Lesson 10

Martyrs and Their Murderers

(Mark 6, Acts 6 & 7)
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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!

  1. John the Baptist

    1. Read Luke 1:13-14, 16-17. Who is the angel Gabriel prophesying about? (John the Baptist)

      1. How important a life work is prophesied for John?

    2. Read John 1:6-8. Who is the light? (Jesus)

      1. 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.)

      2. Do you have a similar assignment?

    3. 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.)

      1. 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 perfect life.)

    4. 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.)

      1. 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 away.)

        1. Did Herodias like John pointing out her sins? (Verse 19 - She held a grudge against him and wanted to kill him.)

      2. Why couldn't Herodias kill John? (Verse 20 - Herod knew John was a righteous man - and thus he feared him.)

        1. 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.)

        2. 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 way out.")

          1. 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 out.)

          2. 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?

            1. Is this you?

    5. 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.)

      1. 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!)

    6. Why did God allow John to die?

      1. A trick, no doubt inspired by Satan, got John killed. Did Satan "outwit" or "outplay" God?

      2. 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 good.)

      3. 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!)

  2. Stephen

    1. Read Acts 6:2-4. What is the problem? (The apostles have too much work of the wrong kind.)

    2. 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.)

      1. What kind of work is prayer?

      2. Do you give your pastor time to pray?

    3. What work will the new guys do? (Verse 2 - Wait on tables.)

      1. What kind of qualifications do they need for that? (Verse 3: Be "full of the Spirit and wisdom.")

        1. How do you relate the qualifications to the job? (Apparently the job required more than "waiting on tables!")

    4. Read Acts 6:5-7. What do we learn about Stephen? (He met the selection criteria. He was "full of faith and the Holy Spirit.")

      1. 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.)

      2. 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.)

    5. Read Acts 6:8-10. Is Stephen keeping to his job of "waiting tables?"

      1. Can you argue someone into the kingdom of heaven?

        1. 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 decision.)

    6. 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.)

    7. Read Acts 6:14. What is really the source of the dispute? (Jesus.)

    8. 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 you?

    9. 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?

      1. 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.)

    10. 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.)

    11. 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.)

      1. Have you ever "covered your ears" to God's word? How can we do that?

    12. 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?

      1. Is that what you would have done?

      2. 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 have it.")

      3. 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 New Testament.)

    13. 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!

  3. Next Week: Giants of Faith

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