Summary: Exposition of the truth in Acts 7:1-53 regarding Stephen’s defense and indictment toward the Sanhedrin and the Jewish people’s rejection of Christ
Text: Acts 7:1-53, Title: Defense or Offense? Date/Place: NRBC, 10/21/07, AM
A. Opening illustration: Martin Luther writes “(Christians) must be warriors, always equipped with their armor and weapons, and that the lot of a Christian is no leisurely existence, nor one of peace and security; rather he is always on campaign, attacking and defending his positions. . . ‘(you) are in my army and under my flag; see to it that you are on the look-out for the enemy, ready to defend yourselves against his angels, for he is never far away from you.’ As long as you do that, you need have no fear.”
B. Background to passage: The last few weeks we have see the young church fend off attacks from various avenues as it continues to reach people for Christ. And the last installment of defense came after the church had chosen seven men to serve as deacons, one of which was a man named Stephen. And last week we saw his impeccable character through his communion, commitment, and conviction to Jesus that landed him in custody. Today he gets his chance to defend himself. And most of us if we are honest, we would admit that there are times when we fit the profile of “stiff-necked.” And so our present text serves as a reminder of God’s graciousness, but also as a warning against rebellion and unbelief toward Him.
C. Main thought: Stephen gives us three great truths about this “stiff-necked” people in his defense/offense.
A. Confining God is Blasphemy (v. 44-50)
1. Stephen doesn’t argue with their accusation that he spoke against the temple (although he did not). Instead he shows them that the temple should not be equated with the presence of God. He reminds them that God met Abraham in Ur, and in Haran. He met with Joseph in Egypt. He met with Moses in Midian, in Egypt, and at Sinai. And he met with Israel in the Tabernacle for 440 years outside Jerusalem. But the Jews over-reverenced the temple, and confined God to it. By doing this that had reduced the God of the universe to a territorial spirit, and were engaging in Idolatry by worshiping the building, not the God that they were to meet there. They forgot that it was God who instructed the building of the temple, the writing of the law, and it was God who could at anytime He wanted destroy or transform His institutions. They had created a God small enough for them to manage and confine to the temple. They were just like the delivered Egyptian captives in v. 41, rejoicing in the work of their own hands.
2. 1 Kings 8:27, Jer 23:24, Isa 64:1-2, Psa 71:19, Rom 11:33,
3. Illustration: “God is not a celestial vending machine that gives what we ask, when we put money in the offering box. God is not a heavenly genie who grants us three wishes when we rub Him in the right direction.” “We don’t seem to want to worship a God who’s too big, too authoritative. We seem more comfortable with a deity who’s more manageable.” When John Piper prays you can hear fear and reverence in his voice, and that alone gives the impression that His God is awesome and fearful,
4. Sometimes we are guilty of making God small enough to contain. If we can keep Him in a lamp like a genie, and just get him to come out when we need something, or something breaks in our lives, that is nice. We don’t want Him to really take control of our lives, mess up the works of our hands, and the plans of our minds, and embarrass us. Our God is uncontainable, incomprehensible, and bigger than most of our puny conceptions of Him. Do all that you can to expand your view of God biblically, so you’re your perspective on Him is more honoring to Him. Sometime we like to create a god in our minds of our own design to suit our needs and reflect our glory back to us. And this is idolatry—worshipping anything other than God, and anything less that all that He really is. And sometimes we hold things that are tradition for us (buildings, orders of worship, structures, governments, and ideas) so tightly that we make the mistake of attributing worship to them. We must be cautious not to deify created things. But really every tradition is simply a means to knowing, worshipping, and honoring God, and when they cease to do that, they are expendable. Or if we see that a different way better suits the biblical evidence, then we willingly discard the old way. Every building is simply a place to carry out the kingdom agenda without getting rained on. Every idea is held up to the Living Word of God, scrutinized, and kept or discarded.