group of religious people with a passionate anger and a Bible verse.



Here in chapter 6 a problem occurs and the early fellowship responds to it: 1Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food. 2So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, "It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. 3"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. 4"But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word." 5The statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch. 6And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them.

A practical problem arises within the fellowship and immediately a practical solution is put in motion. NOTE that the congregation of disciples were gathered together to figure out a solution. They didn't call a meeting of all of the church members, but a meeting of the disciples. There were no church members, only disciples. The solution was to place 7 men into a service-kind of ministry. Some call them deacons or ministers. You see, this service ministry was needed not only to solve the problem at hand, but it freed the disciple leadership to do two things. 1. To devote themselves to prayer. 2. To devote themselves to the ministry of the word.

This is a picture of pure fellowship and ministry in action. The top leader-disciples devoted themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word while the service ministry disciples handled more of the administrative responsibilities. These seem to be the two basic functions of leadership within the fellowship. And when the fellowship is simply functioning in this way, the growth will be inevitable both in quantity and quality. 7The 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.

Now here is what blows my mind as far as how these service ministry disciples functioned. They were not just administrators; they were the disciples who worked in the trenches from house to house. NOTE verse 8: 8And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people.

Did you get that? Stephen was full of grace and power and performed great wonders and signs among the people. This level of leadership spent their lives right in the middle of ministering to the needs of the fellowship. We'll see more of this later in Acts.

So, here's what we have here in the early fellowship: 1. Leaders who devoted themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word of God. We might call them elders. 2. Leaders who did the work of the ministry in the trenches of life. We might call them deacons and deaconesses.

So, where are the committees? Where is the board of trustees? Where is the senior pastor? Where is the Sunday School? Where is the youth ministry pastor or the music pastor? Where's the missions pastor, the small groups pastor or the program pastor? Are these really necessary within the fellowship of believers or are they necessary "evils"?

It seems the more pastors and leadership heads you have, the greater the distance is between leadership and the people. In fact, if you are becoming so large and so organized, you may run the risk of being too cumbersome or find yourself putting all your energies into making your "service" most attractive for the many spectators you will inevitably be producing. Maybe the early fellowship was on to something after all. Maybe this simplicity of leadership is at the core of why the early fellowship grew so fast and did so in multiples.

Two major questions come up for me here: FIRST-Do you know any pastors who are able to devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word? Or, are your pastors too busy in meetings, making decisions that really don't matter in the eternal scheme of things?

SECOND-Do you know any deacons who are going house to house performing miracles among the people? Or, do your deacons spend most of their time in meetings, making decisions that really don't matter in the eternal scheme of things?

So, wouldn't it be better for us to get back to the simple ways of the early fellowship around Jesus-where the Jesus-fellowship itself is the attraction and not the entertaining show. Where we function in a dynamic, lively organism rather than a dull, dead organization that must be continually pumped up. Where we are into the vibrant movement of the Acts of Jesus rather than building more monuments? Jesus said, "I will build My church." I think what Jesus is looking for is for us to give up building the church and spend our time and energy BEING THE CHURCH.