Summary: The ground of the gospel is cultivated in the Old Testament.
Explaining the Gospel
Rev. Brian Bill
February 22-23, 2020
Several months ago, I was quickly backing our Chevy Cobalt out of the garage, not really paying attention, when all of a sudden, I heard the sound of plastic shattering and glass breaking. As I slammed on the brakes, I looked to my right and saw pieces of red shrapnel darting through the air. I got out of the car and discovered I had pulverized the passenger side mirror.
I’m embarrassed to say I drove without a side mirror for many months. I meant to get it fixed but never got around to it. The longer I procrastinated, the more paranoid I became when I was driving because I knew I had a huge blind spot.
Finally I took it in to my friend Bruce Strader who runs a body shop. He ordered a mirror for me, painted it red and put it on my car. Now my stress has gone down…and so should yours if you pull up next to me.
Since I had gone so long without a mirror, I had forgotten that there’s a warning etched into the bottom of it: “Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.”
Today we’re tackling Acts 7. We’re going to listen in as Stephen holds up a mirror to those who had charged him with blasphemy. He’s going to use this mirror to point out their blind spots and to help them see their sins are closer than they appear.
Our practice at Edgewood is to go verse-by-verse through books of the Bible. I’m going to change that up a bit today and go section by section through Chapter 7 because it contains 60 verses! Martin Lloyd-Jones preached 38 sermons from this one chapter and I’m going to aim for 38 minutes in one sermon. I plan to talk fast so you’ll need to listen fast.
Last weekend we were challenged in chapter 6 to follow Stephen’s example by cultivating our character, choosing courage and considering our countenance. The religious leaders stirred up the crowd and secretly instigated false witnesses to testify against Stephen as they accused him of blasphemy against the Torah and the Temple.
The Israelites celebrated at least five privileges which set them apart from other nations. Unfortunately, these privileges led many to a spirit of pride, along with an attitude of spiritual elitism, especially among the Pharisees and Sadducees. We could summarize their privileges this way.
• Land. The Israelites received the promise of land from the Lord.
• Leaders. They looked up to the patriarchs and to Moses, David and Solomon and other leaders.
• Location. They worshipped God at one specific place, the Temple. Before this they worshipped at the tabernacle.
• Lord. They enjoyed a special covenant relationship with Yahweh.
• Law. They lifted up the law of Moses.
What Stephen does in Acts 7 is masterful as he retells the history of God’s people, drawing a line from Abraham to the present day. He quotes extensively from the Old Testament to show how far they had fallen. This is the longest sermon in the Book of Acts and is saturated with Scripture. Every point he made was backed up in the Bible, which is an obvious application for each of us. He had so much Scripture memorized he was able to recite and retell it even while being in a stressful situation. I’m not sure I could do that, but I want to learn from his example.
This sermon proves Stephen is not a blasphemer – rather, the Jewish leaders have blasphemed God by their behavior. We’ll see how the Christian message is fully consistent with, and is the fulfillment of, the Old Testament. We could say it like this: The ground of the gospel is cultivated in the Old Testament.
Let’s lean in and watch how Stephen holds up a mirror so they can see what is right next to them. We’ll unpack these five privileges and see how Stephen shatters them.
But first, let’s look at verse 1: “And the high priest said, ‘Are these things so?” He’s basically asking this question: “How do you plead?” Literally, he’s giving Stephen a chance to defend himself, but it’s a set-up. If he answers “yes,” he is obviously guilty. If he answers “no,” they’ll accuse him of lying. Interestingly, Stephen doesn’t really defend himself, but rather gives a detailed exposition of Scripture that will cause them to come unglued when he’s finished.
In the first part of verse 2, we see how respectful and polite he is when he addresses them: “Brothers and fathers, hear me.” The word “brothers” would cover his peers and any spectators in the audience and “fathers” is a respectful way to address the members of the Sanhedrin.