33 When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. 34 But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while. 35 And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. 36 For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. 37 After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered. 38 So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” So they took his advice, 40 and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.
As you remember from yesterday, The Apostles have been called before the Sanhedrin. They have been asked why they were still teaching the doctrines of Jesus, after being told to stop. Peter, speaking on behalf of the Apostles, makes it clear that they are obeying God, not men. That even through they killed Jesus, God raised Him from the dead and that they were preaching a message of repentance unto forgiveness for all.
Well, apparently most of the Sanhedrin apparently lost it at that point because they were enraged and started the proceedings to kill them. Always remember that people will defend, to the death a few things. Faith is one of those things. These ruling members of the council were so angry they were willing to kill in the name of God.
Then the voice of wisdom speaks up. Gamaliel ( yes the same one that trained Saul who later became Paul ) orders the Apostles to step outside and then applies some common sense to the situation. he give two example of rebel organizers whose plans came to an end. Then he makes an appeal that is very simple to understand. If this is of God, there is nothing that you can do about it. Leave it alone or find yourself fighting God. I doubt there were many in the room who thought that what the Apostles were doing was from God - but Gamaliel made sense.
So the call the 12 back and apparently take out some of their anger on them. They had them beat. In other versions it says flogged. The Greek word can actually mean skinned. They were beaten with whips that took the skin off of their backs. What is their response to such an unjustified beating? They praised God because they suffered for the cause of Christ. I don't know anyone who has praised God because they were treated or persecuted badly, especially for their faith in Jesus. But you have to take note that even in the worst of situations, these Apostles never gave up their character or integrity to follow Jesus.
6 Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. 2 And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 3 Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” 5 And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. 6 These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them. 7 And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.
Well the church continues to grow and as any group of large people, problems occur. In this situation, the church was ministering to widows. Widows had no rights and could not care for themselves. It wasn't uncommon for a widow to starve to death. But the church had stepped up to the plate and was taking care of these women.
In these days, many Jews had learned Hebrew as their first language and Greek as their language of commerce. However, if a Jew had been raised outside of Palestine they only knew Greek. It was these Greek widows that were a little grumpy about the fact that they were not being take care of as well as the ones who spoke Hebrew.
So the Apostle rose to the occasion. First of all they pointed out that it would be wrong for them to stop what they are doing to care for these needs. Simply, they cannot be in two places at once. Then they told the people to find 7 men filled with the Spirit to care for this need. They did and the first challenge of the new church was faced with success.
Now Luke wants us to see something in verse 7 that is very important. First of all, the Word of God was growing among the people. People were taking what they were learning from the Apostles and teaching it to others. Secondly, the number of disciples in Jerusalem was growing. Thirdly, there were a large number of priests who were embracing Jesus. What is interesting about this is the fact that these priests would be Sadducees. Remember they don't believe in a resurrection of any kind. But here they are. Serving in the Temple and believing in Jesus.
8 And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people. 9 Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and disputed with Stephen. 10 But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. 11 Then they secretly instigated men who said, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” 12 And they stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council, 13 and they set up false witnesses who said, “This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, 14 for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.” 15 And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel.
This passage is very important to you and me. It is at this point that we see someone other than the Apostles doing miracles in Jesus name. The Holy Spirit was working through him just as He can work through us today.
Now we see that a dispute arises between some Jews and Stephen. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, overcame their arguments. Even though the true had been proclaimed to them, they rejected the truth and became determine to silence Stephen. So they hired some liars who said that they heard Stephen speaking horrible things about Moses and God. All they were doing was twisting what Stephen said about the teaching of Jesus. Remember, they did this to Jesus too.
Then something supernatural happens. Stephens face glows. Maybe it was something like what Moses had when he came down from Mt. Sinai. Maybe it was something like what happened to Jesus at the Mount of Transfiguration. Regardless, an inner glory was showing through Stephen.
What is it about some people, who in the face of what is true still deny its existence? In the face of the very words you speak, they say no. What can you do? What can you say? What will they do? What will they say? As we will see tomorrow it doesn't end well for Stephen. But the thing that you and I have to remember today is, we live in a world determine to silence the message of Jesus. The passion we see here is the same passion we face now.
English Standard Version (ESV)