In the last lesson we learnt that, before Jesus returned to his Father, he promised his disciples that he would send them the Holy Spirit to enable them to continue to spread the Easter message and be his witnesses.
In the Acts of the Apostles account of what happened after the Resurrection; the writer describes Jesus’ return to his Father in symbolic language.
So, when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judaea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus.
Acts 1: 6-14
The disciples, Mary and the women gathered together in Jerusalem to wait in prayer in the upper room for the coming of the Holy Spirit. It was coming up to the Jewish feast of Pentecost or Shavuot, that is the harvest festival. There were many people in Jerusalem at this time.
Describe the conversation which took place among the people in that upper room. Include any reference they would have made to the scriptures and the saying of Jesus. (Do not forget that the Gospels have not yet been written but they would be very familiar with the words of Jesus.) Record what you imagine their words, beliefs, feelings and experiences to be in the grid below.
After the coming of the Holy Spirit, the number of those who became Christians grew, so the early Church needed to be organised. One of the important works of those early Christians was to care for the poor as Jesus had done. The apostles were busy preaching and teaching, so they needed help. Stephen was one of the people chosen to help in the distribution of food so that the apostles could continue to spread the word of God. The people chosen had to be filled with the Holy Spirit to undertake this work. Stephen was the first deacon, deacons are called to serve and witness to the Word of God. The word ‘deacon’ is taken from the Greek word meaning ‘service’. Eventually Stephen was arrested and sentenced to death for witnessing to the Good News of Jesus. Stephen was the first Christian martyr. A martyr is a person who holds to a belief so strongly that he or she is willing to die for it. Such was the faith that Stephen had in Jesus.
Read the story of Stephen (God’s Story 3 page 138 Stephen based on the Acts of the Apostles).
Stephen, filled with the power of God’s Spirit, did marvellous work among the Jewish people in Jerusalem who had come from North Africa and Asia. Many of them were in Jerusalem on pilgrimage. Some of them tried to argue with Stephen but they found it too difficult. Stephen was very wise, and the Holy Spirit was with him. They were angry and told lies about Stephen.
They turned the scribes and elders against him as well as some of the people. Stephen was arrested. When Stephen stood up in court, he spoke for a long time about the ways in which they had refused to listen to God and to God’s messengers.
He told the judge and the people about Jesus, but they did not want to listen. They put their hands over their ears. Then they charged at him and dragged him outside the city. There they threw stones at him until he was dead. A young man called Saul watched. He was taking care of their cloaks. Before he died Stephen said: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. Do not blame them for what they have done.”
Acts 6: 6-7
- Why were people finding it too difficult to argue with Stephen?
- Why and how did Stephen remain strong?
- Stephen said, “Do not blame them for what they have done.” What example is Stephen setting by saying this?
- In the Scripture reading it says ‘…they put their hands over their ears’. Why do you think they did this and what did it show?
- What do you think about Saul’s action?
- What do Stephen’s last words remind you of?
We are often called upon in school to fundraise, e.g. for CAFOD, or collect food for the foodbanks to help those who cannot afford or struggle to find food to eat. In doing this we are like Stephen, chosen to help in the distribution of food. Make notes showing how we can continue to follow Stephen’s example and witness to the Good News.
* See resources below for key vocabulary and week 2 sheet*