Summary: A first-person narrative as Stephen. Big Idea: wherever you go, God will be with you.
“A Guy Named Steve”
Good morning! Oh, that’s much better—thank you. My name is Stephen, but you may call me Steve if you’d rather. I guess we’re here for me to share my story with you folks. Have any of you heard of me before? You know me as the first martyr. The first to die for the privilege of following the Lord Jesus Christ. You may have thought I’d amount to more than I did. Maybe the Lord used me to do more than you think.
I was one of the Seven the Apostles called to assist in the ministry of the church. The others in the church called me a man “full of the Holy Spirit” and “full of God’s grace and power.” Which was encouraging, but not really complimentary. I mean, it’s no reflection on me, is it? I’m not a wonderful person, but I’m filled with a wonderful God. I believe that trusting Christ means taking him at his word and risking all for his sake. Many opposed me, it’s true. Even people within the church would have preferred I take a more cautious approach. But I knew what the scriptures taught and I knew what Christ had done, and I was willing to risk everything for the truth of those implications.
God was doing a lot of good, and people’s lives were being changed. In spite of this, my ministry provoked fierce antagonism. First, men from the Freed Slaves Synagogue began to argue with me. Which I welcomed—I really enjoy a good argument! And they could not stand up against the Spirit. Thwarted in open debate, these men started a smear campaign against me. (When arguments fail, substitute mud, right?)
They persuaded certain people to make accusations against me, which allowed them to take me to the Sanhedrin. They took me into the high council chambers (the same room where Peter had stood just months earlier, and the Lord himself just months before that.) I was charged with blasphemy against Moses and against God. This was an extremely serious accusation. For nothing was more sacred to the Jews, and nothing more precious, than the temple and the law. The temple was the sanctuary of God’s presence, and the law was the revelation of God’s mind and will. Therefore, to speak against either was to blaspheme. Had I? You’re wondering, aren’t you? Do you think I was guilty of blasphemy? Well, was Jesus?
Jesus said he would replace the temple, destroying it and in three days building another. His hearers thought he had meant this literally, but the temple he had spoken of was his body. “I tell you, one greater than the temple is here.” Many Jews drew a wrong conclusion—they conceived of Yahweh as so completely identified with the temple that its existence guaranteed His protection, while its destruction would mean He had abandoned them. Although in the past the people came together to the temple to meet God, in future the meeting place with God would be Himself.
Jesus said he would fulfill the law. He was accused of disrespecting the law, but the scribes and Pharisees did not understand him. What he did was to contradict the scribal misinterpretations of Moses, and so sweep away all the traditions of the elders. But he was never disrespectful of the law itself. On the contrary, he said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” His resolve to lay down his life for us would fulfill all priesthood and sacrifice.
What Jesus taught, then, was that the temple and the law would be superseded, meaning not that they had never been divine gifts in the first place, but that they would find their God-intended fulfillment in him, the Messiah. Jesus was and is himself the replacement of the temple and the fulfillment of the law. Moreover, to affirm that both the temple and the law pointed forward to him and are now fulfilled in him is to magnify their importance, not to denigrate it.
But I stood accused of blasphemy. The high priest asked me, “are these accusations true?” But he had to shade his eyes as he looked at me! My face shone bright. I was accused of speaking against Moses and against God, yet bore the same mark as Moses of having been with God. And now, all eyes were on me, and it was my turn to speak.
My speech has been called my “defense,” but it wasn’t what you’d think. I wasn’t seeking an acquittal from the Sanhedrin. I wasn’t there to defend myself—I was there to testify to Christ. And I could do this in a way we would all understand, from the scriptures, the history of the Jews. I traced the ways of God with His people from Abraham to Moses. I tried to show them that God’s activity is not confined to the land of Israel, and that worship acceptable to him is not confined to the temple.