Introduction: Romans 8:28 tells us that in all things God works for
the good of those who love Him. How then do you explain that
Christians get killed for their faithfulness? How is that good? Why is
this allowed to happen? Our lesson this week is about martyrs, so
let’s jump into this mystery!
- John the Baptist
- Read Luke 1:13-14, 16-17. Who is the angel Gabriel
prophesying about? (John the Baptist)
- How important a life work is prophesied for John?
- Read John 1:6-8. Who is the light? (Jesus)
- After considering these texts in Luke and John, what
do you conclude is the work of John the Baptist? (To
witness to the light-Jesus. He was to prepare the way
for Jesus’ coming.)
- Do you have a similar assignment?
- Did John the Baptist accomplish the work that God had called
Him to do? (Read Matthew 11:10-11. Jesus says that John was
His “messenger” and no human was greater than John. As the
messenger, John accomplished his assignment.)
- How do you explain what Jesus says about “the least”
in the kingdom of heaven being “greater” than John?
(John the Baptist introduced a new era of
righteousness by faith. Those saved by faith are
“greater” than even the greatest worker. Why? Because
even the works of John the Baptist are imperfect,
while those who rely on faith in Jesus rely upon His
- With that background, let’s get into our story about the
death of John. Read Mark 6:17-20. Why was John arrested?
(Because of Herodias.)
- Who is this Herodias? (The Wycliffe Bible commentary
tells us that Herodias was the wife of her half-uncle,
Herod Philip I. Herod Philip I was the brother of
Herod Antipas (the one called Herod here in our text).
Herodias left Philip and became the wife of Herod
Antipas. Herod Antipas was already married to the
daughter of the King of Arabia, but Herod sent her
- Did Herodias like John pointing out her sins?
(Verse 19 – She held a grudge against him and
wanted to kill him.)
- Why couldn’t Herodias kill John? (Verse 20 – Herod
knew John was a righteous man – and thus he feared
- If Herod liked and feared John, why did he have
him arrested? (Herod, like us, liked to
compromise. He wanted to please his wife, yet he
did not want to harm John.)
- Verse 20 tells us that Herod liked to listen to
John, but that he was puzzled. Does this mean
Herod was stupid? That John was speaking “over
his head?” (A number of translations use the word
“perplexed” instead of “puzzled.” The Greek word
“aporeo,” according to Strong’s means “to have no
- In what way did Herod have “no way out?”
(He liked John, he knew John was righteous,
but he also liked Herodius and wanted to
please her. In his mind, he had no way
- Do you know someone like Herod – they know
what is right but live in a state of
conflict because they do not want to do
what is right?
- Is this you?
- Read Mark 6:21-28. Why did Herod agree to kill John? (He
was trapped by his foolishness (again). He had made an
extravagant promise and he felt he needed to keep his word
to show his guests he would do as he said. Pride and
foolishness were the driving forces here.)
- Our lesson says that “the anger and lusts of a
depraved woman” killed John and this was “hardly the
most noble reason to die.” (Tuesday) Do you agree? (It
is certainly true that anger, lust and pride killed
John. But, the real reason he died was that he
reproved sin. That is noble!)
- Why did God allow John to die?
- A trick, no doubt inspired by Satan, got John killed.
Did Satan “outwit” or “outplay” God?
- What started this series of texts we have been reading
in Mark 6 is that Herod heard of the miracles that
Jesus had performed. Read Mark 6:14-16. What lesson
did Herod learn from John’s death? (He did not
properly understand the specifics, but he understood
that his killing John was not the end of the
controversy. He knew that evil could not overcome
- Read Matthew 17:11-13. What does this text suggest is
the reason why John died? (Evil did its best against
both John and Jesus (and, as we studied last week,
James). But each of us can have courage that God has
the last word. God does, as Romans 8:28 says, work
things out for good. Right triumphs in the end!)
- Read Acts 6:2-4. What is the problem? (The apostles have
too much work of the wrong kind.)
- The solution to the problem is to select additional helpers
and divide the work. What work will the apostles continue to
do? (Prayer and ministry of the word.)
- What kind of work is prayer?
- Do you give your pastor time to pray?
- What work will the new guys do? (Verse 2 – Wait on tables.)
- What kind of qualifications do they need for that?
(Verse 3: Be “full of the Spirit and wisdom.”)
- How do you relate the qualifications to the job?
(Apparently the job required more than “waiting
- Read Acts 6:5-7. What do we learn about Stephen? (He met
the selection criteria. He was “full of faith and the Holy
- There is a theological debate about whether we should
just let the Holy Spirit lead in evangelism or whether
we should have plans and organization. What does this
text suggest about having a plan of action? (It
suggests that organization increased the effectiveness
of their evangelism.)
- Last week we discussed why the Jewish leaders were
happy that James had been killed by Herod. What does
verse 7 suggest about the reasons for this? (I
cringe(because of subsequent history) when I read
( Acts 12:3) “When [Herod] saw that [killing James]
pleased the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also.”
“Jews” are not the “bad guys.” The reference is to the
leaders who rejected Jesus. Acts 6:7 shows that many
of the priests accepted Jesus as the Messiah.)
- Read Acts 6:8-10. Is Stephen keeping to his job of “waiting
- Can you argue someone into the kingdom of heaven?
- If you say, “no,” then why did Stephen who is
filled with “wisdom” and the “Spirit” do it?
(Assuming arguing does no good to convince your
opponent, it can do a lot of good for those who
are listening. They are able to look at the
arguments for both sides and make an informed
- Read Acts 6:11-13. How did the argument progress? Did the
“other side” simply confess error? (There is a saying that
violence is the last resort of a failed argument. This means
that just because you are right does not mean that is the
end of the matter. Not being able to “out-argue” Stephen,
they resorted to deception and ultimately, violence.)
- Read Acts 6:14. What is really the source of the dispute?
- The High Priest gives Stephen a chance to state his defense.
Acts 6:15 tells us that Stephen’s face “was like the face of
an angel” as he began his defense. What does that mean to
- Because of its length, we will not read Stephen’s defense
right now. (Read it when you have time – it is a summary of
God’s dealings with the Jews over history.) Instead, we will
skip down to Acts 7:51. Read Acts 7:51-53. Is this how you
win friends and influence others?
- Why did Stephen condemn them so directly? Would this
be found in any chapter of “How to Lovingly Convert
Others?” (We will see shortly (v.55) that Stephen was
“filled with the Holy Spirit.” God directed this
approach taken by Stephen.)
- Read Acts 7:54. How did the people react? When it says they
“gnashed their teeth at him,” what does that tell you? (Have
you ever been so upset you gritted your teeth? This shows
the people were so angry they had a physical reaction to
what he said.)
- Read Acts 7:55-58. Do you cover your ears when you get
angry? If not, why did they? (Stephen had just told them he
had a vision from God. If Stephen was right, then his
message (that they hated to hear) was from God. They did
not want to listen to any more of this so they covered their
ears and rushed forward to silence him permanently.)
- Have you ever “covered your ears” to God’s word? How
can we do that?
- Read Acts 7:59-60. This seems very unusual to me. Stephen
just said his audience was guilty of killing Jesus (v.52).
So, why did Stephen ask God not to hold the sin of killing
him against them?
- Is that what you would have done?
- Our lesson (Sunday) mentions the martyr death of the
prophet Zechariah. As Zechariah was being stoned to
death he said ( 2 Chronicles 24:22) “May the Lord see
this and call you to account.” Which comment is more
appropriate, Stephen’s or Zechariah’s? (I think the
premise is the real point here. The premise, just like
with John the Baptist, is that good will ultimately
win out. Both Stephen and Zechariah understand that.
The difference is that Stephen says forgive the bad
guys when good triumphs, and Zechariah says “let ’em
- Acts 7:58 tells us that Saul (who later became Paul
and wrote a substantial part of the New Testament) was
a witness to Stephen’s death. What impact do you think
this had on Paul’s thinking? Does Stephen’s attitude
of forgiveness make a difference? (There is no
apparent short-term impact on Saul. He continues to
persecute God’s people. But the reference to him is a
reminder to all readers that good triumphs even on
earth. Paul became one of the greatest leaders of the
- Friend, the death of these martyrs teaches us the lesson
that the righteous are not always protected here on earth
(just as our Savior was allowed to suffer). However, we can
have confidence that God and good will triumph!
- Next Week: Giants of Faith