Stephen, a Man of Faith and Power
"Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith" (Acts 6:7).

After unity was restored by resolving the daily distribution problem, we see yet another beautiful description of the church growing, along with the reason why - "the word of God spread"! Furthermore, many priests were "obedient to the faith" (i.e., they obeyed an objective body of truth). In other words, many who served as priests in the temple were taught the gospel and were willing to affirm faith in Jesus, repent of their sins, and be baptized into Christ for real cleansing. For these religious leaders to obey the gospel is quite an accomplishment (cf. Matt. 28:11)! It underscores the tremendous transforming power of God's word upon a good and honest heart (cf. Rom. 1:16; James 1:21). When the priests of an opposing religious system begin to give way, that system is ready to fall. As a side note, it is seen here that obedience to the gospel is required; such is not fulfilled in mental assent alone but requires immersion and a faithful Christian life (cf. II Thess. 1:7-9).

"And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. Then there arose some from what is called the Synagogue of the Freedman (Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and those from Cilicia and Asia), disputing with Stephen. And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke. Then they secretly induced men to say, 'We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.' And they stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes; and they came upon him, seized him, and brought him to the council. They also set up false witnesses who said, 'This man does not cease to speak blasphemous words against this holy place and the law; for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs which Moses delivered to us.' And all who sat in the council, looking steadfastly at him, saw his face as the face of an angel" (Acts 6:8-15).

Luke describes Stephen as a man full of faith and power who was performing "great wonders and signs among the people." This is the first reference of anyone besides an apostle working a miracle in the early church. Thus, it seems clear that Stephen received this miraculous power from the apostles when they laid their hands on Him in 6:6 (cf. 8:12-19). When we study Chapter 8, we will see that Philip (whom the apostles also laid hands on) is now performing miracles as well.

In addition to helping tend to the daily distribution, Stephen also taught the gospel publicly. Certain Jews began to dispute with him, but they were not able to disprove the truthfulness and validity of what he spoke. The fact that Stephen would debate them shows that Christianity is not merely a passive system; it engages the enemy! Although they probably anticipated, with their superior learning, to be able to force these Christians into silence, they were no match for the inspired insight and wisdom Stephen possessed. Since they could not overcome him in debate, they resorted to lies and misrepresentation. They falsely claimed that Stephen was a blasphemer against Moses and God. As had happened with Jesus, the crowds were stirred up against this godly man. False witnesses were put in place, which clearly indicated their desperation to silence him. They couldn't overcome the truth he spoke and they didn't like his message, so they attacked him any way possible. One of their claims, however, that Stephen had preached about Jesus planning to "destroy this place and change the customs which Moses delivered to us" may very well be true (though it wasn't blasphemy). Jesus did predict the destruction of His own body (cf. John 2:18-22), but He also foretold the overthrow of Jerusalem (cf. Matt. 24:4ff; which would finalize the transition from Judaism to Christianity that was currently in progress). It is possible Stephen elaborated on such matters. As in many perjury cases, there was likely a grain of truth in their testimony.

I find 6:15 intriguing. Stephen's face shone like that of an angel before the Sanhedrin. Sadly, however, since the restored legs of a lame man did not soften their hard hearts, it is unlikely a glowing face would accomplish anything productive. Such will be demonstrated to be the case when we consider the council's response to the bold and courageous speech of Stephen in Acts 7.