Summary: 6th Sermon in our Action in Acts series, this deals with the thr trial and stoning of Stephen, and seeking to find God’s movement and our invitation within a story that looks less than encouraging
Action – Speaking your Story
Have you ever asked someone a question and instead of getting a simple answer, they give you a long and detailed account of far more than the small answer you were looking for? I think we can all come up with one or two people that fit this description. And, I think that it is telling how impatient I can get during these times, just skip to the end please…but I think this is more a product of our times and the values of our culture, that we can quantify everything down to small bits…but the truth rarely is that easy to condense, because the truth needs context to be the truth. There is a bigger answer…and this is what Stephen does here in this passage, when brought up on charges of blaspheming God, the law and the temple (Hating God, trying to change the law, talking about destroying the temple) everything that was held dear to the Israelite leaders, Stephen doesn’t give a two word answer, but goes into an answer that takes the whole chapter.
And so, because it is important to see the whole thing at one time, getting the big picture that Stephen brings, we are going through the whole of the speech as well, so we need to put our thinking caps on today, we need to be up for the task today, because we are going to cover a whole lot of ground.
Yet again, the accusations come, this time speaking of destroying the temple and changing the traditions and means by which people seek God.
And Yet again, the choice is not to defend oneself, or to get out of the situation, but to share the story that is the key to everything that is going on, an invitation to step out of their current story and join with God’s action.
This time the charges were more threatening, not just stirring up trouble but now blasphemy and destruction of the temple, alteration of the law. In the background to v. 14 stands the charge of blasphemy directed against Jesus at his own trial when he was accused of threatening to destroy the temple (Mark 14:57–58). Luke did not include that tradition in the narrative of Jesus’ trial in his Gospel, but its inclusion here is highly significant. It put Jesus back on trial once again. Stephen had only been faithful in his witness to the teaching of Jesus. To reject the testimony of Stephen was ultimately to reject Jesus. That is what his trial was all about. The violent rejection of Stephen represented a rejection of Jesus the Messiah. Ultimately it was not Stephen but the Sanhedrin on trial, showing the irony in the difference between the perceived strength and the actual strength, the ones who thought they were in charge and standing in judgment, and the God who was actually calling them to decide lest he need to make judgment…
And so we start this passage, which is about a man named Stephen, who just before this in the book of Acts, was raised into a leadership position because of the evidence of God working in him and through him, putting him in a position to care for the widows and needy…and now this Stephen is brought before the Sanhedrin.
12 So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. 13 They produced false witnesses, who testified, “This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. 14 For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.”
15 All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.
(Stephen speaks with thunderous conviction in this passage, but it is interesting that God shows his grace through Stephen as well. And it is powerful what is said there, because where do angels do? They deliver the messages of God, having stood in His presence, they go out. And throughout scripture, weather Moses or now Stephen, there is a point made that their faces showed the fact that they were with God. I think it is the light of life rightly aligned, a full life, showing how dim other life is)
Stephen’s Speech to the Sanhedrin
7 Then the high priest asked him, “Are these charges true?”
This is choice time for Stephen, what will he do? He chooses to reach out instead of defending, instead of showing that he is right, pointing out the ridiculous charges or just giving a short answer, he shares his story, why he is doing what he is doing.