The early church was having some growing pains. (Acts 6) In fact, it appeared that some racial profiling was going on. People were being slighted. It really looked like a race issue. Things were going to get ugly. Day-to-day operations were not going smoothly. Something had to be done – and quickly.
Instead of moving quickly however, the twelve apostles moved prayerfully. After prayer and discussion, they realized they had a unique role to play and it was NOT day-to-day operations. They agreed that their primary responsibility was to communicate what they knew of their rabbi and his teaching. Only they could do this effectively. They had to keep their collective “eye on the ball.” So, while this new issue was real and important, someone else would have to manage it.
What they did next
What the apostles did next is unlikely to happen in many modern, evangelical churches. They did NOT assert their authority. They did NOT attempt to micro-manage. Instead, they invited the congregation to pick the best people for the job. How unorthodox!
Is it possible the apostles recognized the Holy Spirit was not limited to speaking only through them? Is it possible the apostles realized that “those in the pews” were actually closer to the solution and likely had a better handle on who could manage well?
Does your fellowship provide a venue or platform for congregants who are “filled with the Holy Spirit” to speak to the church as a whole? It is no secret. Many leaders live in fear of what might happen. Things might get out of control! The question is, out of whose control? Hmmm. We would do well to return to the wisdom of Acts 6.
He appears out of nowhere
Then we read these words, “And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit . . .” Where did he come from? Who is this guy? At this point, we know nothing more, but a little later we read: “And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people.” (v8)
What we do know, is that shortly after Stephen and six other managers are chosen and commended to their work, the race issue disappears. Instead, we read this headline: “Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.”
Wow! The apostles stayed focused on their work, Stephen and his crew focused on their work and the results were obvious.
What happened next . .
I will not recount all the events that followed. You can read the entire riveting story in Acts 6 & 7 for yourself. Instead, I will focus on the very last words that we hear from this man – a man filled with the Holy Spirit and with faith.
What we hear from Stephen is an accusation, one leveled at the spiritual leaders of his day. They have already expressed their darkest fears when they admit, “we have heard him say that this Yeshua of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs which Moses delivered to us.”
So what was Stephen’s final word to them? ” (you) who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it.” Stop! Hold it right there. Before we go any further, let’s talk about what Stephen meant when he said “by the direction of angels”. What is he talking about?
A little explanation
In Deuteronomy 33:2, Moses describes the delivery of the law in this way, “The Lord came from Sinai and beamed upon us from Seir; He flashed forth from Mount Paran, from among ten thousands of holy ones, a flaming fire, a law, at His right hand.” (Amplified) Jewish tradition states that tongues of fire (that is, flames) appeared over the heads of the children of Israel at the foot of Mount Horeb when the law was given and that this was the work of angels. The term “holy ones” is translated as “angels” in some versions.
Is this tradition confirmed in the New Testament? Indeed it is. First, the author of Hebrews writes “For if the message given through angels [that is, the Law spoken by them to Moses] was authentic and proved sure . .” (Heb. 2:2, Amp) Then the apostle Paul writes, “And it [the Law] was arranged and ordained and appointed through the instrumentality of angels [and was given] by the hand (in the person) of a go-between – an intermediary person (Moses) between God and man.” (Gal.3:19, Amp)
Again, what does this mean? It means that Stephen is making very clear that he is talking about the Law of Moses, the Torah that was given at Mount Horeb in the region of Sinai.
Back to the story
Wait a minute. Stephen is accusing the council of the Sanhedrin, the scribes, the Pharisees, the teachers of the law of failing to keep the law? This does not compute. Why would Stephen accuse these religious leaders of NOT keeping the Torah, the law of Moses, unless . . . unless he (and by association, all the other disciples) were doing a BETTER job of keeping the law?
Unpacking the obvious
Let’s summarize. The religious leaders are fearful that this powerful man might try to do away with the instructions handed down by Moses. Instead, he accuses them of failing to keep those very instructions. (We need to keep in mind that Stephen spoke these words under the power and direction of the Holy Spirit.)
So why do we modern disciples have such a disconnect with his accusation?