Stephen serves tables, but his ministry doesn’t end there. He reflects the One who washed feet, broke bread, and taught on hillsides. He did great wonders and signs among the people (v. 8), continuing the work that the twelve apostles have been doing. He also shares their experience of getting into trouble for being faithful to Christ’s call. The twelve encounter their opposition from within the Jewish community. Stephen’s opponents are fellow Greek-speaking Jews in Jerusalem. They argue with Stephen, but they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke (v. 10). The qualities that led the Christian community to call Stephen to serve as a deacon are the gifts that stir opposition against him.
This episode in Acts places Stephen’s ministry, and the opposition to it, within the larger story of not only the twelve apostles, but also of Jesus. Like the apostles and Jesus before them, Stephen is arrested and brought before the council. The charges against him mirror those made against Jesus. Like the case against Jesus, his involves false witnesses. This won’t be the only parallel between their stories.
Be careful not to read the characterization of Jewish religious leaders in this story as an indictment of Judaism as a religion. What this story represents is a conflict within Judaism. We are not yet to the point of the second-century parting of ways between the synagogue and the church. These Christians continue worshiping in the synagogues and the temple on the Sabbath while they also meet with the Christian community in Jerusalem. Therefore, the story invites us to ask ourselves whether we are the ones playing the role of the elders and scribes, opposing those who challenge us to be more faithful to God’s way.
Who are the Stephens and who are the elders and scribes within our Christian circles today?
God, forgive us when we’re more concerned with preserving our institutions than helping you transform things into what you intend them to be. Amen.