Category Archives: Bible Study


Acts 7:8-16

We all make plans: plans to do something, plans to not do something or plans to do nothing at all. As Winnie the Pooh is quoted in Disney’s movie Christopher Robin, “People say Nothing is Impossible, but I do Nothing all the time!”

“People say Nothing is Impossible, but I do Nothing all the time!”

From his earliest days Joseph knew that he was part of a plan that was larger than himself (Genesis 37:1-11; 41:16, NLT). I believe that his knowledge of God’s plan…however vague it may have been to him…was the force that sustained him through his troubles in life.


Favored by Jacob, his father, Joseph was given visions of God’s plans for him early in his young adult years. It was these visions that led him to be treated harshly by his brothers who wanted to kill him. Instead, they sold him to slave traders who, then, sold him to Potipher in Egypt (Genesis 37:12-36).

Falsely accused by Potipher’s wife (Genesis 39), Joseph was imprisoned for more than two years (Genesis 41:1) before the figurative visions of his youth began to materialize for real in his adult life (Genesis 41).


The practice of worshiping things ‘made with hands’ (Acts 7:41, 48) rather than respecting God’s purposes to be ‘a light to the nations’ (Isaiah 42:5-7) had led the religious rulers to place too great an emphasis upon Herod’s temple. So much, in fact, that they didn’t even recognize God when He came to visit them (Acts 7:51-53; Luke 19:43-44; John 1:10-11).

Our God is not limited by time and space for He created them. He is not limited by the boxes we make to understand Him and His Sovereign will. He will not be tethered to a building!

How could the religious rulers miss this truth? Hence the purpose of Stephen’s illustration about God’s activity outside of the Holy City and the Holy Temple that would be razed to the ground in only a few more decades. Abraham, Jacob, Joseph and Moses all dealt with a God who came to them long before they could come to Him!


God has always been and presently is and will ever continue to be working out His plans for His universe, down to the smallest detail. He is not limited by our plans. In fact, in the lives of the great men Stephen lists in his argument, God’s deliverance came out of the midst of their suffering. This leads to the following observations.


  • Suffering is not an accurate gauge for measuring God’s will.
  • Suffering is a tool God uses to accomplish His will.
  • God uses righteous, faithful people to accomplish His will.
  • God uses sinful, rebellious people to accomplish His will.
  • God children live like His children, no matter what.
  • God’s children will fail to live like His children.

May God give us the vision of Joseph that we may trust in God’s leading through all of the challenges, setbacks and opportunities that come our way. May His will be done in our lives so He can use us as willing participants in His glory, not in spite of the hardness of our own hearts.

If there is one place where Winnie’s motto makes no sense it is in the realm of our God, Whose plans are perpetually unfolding according to His will, no matter what.


Acts 7:17-44

Among the Jewish people, Moses is a very important historical character. After all, God gave them The Law through Moses and he constructed the Tabernacle according to God’s exacting directions. This tabernacle would eventually evolve into Solomon’s Temple and, finally, become Herod’s Temple.

If patience is a virtue then it should not be surprising that it is a quality of our God. The prophet Nehemiah recognized God’s patience with the people of Israel and that is probably the best place to start (see Nehemiah 9:30). So, Stephen moves on from Abraham, the man of faith through Joseph who saved his family and planted his father, Jacob, in Egypt to build a nation.

Four hundred years later, as God had told Abraham (Genesis 15:12-16), during a time of enslavement and suffering, God would deliver His people and punish their oppressors.

That time came with Moses and Stephen acknowledges this great prophet of God who became a central leader of the Jewish nation that has lasted to this present day.



It means something very different when our Creator, God, says “Trust me!” Or, at least, it should.

When the salesman says, with a wink and a nod, “Trust me!” it means one thing. Many times we conclude that this person cannot be trusted. We need more evidence from an ‘independent source.’


As Stephen begins his reply to the accusations leveled against him he begins with common ground: Abraham. God had appeared to Abram, telling him to leave everything that was familiar to him and go to a place where he had never been. So, at 75 years of age, Abram left his relatives and traveled to Canaan (Genesis 12:4-5).

Childless at 75 years old God tells Abram that he will give the land to his descendants (Gen. 12:7). In fact, his descendants, God tells him, will be as numerous as the stars in the sky. So, “Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith” (Genesis 15:5-6). Stephen recounts that God’s promise of making a great nation from Abram’s descendants would take more than 400 years.


The history of mankind before Abram illustrates man’s desire to create his own destiny by his own rules. In the first round God determines that the only way to correct mankind’s course is to destroy it and start over with Noah and his family (Genesis 6:1-8). In round two the tower of Babel leads to God’s decision to confuse man’s languages in order to throttle mankind’s ambition (Genesis 11:1-9).


In the midst of this time of confusion and uncertainty, God specifically sharpens His focus upon one man and his barren wife (Genesis 12-15). With this sharpened focus, Stephen continues, God builds a nation through Isaac, Joseph and the patriarchs that spans more than 400 years (Acts 7:1-19).

With his sights set upon his concluding remarks regarding the temple, Stephen builds his case for recognizing that the God they all serve is not limited to a building or place. This is something they would all acknowledge in principle; but, something had happened to lead them to view Herod’s temple differently. Somehow, Israel’s fascination with things they made with their own hands (Acts 7:41, 48) had occluded their view of God’s plans for the world.


To obey Our Creator confronts the very core of our nature. 

We want to define the rules, make our own exceptions and do things our own way.  When we are honest with ourselves we know this is true in our own hearts.  And we know that this describes mankind.  

Give us a rule and tell us to obey and we will begin to formulate ways around it.  At other times we will blatantly violate the rule and come up with excuses for why we had to disregard it.

Bottom line: we want to make up our own rules and devise our own exceptions so we can do what we want to do, the way we want to do it, whenever we please.


At least three accusations led to Stephen’s appearance before the highest court in the Jewish nation, the Sanhedrin.  Briefly summarized, they accused him of being against God, Moses, the Law and the temple.  In their minds, these were capital crimes.

In Stephen’s sermon to the Sanhedrin (Acts 7:1-53) he makes it clear that this sin problem characterized the relationship between the Jewish people and their God.  Beginning with “the God of Glory” and His promise to Abraham, obedience to God was a continuing problem for Abraham’s descendants.  No one in this ruling body of the Jewish nation disagreed with his analysis.

His speech to the Sanhedrin amply illustrates that Stephen was not against God, Moses or the Law.  When it came to the temple, however, Stephen simply made the point that God is much bigger than a building.  This was something that Solomon himself had declared when he dedicated the first temple (1 Kings 8:27 2 Chronicles 6:18) and that God, Himself had told the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 66:1-2), which Stephen quotes:

48 “However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands. As the prophet says:

“‘Heaven is my throne,
    and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me?
says the Lord.
    Or where will my resting place be?
50 Has not my hand made all these things?’[a

Acts 7:48-50


Concluding his speech, Stephen finally drives home the conclusion that will lead to his execution.  In short he makes it clear that it is the Jewish people who have disregarded God, Moses, and the Law.  They, themselves, compounded their resistance against all three when they betrayed and murdered Jesus Christ, their “Righteous One.”  He says: 

51 “You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! 52 Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him— 53 you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.”

Acts 7:51-53


For believers in Jesus Christ, we never want to be accused of being against God, His word, or His commands.  A way to prevent this from happening, I believe, is embodied in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-11).  Paraphrased, we might state them as follows:

We Celebrate Our Dependence upon God.

WeConfess Our Own Sinfulness

We Obey By Surrendering To His Will Over Our Own.

We Hunger To Be Like God So We Choose To Obey Him.

Like God, We Are Merciful To Others, Not Selfish Over Stuff

Like God, We Live Transparently Without Hidden Agendas

We Engage Conflict With Love, Unafraid. Not Intimidated.

We Welcome Sharing in Christ’s Sufferings.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Key Text: Acts 7:1-8:4

We apologize for the poor audio quality.  


When Christians are falsely accused for their beliefs in court and the public arena it is predictable that persecution is coming.  The fact that the accusations have to be made up means that there is no credible evidence that they can use.  The anger focused upon believers is not logical; it is emotional.

It was just another day serving Grecian widows and their families mixed with a healing there, another sign or wonder here when suddenly Stephen found himself falsely accused.  Suddenly dragged  before the Sanhedrin court in full assembly, Stephen would be challenged to explain the charges against him.  


  1. He blasphemes against Moses and God (Acts 6:11).
  2. He incessantly speaks against the Temple and the Law (vs. 13).
  3. He says Jesus will destroy the temple and the Law of Moses (vs. 14).

Of course, none of these accusations were true.  They had used them before when Jesus was standing in front of them during Passover week.  The charges were based upon teachings of Jesus that they had twisted into crazy falsehoods.

Same song, second verse.

Like Moses before (Exodus 34:29-35), Stephen’s face began to glow (Acts 6:15) as though he had been standing in God’s presence.  This would be confirmed just before his death when he sees Jesus standing at God’s right hand in heaven (Acts 7:55).  Did anyone pause to check themselves at such a sight?  I wonder….

What transpires between the accusations at the end of Acts 6 and his death by stoning at the end of chapter 7 is an incredible speech; the longest in the book of Acts.  This one event would unleash a persecution of the church in Jerusalem that would send the Christian community scattering for safety as the whole city seemed to turn against them (Acts 8:1-3). 

This would be a significant speech (Acts 7) that Luke felt his audience needed to hear in detail.  Every Christian needs to know the stories of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, etc.


Stephen could have spent his time defending himself, denying ever having taught such silly teachings.  He could have spent time trying to explain what the lies were based upon.

Instead, Stephen chose to strategically speak of the great characters of Israel’s history with which every member of the Sanhedrin would have been very familiar.  In the process he reveals the characteristic rebellion of the Israelites to God and His messengers in order to bring the inescapable point home to the religious leaders: 

“…you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.”

Acts 7:53 (NIV)
The phrase often used today is “he spoke truth to power.” 


So far in Acts we have seen the religious authorities allied against the believers of the early church in Jerusalem.  At the same time we never hear of Peter and the 11 organizing an insurrection or rebellion of any kind.  What we do read of is acts of kindness, generosity and love in the face of false accusations.  When given the opportunity Jesus’ followers will speak truth to power and to anyone else who will listen.

This simple observation tells us one simple thing.  When Christians come under persecution they act the same ways and according to the same principles and values that they live by every single day.  This way their testimony will be consistent with their lifestyle when they are given the opportunity to speak. 

Of course, the result may be false accusations because they cannot file a legitimate complaint.  It’s ok.  You are in good company.  That’s what they have always done to God’s messengers.


Choosing is a fact of life.   We make choices every day almost unconsciously.  Whether to go right or left at the light; or to be early, on time or fashionably late for an appointment; to have cold cereal or hot oatmeal for breakfast.

Some choices are hard.  Other decisions are easy.  Caught in between two difficult choices we often find ourselves wrestling with indecision; so, we elect to procrastinate until we must decide.

There is no free pass that rids us of the task of choosing except one: death.  Every living being must make choices.  It is inevitable and necessary.


The explosively expanding church of Jerusalem had begun with the 11 apostles  (Acts 1:12-14).  Within days the number of new Christians grew to 120 (Acts 1:15) to 3,000 (Acts 2:41) and then to at least 5,000 men (Acts 4:4 – plus women and children!).  Many of those new members were foreigners (Acts 2:5-12) who had stayed over to hear the eyewitness accounts of Jesus and to connect the dots between the Old Testament prophecies and the Passover’s events of only a couple of months before.

Taking care of all of these born-again foreigners as well as the Christian residents of Jerusalem must have been a huge task!  Food was being delivered to needy families on a daily basis (Acts 6:2) so it should be no surprise that someone would be overlooked.  Whether or not it was intentional, someone had to make a choice about how to correct the matter of feeding the foreign widows of their number.


Stated simply, when the apostles were informed that the Grecian widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food they began making choices to navigate this unique situation.  There were many ways they could have responded, among which might have included:

  1. Taking care of it themselves;
  2. Ignoring the problem;
  3. Pushing it off on someone else to figure out how to fix the problem; or
  4. Blaming someone else for the problem.

What would the apostles do?  They began making choices based upon what Jesus had taught them about leadership in Luke 22:24-26.

24 A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. 25 Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. 26 But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.

Luke 22:24-26

Here is what they did (Acts 6:1-7):

  1. The Grecian Jews chose to bring their situation to the attention of the apostles.
  2. The apostles chose to take their concern seriously.
  3. The apostles chose to clarify their role.
  4. The apostles chose to specify the qualifications of those who would take care of this immediate challenge.
  5. The apostles chose to let the congregation choose the men who would serve this need.
  6. The congregation responded and chose (somehow) the men and presented them to the apostles.
  7. The apostles chose to pray over the congregation’s selection and to commission them to get to work by laying on hands of blessing upon the seven men.


Gravitating to the leadership options of doing the job ourselves, ignoring problems, pushing them off or blaming is easy to do.  Alternatively, the apostles chose to empower the congregation to take care of the challenge of the Grecian widows themselves. 

First, it  allowed the apostles to stay focused upon the important things instead of the urgent problem. Second, it gave the congregation a sense of ownership and participation.  Third. it recognized leaders in the congregation for future leadership opportunities. Finally, it made it clear that “serving tables” (Acts 6:2) and “ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4 – same Greek root word used later to describe deacons) was not a hierarchical chain of command but, rather, fellow servants with differing calls to service.  


The principles that governed the apostles’ ability to chose to apply should also inspire leaders in churches today:

1.Trust God’s People

2.Empower God’s People

3.Keep Focus On Responsibilities

4.Clarify The Responsibilities of the Congregation

5.Bless The Congregation’s Decision


Being worthy in our culture usually means that a person has achieved something, surpassed a goal, or accomplished a task.  As a reward, the achieving person is considered to be worthy for whatever reward is given.  The minimum requirements have been met.  Therefore, the person receives the gift as a way to recognize their accomplishment.

So, Luke tells us that after the apostles had been flogged, they went away, “…rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41, NIV).  Worthy of suffering.

The points we make today are so important to us today.

  1. God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is Worthy.
  2. We are not worthy.
  3. Christ has made us worthy by taking our place.
  4. We are now worthy because of what Christ has done for us.

To be counted worthy to suffer is only acknowledging that the apostles were made worthy by the blood of Christ.  Therefore, they are already made worthy.  Because of this, they are able to share in the honor of suffering in a  way that He suffered for them.

10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

-Philippians 3:10


‘Keeping up appearances’ is an expression we use when we are trying to impress others.  We want people to see us favorably, hiding the things about us that we don’t want others to see.  We keep up appearances.

Words like ‘fake’, ‘phony’, and ‘hypocrite’ seem to be  suitable labels when we see the masks of others…until we take a moment to look in the mirror.  Other adjectives seem more appropriate when we look at ourselves.

We innocently keep up appearances in small, barely detectable ways.  We tell people we are doing fine when we are not and we fake a smile when we’re having a bad day.


At times we can tell when someone is really faking it.  On the other hand,  some people are really good at it.  Like actors who are expected to present their assigned character and not themselves, we can be impressed with such skill.

Appearances can be deceiving; that’s why we try to keep them up. Show our best side.  Make a good first impression.


Somewhere along the line, however, is a threshold that warns us that we have gone from innocent fudging to outright lying and deliberate deceit.

The incident of Ananias and Saphira in Acts 5:1-11 is anchored in the closing verses of Acts 4:32-37.  They wanted to appear benevolent and generous towards the poor like Barnabas.  They anticipated the same recognition and celebration that would emerge once they laid their ‘gift’ at the apostles’ feet.  This became the motivation for their gift, leading them to lie about it.

The chilling effect that their sudden deaths had upon the first church in Jerusalem (see Acts 5:13) is not lost on us today.  Becoming a follower of Christ is not the same as joining the good-old-boys-club down the street.  This is serious stuff!


Gifts freely given out of the pure heart described by Jesus in the sermon on the mount (see Matthew 5:8) open the door to experiencing the generosity of God in new and wonderful ways.  Conversely, gifts given with hidden agendas or deceitful intentions are deadly, underlining the central importance of the heart.


When someone speaks with boldness we want to trust them; but, we know better.  Deceived by their confidence, we believed them when we should have been skeptical.  We hear the words, “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true” but we choose to trust anyway because the ones we trusted seemed to know what they were talking about.  Skepticism is born out of the accumulation of these experiences.  Burned enough we finally reach a tipping point where it is almost impossible to trust others.


Just because someone seems to know what they are talking about does not necessarily mean that they actually do know what they are talking about.  History is littered with failed nations that followed their leaders blindly into oblivion.

Confident leadership does not necessarily mean  that the leader is wise, informed and strategic.  Sometimes it can mean the opposite requiring further deceit and cover-ups to mask their incompetence.

Good salespersons speak boldly, confidently and with authority about their products.  Following the purchase, the customer then decides whether or not the bold salesperson spoke truthfully.  They also make a decision about whether or not to trust that salesperson–or any other salesperson–again.

Life teaches us that boldness alone does not verify anything without some kind of proof.  Boldness points to a confident assurance of knowing what is true.  No doubts.  No second-guessing.  This is the kind of boldness we read about in Acts.


The ability to publicly perform miraculous signs confirms the likelihood that the bold claims are, indeed, true.  Confirmation may also be added by pointing to the ancient, trusted texts of Scripture that predicted the things about which the speaker is being bold.  Finally, multiple eyewitness accounts from believers, non-believers and the undecided further corroborate that the boldness is justified.  Peter appeals to all of these sources as he presents the gospel message to his listening audiences in Acts 3-4.


Boldness characterized the emergence of the first church in first century Jerusalem.  In Acts 3, Peter spoke boldly to the 40 year old man who had never been able to walk, commanding him, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk” (Acts 3:6).  He spoke with boldness to the crowd that had gathered to witness the miracle.  When the religious rulers met to challenge them in the same court in which they had condemned Jesus to death–even before the same people–Peter accused them with boldness.  The rulers were impressed by their boldness, noting that they had been with Jesus.  When they were told to stop speaking about Jesus Peter and John boldly asserted,

“Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

-Acts 4:19-20

When they went back to their fellow Christians they all prayed for more boldness.  The affirmation of their supplication came with an earthquake, another manifestation of the Holy Spirit and, as one might expect, more boldness!  They had prayed for the right thing!


There were many things for which the early church could have prayed.  No doubt, they did pray that the religious rulers would accept the good news, that God would protect them from further persecution, that no one would suffer for their faith.  These persistent prayers were encouraged by Christ (Luke 18:1-8).  We understand that these supplications are met with three possible answers by God: “Yes!”, “No!”, or “Maybe.”

But, what happens when we pray for the right things, for example, like boldness.  I believe that the answer is always going to be ‘Yes.’  Is this not the very point that Paul is making in 2 Corinthians 1:12-24?  The message of the gospel itself is authored by God Himself, and anchored in people, places and things that can be trusted with verified confidence and assurance.

Therefore, to ask God to be able to share the gospel with boldness is not a yes, no, maybe kind of request.  The answer is always going to be, “Yes!” The only question becomes one of consistency: will I act upon what God has freely given me or will I choose to go on my way  in timidity and fear?  This was Paul’s appeal to Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:6-12.

 For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.

2 Timothy 1:7-8


Our world is changing so rapidly that it is hard to know where to set our anchors to find truth, meaning and purpose.  We yearn for seasoned experience and authentic truths to help us set our compasses for life’s challenges and opportunities.


When we choose to receive God’s grace through His Son, Jesus Christ, He anchors us to an ancient history of God’s chosen people, Israel.  Their history reaches back more than 3,500 years to the times of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and beyond.  Their sacred texts record God’s interactions with them.  At the same time, those same texts point forward to a Savior, a cross and beyond.

The apostle Paul pointed to their rich heritage (Romans 9:1-5).  He  also spoke to the desperate circumstances of those who did not share their history (Ephesians 2:11-12).  The contrast between these two peoples–Jews versus non-Jews–created a barrier between them.  Many have attempted to eliminate this barrier by genocide of the Jewish people over the years.  They have all failed.


Only one effort to remove this barrier between peoples has been successful.  The apostle Paul makes this point clear in Ephesians 2:11-22.  It is the cross of Christ that has removed this barrier between the chosen people of God and the rest of the world.

 For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us.

Ephesians 2:14 (NLV)

The result is a new definition of God’s chosen people so that all who respond to the gospel message now share in a history and a heritage.

19 So now you Gentiles [non-Jews] are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. 20 Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself.21 We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. 22 Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit.

Ephesians 2:19-22 (NLV)

Now the anchors of the Jewish people pointed towards the anchor for everyone found in the cross of Jesus Christ and His sacrifice.  This truth is bearing fruit as non-Jews realize their rich heritage in the God of ancient Israel.  Conversely, this truth is also being realized as more and more of today’s Jewish people see the fulfillment of prophecies in their Messiah, Jesus Christ.


I believe that Luke, a non-Jew, is writing to a primary audience of non-Jews.  He strove to connect the dots between the Jewish Scriptures and the cross and the early church.  While he could have glossed over them, he preserved these references to their ancient prophets, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Moses and Samuel in Peter’s sermon (Acts 3:12-26).   He preserved them for our instruction and affirmation as the new Israel that shares in the heritage and history of God’s chosen people from their very beginning.