While we are unable to meet for Sunday School, I will post an adaptation of the youth Sunday School lesson every Wednesday. Think of the lesson as a guide to discuss a passage of Scripture as a family. Each lesson will include some introductory material, a Scripture reading, questions for discussion, and a short prayer. I encourage you to take just 15-30 minutes every week over dinner, at the end of the day, or whenever best fits your family schedule to actively engage your students in this opportunity to grow together as a family in faith.
The first six chapters of Acts discuss the beginning of the church in Jerusalem. The church in Jerusalem was led by Jesus’ disciples. The church consisted of both Greeks and Jews who had become Christians. Early in its inception, the church faced conflict. The Greeks felt that their widows were not receiving as much food in the daily distribution as those widows of Jewish descent. The disciples decided that they needed to add additional leaders to the church who would be responsible for caring for the people while they focused on preaching, teaching, and prayer. Seven men were chosen to fill this new role, and Stephen was one of them. Acts 6:5 describes Stephen particularly as “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.” The church had been growing rapidly, and the church continued to grow rapidly.
Acts 6:8 describes Stephen as “a man full of God’s grace and power,” and he performed many miracles. A group of Jewish leaders had grown very upset by this, brought people together against Stephen, and had him arrested. They brought Stephen before a Jewish, religious council known as the Sanhedrin, and he was placed on trial. They found people to serve as witnesses who lied about the things that Stephen said. Stephen testified that the Jewish leaders have been wrong to not recognize Jesus as the Messiah God had promised them. He delivers an impassioned speech in chapter seven that recounts many events in Jewish history. He compared these Jewish leaders to the people who had persecuted the Jews throughout their history. Our story today picks up at the sentencing phase of Stephen’s trial.
- Talk about the passage together to review its contents. How did the Sanhedrin react to Stephen? What was Stephen’s sentence? How did Stephen respond?
- Do you think Stephen could have stood up for his faith without putting himself in danger?
- What do you think Stephen is thinking and feeling? What do you think you would be thinking or feeling if you were in Stephen’s place?
- Read Acts 6:15 and then Acts 7:54. What do you think about Stephen’s testimony in Acts 7 caused the Sanhedrin to change their response to Stephen so drastically?
In the way Stephen responds to his impending death, we are reminded of Jesus. Before his death, Jesus spoke to God and asked God to forgive those who were bringing about his death. As Stephen is being stoned, he also speaks with God and asks God to forgive those who are killing him. While God does not call all of us to die for our faith, it does seem as though the story of Stephen here does serve as a model of what it means to follow Jesus even into death.
Being a witness for Jesus means that we must be able to tell of Jesus’ work. Stephen knew the story of how God had been at work since the beginning of time, but he also could testify about the work of God through Jesus in his own lifetime. Even more than that, Stephen was a part of God’s continued work. He had been chosen to serve those in need, but God had also given the power to perform great signs and wonders. We must know our Christian faith, but we also must allow the Holy Spirit to guide us and use us in order to fulfill our call to be a witness for Jesus.
Stephen’s story can be a prompt for us to consider how faithfulness to God may go against common assumptions or practices in our culture today. Talk through some of these questions below (taken from “The Stoning of Stephen” lesson in the Youth Feasting on the Word Curriculum) and consider how you might need to rearrange your own priorities, take a stand, and express your beliefs through action.
- What does the Christian faith have to say about rampant consumerism and our complicity in it?
- What does Christianity have to say about our nationalistic impulses and the self-interest that guides the foreign policies of many nations?
- What does our faith have to say about environmental stewardship and our current patterns of living?
Dear God, we know that you have called each one of us to serve as a witness for you. Help us know how, when, and where we can take a stand for our faith to help others know your love, grace, and power. Thank you for being with us wherever you call us to go. Please give us your words and your wisdom so that others will see and hear you in us. Amen.