Last time we saw that Stephen was seized and dragged before the Sanhedrin and put on trial. We closed chapter 6 seeing a heavenly glow showing from Stephen’s face, indicating that God’s presence was there. Tonight we begin a very long chapter 7 and we look a little closer at Stephen’s God-inspired message. This is scene II of our study. We are going to look at the first 53 verses tonight.
READ v.1. Stephen was on trial for his life. The charges had been made: he was accused of preaching that the sacred institutions of the nation were to be destroyed, that is, the land, the temple, the law, and the customs. Stephen defended himself by reviewing Israel’s history. In essence, Stephen was preaching the gospel to the court.
READ 2-8. Stephen began his defense (his sermon) from the very beginning of the nation’s history. Note his emphasis on God. God appeared to Abraham and called Abraham. He said, “God called our father Abraham. He was the father of Israel, the first Jew called, the man chosen by God to be the great founder of the nation Israel.
God promised a land of eternal inheritance. The promised land of Palestine was promised to Abraham and his seed after him. This gift of the promised land was conditional. Abraham had to leave the security of where he lived and take a leap of faith, depending on and trusting in God and His promise. Abraham made the right choice.
We can learn a lesson from this. For a person to inherit eternal life and the gift of heaven, that person has to make a choice. They have to leave their current situation in life with its material comforts and corruptions and cling to the promise of God.
I’m not sure if you realize this but God promised the land to Abraham and his seed, but it was to be a future inheritance, not a present possession. God never gave Abraham any land, not during his lifetime on earth. Abraham never possessed the land. God never gave Abraham a son until he was incapable of bearing seed, well past years—not until he was 100 years old.
Abraham had to trust God for the Promised Land and for seed or descendants. He had to believe God all his life. He never possessed a single foot of the Promised Land. What a picture that is of the believer and the promised land of heaven. It’s a picture of absolute faith and believing the glorious promise of God. The gift was a gift of God’s grace. All Abraham did to earn it was believe and obey God.
God told Abraham that his descendants would be enslaved for 400 years. He told him that his faith would be rewarded. God would deliver his seed and bring them to the Promised Land to serve God. He assured Abraham with a covenant, the covenant of circumcision. Circumcision was the seal of Abraham’s faith, just as baptism is the seal of the believer’s faith. It was the sign of truly trusting God and His promise.
In using this example of Abraham, Stephen was trying to show these leaders that had him on trial that faith will be rewarded. Abraham’s seed, that is us, that was all of them, will be rewarded with the promise of heaven if only they will heed Jesus’ teachings.
READ 9-16. Stephen preaches about the first rejection and deliverance, that of Joseph. We know the story of Joseph about how he was sold into slavery and eventually earned the trust of the Pharaoh and became ruler of Egypt. He tells this familiar story because the leaders of the Sanhedrin could relate. But in relating this story, Stephen was showing them that he was one of the descendants as well. He was saying that the forefathers had their eye on resting eternally in the Promised Land. He was leading them to his point that the Promised Land was not only the physical land but the heavenly land, the eternal land to which Jesus leads.
Stephen was trying to show them the Joseph, the choice son of Jacob, is a picture or a type of Christ. He was rejected by men and he forgave all those who did evil to him.
READ 17-29. Now Stephen preaches the second rejection and deliverance. The people misunderstood and rejected God’s chosen servant. Stephen goes into some detail about the story of Moses. By the way, each of these passages would make a sermon in itself. But for our study tonight, we are going to just highlight the story.
Stephen was preaching that once again a servant of God was misunderstood and rejected. Moses thought the Jews would understand and know that God was going to use him to deliver them, but they didn’t. HMMMM. I wonder where Stephen was going with all this?
READ 30-41. Here we see the third rejection and deliverance. This deliverance was planned by God through his servant Moses—this same Moses that the people of Israel had said, “Who made you ruler and judge?” Now here are some important points of Stephen’s sermon.
1. God had prepared to save His people again.
2. He commissioned Moses to save the people. Again it was God who acted, not the people. Stephen’s point was well taken. The people failed God at every step. Deliverance and salvation were in the hands of God alone.
3. God sent Moses, His servant, on a special mission. God’s servant was to be a ruler and a deliverer. This servant was the same who had been rejected. I can already see where Stephen is going with this. This deliverer was God’s choice, despite the people’s rejection. He came with wonders and miraculous signs delivering the people. You would think we were talking about Jesus. God’s servant was to predict the coming of the Savior (Dt. 18:15). His servant was to bring the living words of God to the church of God (Israel)
4. God and Moses were disobeyed and rejected. Stephen’s underlying point is that just as Moses had been rejected, (a point that the leaders of the Sanhedrin knew about) so Jesus was being rejected.
The number 40 occurs a number of times in Scripture. We often overlook the #40 and how it relates to Moses’ life. Moses lived in the palace of Pharaoh for 40 yrs. He was cut off from his own people for those 40 yrs. His life is usually divided into three periods of 40 years:
- 40 years in Pharaoh’s palace.
- 40 years in Midian as a shepherd.
- 40 years as the leader of Israel. He died when he was 120 years old.
READ 42-53. Uh oh. Now Stephen has gone from preaching to meddling. He brings up some charges as related to how God saw Israel in the OT.
Charge 1: The people didn’t worship God, but false gods. Sun, moon, stars. God’s response was that just as they had turned away from Him, He had turned away from them. God had given them up to their own lusts.
In v. 43 it mentions Molech and Rephan. Rephan was a god of the Egyptians, Arabs, and Phoenicians. It’s thought to have been the worship of the planet Saturn. Molech was the sun god to whom children were often sacrificed. The idol had the head of an ox and arms that stretched out. There was a hollow place underneath the arms where a fire was built. The fire consumed the sacrifices as babies were thrown live into the glowing hot arms of the idol. Molech was the god of the Amorites. Just hearing that description makes me angry. I can imagine how angry God was.
Charge 2: The people didn’t carry the tabernacle of God, but of false gods. Publicly and outwardly they were carrying the tabernacle of God wherever they went, but their hearts and thoughts were on false gods. God’s response was to give them up to their lusts. Just as they had carried the tabernacle with their hearts focused on false gods, so God had carried them and given them up to the captivity of a heathen nation who worshipped false gods.
Charge 3: The people were inexcusable. Let me explain. They were greatly blessed. God had blessed the people with the tabernacle of His presence and testimony.
God had shown Moses a pattern of the tabernacle and Moses had constructed it after the picture God had shown him.
God had blessed the people with His presence and favor in leaders like Joshua, David, and Solomon. All three had the favor and blessings of God on their lives. God had blessed the people with the temple.
David wanted to build the temple, but it was Solomon whom God appointed to construct it. When the Jews returned from captivity to Jerusalem, Zerubbabel rebuilt the temple in 516 B.C. Herod the Great rebuilt the temple and made it one of the wonders of the world around 20 B.C. It was this temple in which the Jews gloried.
The point is this: by being so blessed, the people (Israel) were inexcusable in their rejection of God. They had every opportunity available, yet they still chose the world instead of God.
Charge 4: the people didn’t understand the temple. God isn’t limited to only one particular place. God never intended for men to think that His presence was limited to the temple nor to any of the houses made by man.
1 Kings 8:27 – “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You, how much less this house which I have built!”
Stephen’s point struck home, because Jesus had taught that men must worship God in Spirit and in truth.
And now Stephen brings his message up to date.
Charge 5: The people of the present generation were resisting the HS. Stephen now turned to the present generation and charged them with the very same resistance and rejection as their forefathers. Note the words “you always resist.” (v. 51). He called them stiff-necked, people with uncircumcised hearts.
Charge 6: The people persecuted all the prophets—the very servants who predicted the coming of the Messiah. Jesus Christ was the One to whom all the prophets looked, the One who was to secure perfect righteousness for man. Yet the people rejected, persecuted, and killed the prophets who proclaimed the message of His coming.
Charge 7: the people, the present generation, fulfilled the prophecies. The present generation betrayed and murdered the Righteous One.
Charge 8: the people, the present generation, have not kept the law (v.53). The law had been given to them through angels. Yet, they hadn’t obeyed it. They boasted in the law, but violated it just as much as their forefathers.
So you see Stephen’s sermon was well constructed. He was using scripture as they knew it to get their attention, then he applied that to their lives. He was trying to make them realize what they had done to Jesus, and what they were currently doing—specifically to Stephen.
So that’s Stephen’s message. And it was this message that ultimately led to Stephen’s death. Next time we will see how they reacted to it all.