This week we want to consider Jesus’ attitude toward those who wanted to do Him harm. We know He taught in the sermon on the mount that we are to “love our enemies, do good to those that hate us, bless those who curse us” (Luke 6:27-28). Is there any example in the life of Jesus where He practiced what He preached?
John’s gospel records two incidents in which the Jews tried to stone Jesus. This is certainly not an exact parallel to people who might mistreat us today but perhaps it is a starting place for our discussion (more to come tomorrow).
John 8:56-59, John 10:31-36, John 11:7-10.
Again, twice the Jews took up stones intending to kill Jesus. How did he respond?
What else do you see in these accounts?
Herod failed in his attempt to execute Peter and now he gets what he deserves. Note that it was his pride that ultimately led to this judgment from God.
In contrast to Herod’s gruesome death, what does verse 24 tell us about the word of God and the cause of Christ?
Again, what lesson is there for us about being faithful to God in a culture that may be anti-Christian at times?
God foils Herod’s plan to have Peter executed. This is a wonderful story about how God delivered Peter from prison and how he comes to the house of Mary where many of the Christians were gathered together praying.
Let’s not get caught up in the excitement and forget that James was beheaded. Also Herod executes the soldiers under whose watch Peter had “escaped”.
What does all this teach us about following Jesus in a world where people might be antagonistic towards Christianity?
What else is interesting to you about this account?
Acts 9:1,2 Meanwhile back in Jerusalem, we see Saul is intensely persecuting the church. He is not content to harass only the disciples in Jerusalem but gets authority to go to Damascus and arrest any Christians there. Imagine living in a time when the authorities could knock on your door and arrest you for being a follower of Jesus. How would our lives be different under such circumstances?
The death of Stephen was like a spark that ignited a great fire of persecution against the church in Jerusalem. Some Christians were put in prison. Others were scattered. The persecution is led by Saul (who will later become the apostle Paul).
I suppose the thousands of new disciples now had to decide whether or not to continue living for Jesus. What does verse 4 tell us they did?
The Jews can take no more of Stephen’s preaching. They “stop their ears”, attack Stephen, and lead him out of the city to stone him. Luke records Stephen’s last words which show his great faith in God and a Christ-like gracious spirit as he asks God to forgive those putting him to death.
Stephen, not one of the apostles, is the first Christian to die for his faith. What had he done to being this on?
Who are we introduced to in verse 28?
Stephen’s sermon reaches its climax when he accuses his audience of being stiff necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears. He says they were just like their fathers, guilty of the same pattern of disobedience. Just as the fathers had rejected the prophets of God so the present generation had murdered Jesus and were continuing to resist God. God had given them the law but they had not kept it.
How would you respond to the idea that Stephen could have been kinder and used more gentle language that he did, and if he had they might not have reacted as strongly (as we will see they do)?
One of the seven men chosen to serve was Stephen. Here we see his role was not limited to overseeing the daily distribution of food. He was performing miracles and got into an argument and debate who did not accept the gospel.
Unable to win the debate, his opponents resort to lying about him and stirring up the people against him and they have him arrested.
Beginning tomorrow we read Stephen’s defense.
Question: What do you think it means when it says all in the council saw Stephen’s face “like the face of an angel”?
When it sounds like the council is going to kill the apostles, a respected Jewish teacher cautions them to be careful about what they are about to do. He reasons with them and brings some calm to the situation.
How did they punish the apostles? Are they discouraged?
Based on Gamaliel’s wisdom what can we conclude about the movement of Christianity the apostles were promoting? (39)
The apostles are brought before the council and asked why they continue to teach about Jesus and blame them for His death. Peter’s classic response is “we must obey God rather than men”. The apostles then tell them again about Jesus resurrection and that they are guilty of having Him crucified.
How do the leaders respond (33)?