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The Synagogue of the Freedmen

A synagogue is the building or location where a Jewish assembly meets for religious worship and instruction.  In biblical times, small towns and villages with less than ten men met out in the open, often along the banks of a river or sea.  One of these places of worship was known as the Synagogue of the Freedmen.  These individuals were of collection of freed Jewish slaves from Alexandria, Asia, Cilicia and Cyrene.  Past experiences as slaves created an instant bond for these men.

However, some men from what was called the Synagogue of the Freedmen (freed Jewish slaves), both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and [the province of] Asia, rose up and questioned and argued with Stephen, Acts 6:9.

Based upon the passage above, the members of this synagogue felt threatened by Jesus.  Perhaps this community of believers was afraid of change, especially to Jewish traditions that they embraced.  Thus, their reaction to Jesus being the long awaited Messiah was similar to the chief priest and Pharisees who crucified Jesus.  Subsequently, the Synagogue of the Freedmen began a smear campaign against Stephen.  This newly appointed apostle was bombarded by a character assassination provoked and incited by the people.

“You stiff-necked and stubborn people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are always actively resisting the Holy Spirit. You are doing just as your fathers did. 52 Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who proclaimed beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; 53 you who received the law as ordained and delivered to you by angels, and yet you did not obey it!” – Acts 7:51-53

Stephen was put on trial, forced to give an account of the false accusations made against him.  It’s unclear whether or not the Synagogue of the Freedmen were pawns urged by religious leaders or willing participants.  Regardless of the motives, Stephen blames this behavior on resisting the Holy Spirit.  Any type of change is difficult.  However, when you make a decision to dedicate your life to Jesus, this means living by a new set of standards, the Bible.  Stephen was stoned to death and other Christians were persecuted.  As modern souls wrestle to make spiritual decisions today, the fear of change remains.  For anyone still on the fence, may your hearts and minds embrace the Holy Spirit.

by Jay Mankus

Unshakable

In the first century, sometime after 30 AD a Jewish zealot was fearful that the Jesus movement would ruin his religion.  Thus, Saul used the Synagogue of the Freedmen as a pawn to attack the character of a newly appointed apostle.  While Jesus choose to remain silent when brought him before the Council (Sanhedrin, Jewish High Court), Stephen defended his faith.  Just as religious leaders accused Jesus of de-emphasizing some of the ten commandments, Stephen was of charged with committing blasphemy against Moses and God.  Luke records Stephen’s entire defense in Acts 7.

Now when they heard this [accusation and understood its implication], they were cut to the heart, and they began grinding their teeth [in rage] at him, Acts 7:54.

Without any notes, Stephen gives an unshakable defense of his faith.  As if reading the Bible which wasn’t available for another 300 years, Stephen summarizes the Bible from the patriarchs to the crucifixion of Jesus.  The passage above is the response of the Sanhedrin.  These men were convicted and enraged at the same time.  Luke’s choice of words give the appearance of a pack of wolves ready to pounce upon their prey.  Despite this reaction, Stephen didn’t apologize, backdown or retract his previous comments.  Rather, Stephen was prepared to become the first Christian martyr post Jesus.

 But he, being full of the Holy Spirit and led by Him, gazed into heaven and saw the glory [the great splendor and majesty] of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; 56 and he said, “Look! I see the heavens opened up [in welcome] and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” 57 But they shouted with loud voices, and covered their ears and together rushed at him [considering him guilty of blasphemy], Acts 7:55-57.

On the verge of death, the Holt Spirit fixed Stephen’s mind on his future destiny in heaven.  Just as this council was about to pick up stones to form a firing line, Stephen gazed into heaven.  This vision is verbalized causing Sanhedrin members to take off their outer robe so that each could throw their stone as hard as possible.  Unfazed by this commotion, the Holy Spirit enabled Stephen to drown out the noise.  Instead of focusing on the gory details of death, Luke simply states that Stephen fell asleep, unshakable until the very end of his life.

by Jay Mankus

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