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  The Great Bible Story #120
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Ministry and martyrdom

Jacob Ninan
As the church increased in number, some people complained that widows from a Greek-Jewish background were being neglected as food was being distributed. The apostles felt that while this was an important part of the ministry, they could not leave their responsibility for preaching the word and prayer in order to do this. So they suggested that seven men should be selected for this, who had a good reputation, and who were full of faith and the Holy Spirit. Stephen, Philip and five others were selected for this, and then apostles laid their hands on them and blessed them.

Stephen was also ised by God in performing many great miracles among the people. Some men from a Jewish group noticed this, and they came to argue with him. But no one was able to stand against the wisdom God gave him. Ultimately they reported him to the Council saying that he was speaking blasphemies against Moses and God. There they asked him to give an explanation about what he was doing and teaching. They saw his face glowing as he spoke.

Stephen started by tracing the history of the Jews from the time God chose Abraham. He told them how the Jews had always resisted the people God chose to lead them, and how they had now become murderers of the Righteous One whom God had sent. He called them a stiff-necked people who kept resisting the work of the Holy Spirit.

The rulers were enraged with Stephen as he spoke these things. But Stephen looked up to heaven and said he could see the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. They thought this was blasphemy and ordered him to be put to death by stoning. They took him outside the city and started stoning him. But Stephen called out loudly to God, asking Him to receive his spirit. With his last breath he also asked God not to lay this sin against this people, following the example of his Lord.

While the people went to stone Stephen they left their robes in the hands of a young man called Saul. He was a Pharisee, and a scholar of the Jewish scriptures under a teacher called Gamaliel. Since Saul himself was opposed to the claims of Jesus to be God Himself, he was in agreement with the decision of the people to put Stephen to death for blasphemy. After the death of Stephen, he started going from place to place, arresting those who followed Jesus and putting them in jail. This became a wave of persecution against the disciples of Jesus.


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