The story of Stephen in our series coincides with Palm Sunday. We pay attention to the reality that both stories have beautiful and surprising characteristics and both stories are tragic and yet end in ultimate victory and triumph. Stephen had been chosen by the people to serve as one of 'the Seven' to ensure that all of the widow received justice in the distribution of food, and yet in our passage today we find him acting very much like the apostles - performing signs and wonders by the power of the Spirit and also preaching very effectively. We look for 2 responses from this story. First we should be drawn to give glory and praise to Jesus because He is the risen King! Stephen was so convinced of this he was ready to go to his death. Second we pause for sober reflection as we observe Stephen's argument against the Jewish religious structure - he pointed out strongly that they had allowed the form of religion and the physical location of the Temple to become more important than the reality of relationship with the Living God. Their eyes had become so blind that they missed the Messiah when He came! We need to be careful always that we do not allow the form of our practice of Christian faith to become more important than the reality of our relationship with the Living God!
As chapter 6 opens we find ourselves in the middle of very effective ministry - more and more people are becoming followers of Jesus! And yet there is a problem; there is the very real potential that the followers of Jesus could become so absorbed in one aspect of ministry (caring for people) that they neglect another (preaching the Word). Out of this story emerges the reality that these 2 aspects of ministry must BOTH be kept in focus for the church to continue to grow in a healthy manner. Much wisdom is evident as the story unfolds. We see the apostles calling the people to appoint 7 men (those who were known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom) to take primary responsibility for the ministry of 'tables' (the horizontal priority) while the 12 apostles would focus their energies on prayer and the ministry of the Word (the vertical priority). Both of these aspects of ministry are thereby seen to be equally important in the life of the growing community. The lesson for us is easy to see! We too need to be constantly aware that we are hearing the Word and communicating with God through prayer, while at the same time paying attention to the horizontal priority of 'loving our neighbors as ourselves'!
Audio now available for March 10 2013, "An Application from Acts through Romans 6: Baptism Sunday at ICB"
This Sunday at ICB, we celebrate the baptism of six persons. Throughout the book of Acts, we see people called to “repent, accept Jesus, and be baptized.” Therefore, this Sunday might be called an application of what we have been learning about what Jesus “continues to do and to teach” (Acts 1:1) through the book of Acts. On this day of celebration, we consider from Romans 6 “the meaning of baptism” AND “the identity of the Christian.” Truly, the Christian can say, “I am IN Christ ALWAYS and FOREVER.”
Download mp3 of "The Meaning of Baptism" (Right click and choose "Save link as...") or listen below
Download mp3 of "The Identity of the Christian" (Right click and choose "Save link as...") or listen below
Audio now available for Acts 5, 12-42 "The Kingdom of God takes root and gains momentum in Jerusalem" March 3, 2013
In the unfolding story of the beginnings of the Christian movement in the world we come to a story filled with miracles and wonders... and suffering. Our intention as we look at the story is to respond in 2 specific ways.
1. We want to marvel at the miracles - let our hearts be drawn to give worship and praise to God for His supernatural work seen through the miracle of healing, the miracle of release from prison, the miracle of effectiveness ('you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching') and the miracle of protection (from a surprising source - Gamaliel the Pharisee).
2. We also want to take courage from the actions of the disciples as they are bold in bearing witness to the resurrection of Jesus in the most dangerous place for them at that time (the Temple); as they submit to authority through returning peacefully for questioning; as they respectfully stand up to authority (we must obey God); and as they rejoice in suffering for the sake of the Name.