ALL IS WELL IN PARADISE, BUT...
Good Monday morning. The last time we met we looked at the very first church gatherings. We discovered that all was well and that everyone not inly got along, they shared every thing. They focused only on Jesus Christ. We discussed the possibility that the first church was a parallel to the creation story. The church, just like creation, was just as God intended for it to be. Then...
"In those days when the number of the disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food." (Acts 6:1)
Oh no! Did you hear that? There was a complaint. No, not in church! LOL. What I find interesting is, the chapter as we know it begins just like the sixth chapter of Genesis: "When men began to increase in number on the earth.." (Genesis 6:1) You may recall that in that passage we read about the great flood. Well, the good news here is there is no flood, but there is a problem.
The early believers took care of the needs of all, including the widows. Now, in order to understand what is happening we need to know what we mean by Grecian and Hebraic Jews. The Grecian Jews, or Hellenist Jews, were those who had been scattered to other lands. They adopted the language and customs of the Greeks. They spoke little or no Aramaic. The Hebraic Jews were the Hebrews who kept the customs and language of their ancestors. The problem that is addressed in our passage is, the Grecian widows are being neglected.
We will return to the problem of the neglecting of the widows. Now, we need to backtrack just a little to get the whole picture of what is happening in the early church. The neglecting of the widows is not the first problem the early church faced. It was the first "inner" problem. In chapter four, we discover that the early church encountered the existing order. "The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. They seized Peter and John..."(Acts 4:1-3a) The apostles had been preaching that the Jews had killed the messiah. They were also preaching the resurrection. The Sadducees did not believe in a physical resurrection. later we discover that "the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy." (Acts 5:17) So, the church faced the onset of persecution. But, keep in mind, the tension is not between Jews and Gentiles.
The tension addressed in the first paragraph of chapter six regarding the widows is also between two groups of Jews. They, however, resolve the problem between themselves. They call an assembly (or in the United Methodist Church, a committee). They choose seven men who are Hellenists to see to the needs of the widows. The Twelve will devote themselves to preaching and teaching. "This proposal pleased the whole group." (Acts 6:5) We are told the names of each of the seven who are chosen "to wait on tables." They were considered to be "full of the Spirit and wisdom." (Acts 6:3) You can find their names in verse five and you will notice that one of them is named Stephen. the only other name that we can easily pronounce is Philip. What is interesting is, we will hear of the two of them again. Those whom we can not pronounce the name of...we never read about again.
"Now Stephen, a man full of God's grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people. Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue...They secretly persuaded some men to say, 'We have heard Stephen speak words of blasphemy against Moses and against God." (Acts 6:8-9a,11)
You may recall that they did the same thing to Jesus. "They stirred up the people...they seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. They produced false witnesses..."(Acts 6:12-13a) They began to question Stephen and he began to answer them. The problem was, Stephen didn't know when to stop. Stephen basically reiterated that the Jews killed the Messiah. I wonder what would happen if I began a message: "You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet you fathers did not persecute?" (Acts 7:51-52a) Yeah...it probably wouldn't go over very well. Guess what? They didn't like Stephen's message. That's right! There was not one "Amen!" Yet, those words from Stephen were not what got him in the most trouble. Nope! What was their breaking point? "But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 'Look,' he said, 'I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.' At this the covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him." (Acts 6:55-57)
We will actually look at the death of Stephen tomorrow as we continue looking at this event. Keep in mind that Stephen was a Hellenistic Jew. The first martyr, therefore was a Hellenistic Jew. Also, the Hellenists would be the first to take the gospel out of Jerusalem. We will continue this study tomorrow.