Summary: Is it Jesus and something else, or is it Jesus alone? Stephen realizes that we do not need the Temple Sacrifice and Jesus, we need Jesus alone.
Stephen is a distinguished member of the community, a man who lives like righteous Jewish men have lived over millennium: Stephen knows his Scripture, Stephen worships God alone, and Stephen attends Synagogue and Stephen obeys the law of Moses.
Stephen is just like many righteous Jewish men who live in the city of Jerusalem except for one thing: It has dawned on Stephen that the sacrifices offered at the Temple in Jerusalem are no longer needed. There is no need to continually offer sacrifice for our sin at the Temple because Jesus Christ is our atoning sacrifice for sins of the past, He is the atoning sacrifice for sins of the here and now, and He is the atoning sacrifice for sins of the future.
The only thing needed to cover the wrong we have done was the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Being good doesn’t remove my wrong doing. Doing the right things doesn’t remove my wrong doing. Living my life the best I can does not remove the things I have done wrong in my life. Neither does giving all I have away to the poor, or being kind and considerate to all I know remove my sin. Even if I love everyone I meet, make the world a better place, eliminate poverty, end war, or even bring healing and joy to millions of people - no amount of self sacrifice, phenomenal success, good character or good intentions will remove any of the bad things I have done, correct any sin or offer me any forgiveness. The only thing needed to cover the wrong we have done was the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ - Period.
Good karma, bad karma; positive thoughts, negative thoughts; good intentions, poor intentions - these all are irrelevant, they cannot bring any forgiveness into my life, and get this: Even if I perfectly keep the ten commandments, that is not enough, what I need in my life is Jesus Christ.
When we boil this whole chapter down to its main point we see the same issue for us today as it was for the folks we see in the ancient world: Is it Jesus blood that covers our sin and bring redemption to us, or is it something else that takes away our sin and brings us redemption? Is it Jesus or is it something else.
Remember, we saw back in chapter 4, the Apostle Peter clearly say: (Acts 4:12) “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”
We saw that Peter made no bones about it. We saw that no matter how you slice it, no matter how you dice it, that is the correct and accurate translation: The only name in which we can be saved is in the name of Jesus of Nazareth.
The central issue in our text today is parallel in our time as it was in their time. It the time of these new believers, Judaism is confronted with a very practical fact: Is it Jesus and the Temple, or is it Jesus alone? In our time it is the same. Is it Jesus, AND some other thing, or, is it Jesus alone?
Up to this point, everyone sees those who believe in Jesus as another religious movement within Judaism. Believers in Jesus are held in high regard. Jesus was a good Jewish man, and his followers are very loving and generous and get along with everyone. See, the new believers, and there are an estimated 25,000 believers at this point, the new believers, who are all Jewish, follow all the Jewish laws and customs. To everyone in Jerusalem, believers in Jesus are just as Jewish as they are, except, they follow the teachings of Jesus.
And then something hits Stephen.
Stephen realizes this: Why are we continuing to offer sacrifice when Jesus was the one sacrifice needed for all time? Stephen realizes that we do not need the Temple to atone for our sin, because we now have Jesus, therefore, no one needs to offer sacrifice at the Temple anymore.
Notice: Stephen doesn’t claim that only believers shouldn’t offer sacrifice anymore, Stephen claims this idea is for everyone. In other words, he is not saying, “This is what I believe, it is my personal belief - I’ll live my life the way I want, and you live your life the way you want.” No, Stephen argues: This is how it is, no ifs ands or buts.
Stephen argues very well and life for the new believers is never the same…..
Who was Stephen?
The name Stephen means “garland” like what was placed on the heads of the victors at the ancient Olympic games. Stephen, we see is at the beginning of the list there in verse 5. This isn’t random. This shows that Stephen is the most favored of the seven men chosen. He is known to be full of faith and the Holy Spirit. This tells us that Stephen not only had the Holy Spirit, as all believers do, but Stephen was able to hear and obey the Holy Spirit well. Stephen is a strong believer.