- Feel the presence of Jesus' Spirit in our lives today.
- Be amazed at the courage, wisdom, and forgiving attitude Stephen received from the Holy Spirit.
- Trust Jesus' Spirit for courage to face difficult situations.
What a contrast between the last session and this one! In the last story Ananias and Sapphira are killed on the spot because they lie to the Holy Spirit. In this story Stephen is killed because he proclaims the truth in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Think of Stephen as a member of your own church, someone you talked with occasionally, someone who took time to stop and talk with your kids. Think of him as a member of your church who was brutally stoned to death because he was brave enough to tell the truth to the religious leaders of his day. He declared to the leaders that they had betrayed and murdered Jesus, the Messiah, and had disobeyed the very law they claimed to defend and teach.
The book of Acts tells the story of the church moving outward from its beginnings in Jerusalem. That movement isn't only geographic---it's also social. The Christian faith began among the Palestine-dwelling, Aramaic-speaking Jews. They were the core members of the first Christian community. They tended to regard themselves as the true children of God and now saw themselves as true followers of Jesus Christ. This also led them to treat some fellow Christians unfairly.
As today's story opens, Hellenistic Jews are complaining that Hebraic Jews are not treating their widows fairly. Hellenistic Jews were those who had left the land of Israel and settled in other parts of the world. Because they had daily contact with Gentiles, these Hellenistic Jews, also called Diaspora Jews, were considered less holy than Palestinian Jews. Before they could enter the temple they needed to purify themselves with special rites. At issue in the story of Stephen was whether these Hellenistic Jewish believers, whom he represented, had equal status with Palestinian Christians.
Stephen's powerful ministry and his martyr's death settled that question. Clearly the Spirit had shown that the Greek-speaking Christians were fully as worthy and qualified as any of the Aramaic-speaking ones.
Stephen was falsely charged with blaspheming "against Moses and against God"---charges almost identical to the charges brought against Jesus.
In his long speech, Stephen didn't so much defend himself against the charges as accuse the Jewish leaders of misunderstanding the temple's true significance and of disobeying the law themselves. He boldly pointed out that God's revelation was never restricted to the law of Israel or to the temple. The Lord first appeared to Abraham in a foreign land and to Moses in Midian. Further, instead of being true guardians of the Law of Moses, the Jews had been a rebellious people, rejecting God's Word and killing God's prophets again and again. This rebellion culminated in the death of the greatest prophet of all, the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
While his accusers grew angrier by the minute, Stephen saw a vision of heavenly glory with Jesus standing at the right hand of God. When he told them of this vision, they could contain their rage no more. They dragged him out of the city and stoned him. Like his Lord, Stephen prayed for his persecutors as he was about to die. As the stoning took place, Saul stood by with a smile of approval on his face.
Why do you think Luke so often points to the cracks in the life of the early church?
What impresses you most about Stephen?
Why do you think Paul adds the presence of Saul at this point in his story of the early church?
Kids this age love heroes, and Stephen was clearly one of the heroes of the early church. The children in your group should come away with a sense of admiration and empathy for Stephen and for the many persecuted Christians around the world today. Don’t hesitate to tell the story with the drama it demands.
Welcome children by name as they enter. Second, welcome individuals by offering a specific, positive reason why you are glad each of them is with the group today.
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DWELL helps kids find their place in God's Big Story. Learn more about this popular and trusted children’s ministry curriculum.