Acts 6-7: Stephens Sermon
We read last week of the attack from the outside by the Sanhedrin led by the High Priest. Now we will see the attack of the enemy from within the church. Verse one of Acts 6 tells us with growth comes problems. Logistics must be addressed- but what we see is a spirit of discontent. There is murmuring- complaining about treatment. The Greek Jews complain against the Hebrew Jews claiming the Greek widows are being overlooked. The murmuring and complaining is causing dissension. We are seeing an attack from the enemy launched from within.
Let us consider once again the role of the apostles: they are the twelve who are commissioned with the responsibility of laying the foundation. What is the foundation? The foundation is the Scripture, the Word of God. This is what they were doing as they met daily- they devoted themselves, continued steadfastly in the apostles doctrine. This is what the church, the Body of Christ is built upon and rests on- the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. Depart from the scripture from the Word of God and the church will lose its strength- become malnourished and accept compromised, unsound doctrine. We must remember- the Word of God is alive and powerful; it is life giving, life changing and life nourishing. Man cannot live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. It is the Word of God that the enemy has attacked since the Garden of Eden.
Do you not see the subtle attack of the enemy? What appears to be a problem of logistics and perceived indifference and mistreatment of some of the members is nothing more than an attack of the enemy with a primary goal of distracting the apostles from laying the foundation of the Word of God. The apostles realize their mission, the main thing is to give their attention to prayer and the ministry of the Word. They do not consider the serving of widows a task beneath them- for they well remember what the Lord Jesus did on the night in the Upper Room when He took on the role of the bond servant and washed their dirty feet. It was a matter of each person using the gifts they were given by the Holy Spirit to serve the Lord and the body of believers. The gifts are distributed by the Holy Spirit and these are the gifts that enable us to walk in the works God has ordained for us to walk in.
Therefore they chose seven men who would help fulfill these needed duties. Their requirements were to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. A spiritual person is dependent on the activity of God in their life. They recognize God works through them with the gift which He equipped them with. A carnal believer is just the opposite, depending on their own abilities. Remember what Lot did when Abraham told Lot he could choose which land he and his flocks and people would abide in? The Bible tells us Lot chose for himself. Lot is a poster boy for carnality.
The other qualification was wisdom. Wisdom is the application of Scriptural knowledge. It is implementing and applying truth. They are doers, not hearers only. Thus the church, the Body of Christ is interdependent upon one another and dependent on Gods working through them. The eye does not say to the hand, I have no need of you. The health of the church is the key to the healthy life in our society, our community, our government, and our nation. If our nation and society are sick it is because the Body of Christ, the true church, has lost its sense of purpose. It has departed from the foundation upon which it is built. It is on shaky ground. If you look to find what is the matter- we are murmuring among ourselves and the prayer and ministry of the Word is compromised as those in charge are busy addressing issues the enemy has created to distract us.
Notice once the apostles had found a solution to the problem- they were able to return to focusing on prayer and the ministry of the Word. The result: the Word of God spread, the number of disciples increased; and a larger number of priests became obedient to the faith.
The first name mentioned among the seven chosen is Stephen. His name, as well as the name of the others reflect their Greek background. And for the next two weeks we will look at the story of Stephen, the first martyr. He was not only a deacon, but a preacher. He is described as being a man full of Gods grace and power and did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people.
Because he spoke Greek, he preached and taught in the synagogues that were predominantly Greek. Dr. Luke mentions Jews from Cyrene, Alexandria, and provinces of Cilicia and Asia. As an interesting side note and a bit of geography, Cilicia is a Roman province in the southeast corner of Asia adjoining Syria. Tarsus, where Saul of Tarsus was from is the principle city of Cilicia. We can therefore make a reasonable assumption that Saul would attend this synagogue and hear the preaching of Stephen. Here the problem begins as they begin to argue religion with Stephen. but they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke.
They could not win an argument against Stephen so they began to slander their opponent. They produced false witnesses to accuse Stephen of four offenses of blasphemy. They claimed Stephen had blasphemed: God, Moses, the law and the Temple. It is against these charges Stephen will defend himself with one of the longest sermon recorded in the New Testament. Surely, the Lord has underscored the importance of this sermon by its length and the response. For it will lead to the stoning of Stephen, the churchs first martyr. It will be the beginning of the persecution of the church which as we will see will cause the church to scatter and the word will be spread in Judea and Samaria. Once again things are not what they seem or appear to be, because when the church gets persecuted, the church grows.
The charges are trumped up, false charges. Stephen had blasphemed none of them. He had shown that Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of those things the law of Moses and the Temple had looked forward to, that Christ was the Messiah the fulfillment of the law. Jesus came to fulfill the law not do away with it. But those in control did not want any change to the way they did things. Sounds familiar doesnt it? The same old crowd saying this is the way we have always done it.
As we end this short chapter six of Acts we see Stephen preparing to defend himself before the Sanhedrin. His is described by those who witnessed this event as- his face was like the face of an angel. I believe this was the light and glow of the glory of God that shone upon his face as Stephen sat in perfect peace centered in the will of God.
Chapter 7- The Trial begins.
The high priest evidently reiterates the four serious charges against Stephen and ask for a plea- are these things true? His defense, as we will see in this week and next, is completely scriptural. Stephen knew not only what he believed, but why he believed it. The word of God is described as alive and powerful and sharper than a two edged sword. Stephen will use it skillfully as both an offensive weapon and a defensive weapon. Just as we are to do- to be workman who can rightly divide the word of God and give a reason for our hope.
Stephens four-fold goal is clear. He must defend himself against the charges of blasphemy. To do this he must capture the attention and interest of his audience, the Sanhedrin. He also wants to indict them of their sins as we will see in the startling conclusion of his sermon. And Stephen above all else wants to present the Messiah, the Lord Jesus.
Acts 7:2-3 Opening statement: Brothers and fathers, listen to me! The God of Glory appeared to Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran. What a great opening statement- he establishes two things he needs to do in his opening. Stephen establishes he believes in the God of Glory and also he recognizes the Jewish hero-Abraham as the father of Israel. Stephen has just gone on the record that he is a believer in the very God of Abraham. Notice also the respect with which he addresses the Sanhedrin calling the majority of the members brethren and calling the High Priests and officials fathers.
Stephen then proceeds to get their attention with what he knows is of utmost interest to them. Stephen knows the favorite subject of every member of the Sanhedrin is Jewish History. They loved their patriarchs, their sacred scriptures and Stephen will skillfully use these not only to get their attention but defend himself, indict them of their sins and present the Messiah.
So he begins with the story of Abraham, the revered father of Israel.The Jews believed that it was because of their ancestry that they were saved. By telling the story of the birth of their nation he had captured their attention and will use their own story to show them from their own history how the very patriarchs they revered had rejected Gods chosen one. He will build his case on how they had done the same and rejected Gods chosen one when they rejected the Lord Jesus.
Stephen carefully builds the story of Abraham as he accurately quotes the Scripture. The story changes emphasis in verse 8. He tells of the birth of Isaac and the birth of Jacob, the father of the twelve patriarchs. Verse 9 &10 is where the story shifts. Stephen quotes the scripture accurately and the members of the Sanhedrin cannot argue with the facts. Because the patriarchs were jealous of Joseph they sold him as slave into Egypt. But God was with him(Joseph) and rescued him from all his troubles. The KJV says they were moved with envy. In Mark 15:10-KJV For he(Pilate) knew that the chief priests had delivered Jesus for envy.
Stephen makes his first point in his building an indictment against the rulers of the Sanhedrin. Joseph, a most revered patriarch and hero of the Jewish nation who saved them during a famine was at first hated, reviled and despised by his brothers. They envied him. Stephen is telling a familiar story of their history but showing them the behavior of the fathers of Israel and reminding them of the fact their ancestral patriarchs had been dead wrong before about Gods chosen one. The very one who would save their lives during a time of a great famine.
First he makes the point they rejected Joseph, Gods chosen redeemer and sold him out of envy. Joseph the dreamer was Gods choice and they opposed Gods choice. These revered patriarchs were in fact by definition blasphemers. He continues with the story as he describes how God was with Joseph and gave him wisdom and enabled him to gain the good will of the Pharaoh and was raised up to sit at the Pharaohs right hand as ruler over Egypt. He goes on telling the story they knew so well, but perhaps were beginning to see in a different light. He tells how during the great famine, Jacob heard there was grain in Egypt and sent his sons there to obtain food, lest they starve to death. Very subtly, Stephen reminds them, the brothers did not recognize Joseph the first time. It is the second time they come into his presence they will recognize Joseph as he reveals himself to them.
There are many types and pictures of the Messiah in the OT. Every slain lamb in the Tabernacle and the Temple were a type of Messiah, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The Ark of Noah was a picture and type of Messiah saving Noah and his family from the wrath of God. But to me, Joseph is one of the most classic types of Christ. Surely these men gathered there that day as they heard Stephen use Joseph as a type of Messiah could not miss it.
Joseph was arrested and put in prison on false charges just as they had done with Jesus Christ. Joseph is a picture of Jesus, as clear a one as you will find in the Bible.
Joseph was rejected by his brothers the first time he came to them just as Jesus who came unto them and showed them in word and deed that He was the Messiah. Jesus wept over these very leaders that Stephen was now standing in front of. He wept because they did not recognize the time of Gods coming to them.
Interesting that Joseph was rejected by his own brothers but accepted by the Gentiles in Egypt. When Joseph was rejected by his family and went down to Egypt a famine came over all the land of Egypt and Canaan. Do you see what has happened to Israel since it rejected Jesus Christ? They fell into a spiritual famine that still exist today. They found no spiritual food, no spiritual sustenance.
Joseph was not recognized the first time- but the story of Joseph tells us he was recognized the second time. The first time Joseph is rejected and sold for envy. The second time accepted. Notice what happens after this reconciliation with his brothers. Joseph sends for his father and all his family. All of Israel- 75 souls at the time. All of Israel was saved.
In Romans 11 we read: I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited; Israel has experienced a hardening in PART until the full number of Gentiles has come in. And so ALL Israel will be saved, as it is written: The deliverer will come from Zion; He will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.
We will continue with the conclusion of this story next week. But in the meanwhile, let us recap the story so far:
- He first answered their charges of blasphemy regarding God by professing he recognizes and worships the God of Glory, the God of our father, Abraham.
- Stephen has gained their attention as he skillfully presents the subject they are most interested in- the history of the Jewish people- their patriarchs, and their God. Each Sanhedrin member there that day could trace their genealogical roots back to the 12 fathers of the 12 tribes. They took great pride in their heritage.
- He is beginning his indictment of their sins by showing how throughout their revered history- their own fathers have rejected Gods chosen One. How they had often killed the prophets of God.
- He will bring this indictment to a stunning conclusion by presenting Jesus Christ whom they crucified as the Messiah. Using the story of Joseph and Moses to paint as clear a picture of Jesus as we see anywhere in the Bible.
Acts 7: Stephens Sermon-Part 2
Last week we began a study of the sermon of Stephen, the first martyr of the church. Having been falsely accused of four blasphemies, Stephens testifies before the Sanhedrin in a powerful scripturally based sermon. The four blasphemies of which Stephen is falsely accused are: blasphemy against the law, Moses, the Temple and God.
The sermon serves as not only his defense against the blasphemies but is used to show the Sanhedrin a pattern of behavior that reveals from the beginning the nation of Israel had been on the wrong side- rejecting Joseph, Gods chosen redeemer and not recognizing him the first time. He will continue to show this pattern of rejection as he continues with his focus now on Moses. In using the Old Testament, Stephen will not only defend himself against the charges, he will indict Israel and the Sanhedrin of their sins and present the Lord Jesus as the Messiah. The Sanhedrins response: they will reject Stephens words of indictment and moved by anger and hatred will stone him to death.
In his opening testimony, Stephen will review the history of Israel from Abraham to Joseph. Clearly showing how the patriarchs rejected Joseph, Gods chosen redeemer the first time. He also mentions what God told Abraham regarding the future of his descendants. God told Abraham, your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own( Egypt), and they will be enslaved and mistreated and I (God) will punish the nation they serve as slaves and afterward they will come out of that country and worship me in this place. This was God telling Abraham what was to occur in the future including how long it would last. Only God can foretell the future. No other religion has a book or worships a god that accurately foretells what is to happen in the future and it happens as it was predicted.
Let me remind you on this special day ( Easter Sunday) we celebrate a Risen Savior. A Savior whose coming was foretold with great accuracy and detail centuries before it occurred. The Cross, the empty tomb, the Risen Savior are all a part of and a place of prophecy fulfilled; Easter Sunday reminds us of a promise kept( promise?- God would provide Himself a lamb); and a principle of Gods carried out. That principle? That without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin.
So Stephen is center stage before the Sanhedrin defending himself and indicting them with their own history, their beloved patriarchs and a pattern of behavior that he will continue to prove through his direct quotes from the Old Testament. Never think the Old Testament is obsolete. The Old Testament supports the New Testament and explains it. Our faith in Jesus Christ is rooted in the fact that He is the fulfillment of all Old Testament types . He is the Redeemer promised to Israel; He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the World.
Stephen continues with the story- Gods story of the nation of Israel. In verse 17 of Acts 7, Stephen brings the story forward from the time of Joseph and his father and brothers settling in Egypt during the famine. As time drew near for God to fulfill his promise to Abraham.. What was the promise of God to Abraham? God told Abraham to get out of his country ( Mesopotamia) and leave his family and go to a country God would show Abraham. God had also told Abraham his descendants would be enslaved by another country. That country was Egypt. They would be there for over 400 years. Now that time has come and in the meanwhile, the 75 souls who went with Jacob down to Egypt have multiplied into (we believe) approximately 2,000,000 Israelites living in Egypt. In verse 18, quoting from Exodus, Stephen reminds them of what happened, a ruler in Egypt came into power who knew nothing of Joseph, the great hero of long ago. This ruler dealt treacherously with our people( the Jews) and oppressed our forefathers and killed the newborn males. Now Stephen will tell the story of Moses, the giving of the law, and the temple.
The Egyptians made the children of Israel serve as slaves. They built the pyramids, the dug channels for the Nile. The nation of Israel was enslaved to a cruel taskmaster. And their lives were made bitter with hard bondage, in mortar and in brick and in all kinds of service in the field ( Exodus 1:14) Has God ever allowed your life to become bitter with hard bondage? Do you look back at a time in your life when your life had become bitter and difficult and you were in bondage to sin? God was weaning the hearts of the Israelites from Egypt, just as He will wean your heart from the things of the world, the sin and lifestyle we once enjoyed. The wine in the cup that sparkled once has now turned into bitterness and we long for something different. Like prodigals we have had our fill of the world and our hearts long for home and the unconditional love of our father. God wants our: attention, our awe, our hearts and our obedience.
In verse 20 of Acts 7 Stephen accurately tells the story of Moses birth. God was preparing a deliverer, a redeemer who would set his people free. Moses the baby, we are told was exceedingly fair- no ordinary child was he. His mother cared for him for 3 months in their home, at which time we know she placed Moses in a basket and set him in the river. She had his sister follow to see what happened. God directed that small basket with this unique child into the waiting arms of the Pharaohs daughter. She took him into the household of the Pharaoh and raised Moses as her own child. Moses had become the adopted son of the Pharaoh of Egypt. Moses received a first class education and Exodus, from which Stephen is quoting, tells us Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in word and deeds.
Now remember, one of the blasphemies, Stephen is accused of is blaspheming Moses. So far, the Sanhedrin can find no evidence in Stephens testimony of Moses that is blasphemous. Stephen continues with his history lesson of Moses by quoting accurately from the story in Exodus. Verse 23 of Acts 7 tells us: And when he(Moses) was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren the children of Israel. God put this desire in the heart of Moses. Moses is going to visit his people with the intention of helping them as we will see.
In verse 24, the story of Moses continues as his visit to his brethren allows Moses to see one of the Israelites being mistreated. Moses intervenes to defend his fellow Israelite from the Egyptian and in doing so strikes the Egyptian and kills him and hides the body in the sand.
Now the story takes a familiar turn as Moses supposes his own people would realize he was sent by God to deliver them- but once again the Israelites did not accept Gods chosen deliverer.
Watch what happens the very next day, Moses came upon two Israelites who were fighting. Moses tried to reconcile them by saying you men are brothers; why do you want to hurt each other? Another would come as a deliverer and a peacemaker, the Lord Jesus, the very Prophet Moses said would come- whom the nation of Israel would reject also. Jesus said, if you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace- but now it is hidden from your eyes. You did not recognize the time of Gods coming to you. ( Luke 19- Palm Sunday)
When Moses attempts to reconcile these two men- they pushed Moses aside and said to him-who made you ruler and judge over us? The very Jews that Stephen was addressing that day were the same ones who told Pilate that they would not have this Jesus as their king- they had no king but Caesar.
These two men asked Moses was he now going to kill them as he had killed the Egyptian and Moses knew his secret was out and Moses fled for he feared for his life. So Moses Gods chosen deliverer is rejected the first time he presents himself as Gods deliverer. Moses fled to the land of the Gentiles, Midian, where he settles a foreigner and had two sons.
Acts 7:30 picks up the story as it is told in Exodus. Forty years have passed and Moses, a shepherd tending his flocks has an encounter with God via the burning bush. When Moses saw this sight, a bush that kept burning he turned aside to see what it was. He heard Gods voice tell him: I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Moses trembled with fear and did not dare to look. What is the fire that does not go out? It is the Shekinah Glory of God, the glow of God in a bush. The Lord gives His grace to the humble and here God uses an ordinary bush growing in the desert on the backside of nowhere to make known His Glory.
God is getting ready to move as He announces He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This is covenant language and God is getting ready to fulfill his promise to Abraham just as He said He would and just at the time He said He would. Who is he using as a deliverer? Moses,an 80 year-old fugitive shepherd. It is almost as if Stephen could say to the Sanhedrin- are you beginning to get the picture? Are you beginning to see a pattern here fellows? Rejection of Gods appointed redeemers the first time has occurred time and time again. You have rejected and killed Gods prophets.
The Lord tells Moses take off your sandals, the place where you are standing is Holy Ground.The ground was not holy by nature but was made holy by Gods divine presence. Holiness involves being consecrated to the Lords service and thus being separated, set apart or sanctified from the commonplace. If God can make the backside of a desert holy and use a bush can He not use us? Remember what Jesus said- we are to be Holy as God is Holy.
Then God gets down to business as Stephen continues the story. I have seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their groaning and have come down to set them free.Now come I will send you back to Egypt. God is always faithful. When He says He is going to do something- He always does it. You may not think God is seeing what is going on or listening to your prayers- but it is clear God sees all, hears all and knows all. He sees me when I am weeping- He hears me when I cry out. He knows my sitting down and my rising up, He understands my thoughts afar off. You, God, discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely. You hem me in- behind and before and you have laid Your Hand upon me.
Now Stephen hits them with the cold hard truth: this is the same Moses whom they rejected with the words, who made you ruler and judge? ( You do realize this is exactly who Jesus is dont you? He is both ruler and judge.) Stephen continues with the obvious truth that every member in the Sanhedrin knows- that God Himself has sent Moses to be both ruler and judge and the deliverer of the people of Israel out of bondage. Moses would lead them out of Egypt and did wonders and miraculous signs in Egypt, the Red Sea and for forty years in the desert.
If this trial was before an impartial jury they would have been convinced by the evidence this man, Stephen, is not only not guilty of the charges- he has shown the Sanhedrin what should be clear they have once again missed the One sent by God to deliver them. In their pride and blindness, these powerful men and scholars of the law are convinced they could not possibly miss the Messiah when He came. After all they are the most learned, intelligent teachers and scribes and students of the law in the whole world. Yet Stephen is showing them this pattern, they always miss Gods appointed ones the first time around. They did it with Joseph, they did it with Moses and now they have done it again with Jesus- the Messiah, Gods Own Son.
It gets even more convincing and convicting for the Sanhedrin as Stephen continues with his scripturally based defense. This is that Moses who told the Israelites, God will send you a Prophet like me from your own people, Him shall you hear. This is very familiar scripture from Deut. 18:15.This is a Messianic prophecy. This would be one like Moses who they were to listen to- a deliverer, a redeemer, the very Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world.
How is Moses a type of Jesus? Remember when Jesus fed the five thousand men( probably 15-18,000 total counting women and children) in John 6? He did it with five loaves and two fish and had 12 baskets left over. John 6:14 records the reaction of the people: After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say,Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world. The Prophet they referred to was the Prophet Moses spoke of in Deut. 18 as the one like him raised up by the Lord God. They also knew this Prophet would be the Messiah, for notice in John 6: 15- Jesus, knowing they intended to make Him King by force withdrew again to the mountain by Himself. The next day, the crowd looking for Jesus finds him and asks: what miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe in you? What will you do? Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written : He gave them bread from heaven to eat.(John 6:30,31)
Jesus replied: I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. I am the bread of life. ..and Jesus goes on to tell them repeatedly He has come down from heaven. He has fulfilled the prophecy of Moses and has verified it by the miracles he has performed. Jesus had presented Himself as the Messiah.
How had Jesus paralleled Moses? Look at the facts, which is what Stephen is doing here: Moses was a prince who humbled himself to identify with his own people and become their redeemer. Just as Jesus who was God humbled himself in obedience and became a man to live among his own people- who like Moses was rejected the first time he came to them. Moses led his people out of captivity, so did and does the Lord Jesus. But the leaders the Sanhedrin were blind to this. They were the blind leading the blind. The movement among the Jewish people is about to come to an end. What had been initially a largely Jewish movement will now be rejected by its leaders and persecuted as blasphemy. The rejection by the Jewish leaders will signal the beginning of a movement among the Gentiles and is continuing to this day until the fullness of the time of the Gentiles.
God will once again during the Great Tribulation see and hear the cries of His people and will renew His covenant with the Jewish people. And upon their second revelation of their Messiah, the Prophet Moses spoke of- will return and be delivered from their oppression by none other than the Lord Jesus Christ they rejected the first time.
Now Stephen has two other issues he must address: the accusation he has blasphemed the law of Moses and the Temple. We will deal with the accusation regarding the law today and will cover the others next week.
In verse 38 of Acts 7- we read : Moses was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him in Mount Sinai and with our fathers he received the living oracle/word to pass on to us. Notice Stephen has called the law- living, not dead. He is stating he believes in the law- he is no blasphemer. He believes the law the word of God is alive. He recognizes God as the author, angels as the mediator and Moses as the recipient. But in verse 39, Stephen mentions another inconvenient truth- our fathers did not obey the law or Moses and their hearts turned back to Egypt. And Stephen as verification of their actions tells the story of Aaron and the golden calf and their gross sins.
Do you see the picture Stephen has painted before their own eyes with the Word of God? What a contrast we see as Moses is up on top of the mountain getting the law while the nation of Israel, their forefathers were worshipping false gods at the foot of the very mountain upon which God was delivering His Sacred Law.
What an indictment! Stephen says the fathers you revere- were not loyal to the Law of God or Moses. This same God who had delivered them through the Red Sea only to have them turn from God to idols was a pattern of behavior that marked the nation of Israel and its leaders throughout their history. Stephen injects a quote from Amos that verifies this behavior from the desert to their exile in Babylon. The Sanhedrin cannot deny what they know is true. They do not like this message- and they cannot change these facts- but they can destroy the messenger.