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

        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

        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

          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

      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

      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

      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

    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?

    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

    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