Missionaries

The First Christian Martyr

The Stoning of St Stephen

The Stoning of St Stephen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Stoning of Stephen Acts 7:8-60

I. Strong argument v. 8-10  What are some godly characteristics we can gather from Stephen in these two chapters that indicate he was relying on the power of God? Trusting in God, wise, bold, forgiving: similar to Gal. 5 fruits of the spirit. Are there any godly attributes that you are either cultivating now or would like to focus doing a better job on? 

II. False Accusations v. 11-12 Who were the Freedmen? The Synagogue of the Freedmen were Cyrene Jews from North Africa who were freed from slavery and part of the dispersion. What happened when Stephen interacted with the Synagogue of the Freedman and why did they dispute with him? He debated with them concerning who Jesus was and they were unable to cope with the wisdom (Luke 21:15). Scholars believe he may have been taught under a famous Jewish scholar Gamaliel.

What exactly was the accusation against Stephen? That he was incessantly speaking against the Holy place and the law; for he said that Jesus would destroy the temple and alter the customs which Moses handed down. However, Jesus was speaking about his own body, not the temple. As for the law, Jesus did not come to abolish it but to fulfill it. Can anyone think of other stories from the Bible where a godly man or woman was falsely accused? Read Joseph’s account (Gen. 37).

Do you ever feel wrongly accused or misunderstood? 

III. Eager Response v. 15-7:53 It was common for judges to observe the countenance of the prisoner, which can sometimes be an indication of innocence or guilt. They looked and saw that Stephen’s face was like an angel. What do you think the writer was trying to express about Stephen’s demeanor or countenance? Cheerful, no fear or anger towards his accusers, pleased to suffer for Christ, undaunted courage, that of Moses when he came down from Mount Sinai. What does Stephen begin to tell the high priest and the Council? Explains the OT in light of Christ and accuses them that they have resisted the Holy Spirit and persecuted those who are standing up for the righteous One.

IV. Harsh Reaction v. 54-55 We have the death of the first martyr (witness). Stephen was never found guilty by the council but only his accusers. Matthew Henry said this about the passage: “Here is hell in its fire and darkness and heaven in its light and brightness.” Do you think this statement is an accurate depiction of the text? As they gnash their teeth, Stephen sees the glory of God (heaven). When they heard these things, they were cut to their hearts (Heb. 11:37). Gnashing their teeth indicates the way they acted, not as human, but as brute beasts. Also it is used to describe the torments of the damned.  Do you think that rejecters of the gospel and those who are opposed against Christ are really tormentors to themselves? 

V. End Result v. 55-56; 59-60 They tried to drown out Stephen’s voice when he said; “I see heaven opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” In Stephen’s speech, it’s interesting that he makes the point that these people are uncircumcised in their heart and ears. Why do you think they were trying to drown this sound out? What are some “noises” in our culture that try to silence the truth of the Scriptures?In the preceding verses, it states that the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul. Do you know why? Possible answer: That the upper garments might not get in their way as they threw the stones at Stephen. At the end of the verses, we see that the witnesses were full of evil (murderers) and Stephen was full of the Holy Spirit. The same words were spoken as Jesus was on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Does this Scripture reference give you the confidence not to have bitter and anger stored up against someone who may righteously deserve it? Stephen had every right to be angry with his persecutors, but instead he chose to forgive them and not allow this sin to be against them. Who do you need to forgive today? 

 

 

Hudson Taylor – Missionary to China

English: Hudson Taylor.

Hudson Taylor was a man after God’s own heart. His primary goal was to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to China regardless of the trials he faced with his own family and the opposition from the native people. The story of Taylor is encouraging to me because he was obedient to where God placed him, was confident in prayer, and had an unwavering commitment to share the good news to lost sinners. In his biography, there were two aspects that I found interesting about his character.

First, he broke with the tradition of most missionaries and adopted Chinese culture. When he visited Zhangjiasi, a city where no foreigner had ever been seen before, the people were astonished that Taylor had learned the language. Some were still skeptical because he had a watch that they considered a devilish telescope. Taylor realized his western attire was a stumbling block so he embraced traditional Chinese outfits. In the end, Taylor conformed to Chinese customs without surrendering his convictions. He became all things to all people, finding common ground so that some might be saved through his ministry (1 Cor. 9:22).

Second, Hudson Taylor patiently endured the most difficult trials any human could face. When he was in Yangzhou, a riot broke out, and his team was attacked and their facilities were burned. In 1868, the Taylor family decided to send their three oldest children back to England because of the dangers they faced. Around the same time, another child was born, but he died of malnutrition.  During the same year, Taylor’s wife Maria died of cholera. In 1878, Taylor was almost paralyzed because of a fall he had taken on a river boat in China. When he left China to go to Switzerland for retirement, his second wife Jennie died of cancer. Despite all these trials, Hudson Taylor returned to China for the eleventh and final time. Throughout his life, he was inflicted with bad health and lost many of his closest family members, but miraculously continued to persevere through his trials for the sake of the gospel. He was a man who knew that his present sufferings were unworthy to be compared to the glory that will be revealed at the end of the age (Rom. 8:11).

Hudson Taylor’s ability to integrate with Chinese culture is convicting and it should be for Americans. In the United States, where cultural diversity is commonplace, there is still racial segregation in churches. According to the Pew Center, only 7 percent of American churches are racially integrated. This is contrary to the Word of God, which tells us that every tribe, tongue, and nation will glorify God (Rev. 7:9). If we are worshipping the same God, then why is there still segregation in our churches? Let’s be like Hudson Taylor, who embraced cultural diversity and wasn’t prejudice because he rightly understood that “all men and women are created equal by their Creator.”

Taylor’s unwavering faith and commitment to the Lord was encouraging. Despite all the trials, he continued to persevere through affliction for the sake of the gospel. It was not by his strength, but the Holy Spirit working in Taylor to bring the good news to the unreached territory of China. The early church Father Tertullian said “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” Because of Taylor and other missionaries to China who risked their lives, the church growth in China is exponential today. Pastor Gao Feng, president of the China Christian Council said: “One of the greatest challenges facing churches in China is training enough pastors to keep up with the booming Christian population.” Jesus told us that “this gospel of the Kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations” (Matt. 24:14). I want to encourage you to make every effort to spread the gospel and be the light to our dark world.