And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people. But some men from what was called the Synagogue of the Freedmen, including both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and argued with Stephen. And yet they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. Then they secretly induced men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.” And they stirred up the people, the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and dragged him away, and brought him before the Council. And they put forward false witnesses who said, “This man incessantly speaks against this holy place, and the Law; for we have heard him say that this Nazarene, Jesus, will destroy this place and alter the customs which Moses handed down to us.” And fixing their gaze on him, all who were sitting in the Council saw his face like the face of an angel.
We first met Stephen in our last missive, he was one of the seven chosen table-waiters. And in today’s text, Luke tells us, quickly, how Stephen progressed in the faith. “And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people.” But, of course, there is always a but.
My favorite but is found in Romans 5:8, of which, I claim is pivotal. “But God demonstrates his love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” In my last missive, without actually writing it, I wondered, pondered, dreamed about what could happen in the world if we only would treat the world as God has treated us. Also in Romans we read, “Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” I am enthralled with the notion that we could be change agents for the world. However, I may be fairly naive. After all, in today’s text we see Stephen, “full of grace and power,” and while I require much grace, I don’t display any power. Stephen “was performing great wonders and signs among the people.” I can barely write! Now, look at how quickly the powerful people turned on Stephen. “But some men from what was called the Synagogue of the Freedmen, including both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and argued with Stephen.”
Let me rewind my life a couple of years, actually several years, actually. I was in great fear and trembling, fasting and praying, in the Scripture as much as I had ever been, trying to be a servant to a group of young people, serving a group of young people. Both groups would be considered small, no matter the scope of one’s sliding scale. With only a handful of servant-leaders, our student to servant ratio rarely exceeded 3:1. I had no problem with this, to this day I believe it is much easier to move a small number of people than a large one. I believe that when a group gets too large to move, it’s time to splinter into smaller cells with the same message and method but it is more inclusive. No one is ignored or swept under the rug. Everyone participates using their gifts for the ministry.
But, honestly, it didn’t work out that way. As you can imagine, I found myself in the hotbed of controversy. I have written about this before by way of example, as I am doing now. By the untrained I was told, “you can’t say that!” To which I replied, “I didn’t say it, I read it.” Meaning that the thing of which I was accused of saying, was actually read from the Scripture. But it went beyond this. I was told that I was doing things wrong. Problem; I didn’t do the things of which I was accused. Usually the accusations found there home on a young teenager, with palpable mental health issues. But by proxy, it was all my fault. And, now, as I write this (I’m not lying) I am cooking stir fry. I used locally grown potatoes and red peppers. My own habanero peppers, onions and the like. New York strip steak smothered in olive oil. I am cooking it all at a low heat, using a wood spatula, so as not to scuff or damage the frying pan. But my wife saw me cooking and said, “that’s the last good frying pan.” To which I replied, “yes, I know, I am well trained.” Interrupting she exclaimed, “so don’t use high…” And once again, I interrupted her with a hand gesture, pointing to the low setting of heat.
Now, l know what you are thinking; “habaneros from your own garden, that must be really spicy.” Indeed it is. You are probably also thinking that I am going to get in big trouble with my wife for writing this story. You are correct but notice; I am always in trouble, I have gotten used to it. Ultimately though, you are probably thinking; “Yes, Russell P, we see your point. While Stephen was filled with grace and power, and the people were unable to cope with this, you are a far cry from Stephen.” You would be correct, I have stated as much.
Nevertheless, see the similarities so that we can best understand the context. As I was accused and am being accused of things of which I didn’t do, such is the case with Stephen, only moreso. And consider this, deeply and truthfully: how can I expect to change the world when my own wife doesn’t trust me with a frying pan? Better still to consider–how do I expect to change the world when Stephen, who spoke in the Spirit with mighty words, was opposed by many men? Without revealing too much, Stephen did change the world; it’s why we are reading about him today, some 2000 years later. But as always, I am getting way ahead of myself.
I don’t expect to leave a legacy like Stephen. Actually, my hope is that people forget my name but remember the CAGED method of Biblical hermeneutics, where; Context is King, Author’s Aspirations to his Audience are Apex, Genre is the General, Expository Exegesis of Examples Enlightens and Dividing Rightly the Word of Truth either confirms or cancels our preconceived notions and presuppositions. I hope that people do not remember me but remember that, unless you are learning for yourself, you only know what you have been taught.
Having stated this, let’s look at the context. “And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people. But some men from what was called the Synagogue of the Freedmen, including both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and argued with Stephen. And yet they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.” Awesome, simply awesome. Stephen, the servant table-waiter to the Hellenistic widows, blew the mind of the so-called, Freedmen.
Ponder this for a while; Stephen, the servant of Greek, Jewish widows, spoke truth of which a named, religious group, with men from all over the surrounding area, could not cope.