Summary: Stephen makes a rather long defense of himself before the council, after all, he is facing a death sentence. He doesn’t go directly to the point raised by his accusers, but instead goes into a lengthy history of his nation.
January 15, 2014
By: Tom Lowe
Series:The Early Church
Title: Stephen’s Sermon (7:1-53)
Part 1a: verses 1-14
Stephen makes a rather long defense of himself before the council, after all, he is facing a death sentence. He doesn’t go directly to the point raised by his accusers, but instead goes into a lengthy history of his nation (I believe we are only given a small part of his speech). His objective seems to have been to show:
1. That he deeply respected, and was very knowledgeable of the history of the Jewish nation.
2. That in resisting the formation of the Gospel kingdom they were merely following in their fathers' footsteps—the entire history of their nation was one continuous misunderstanding of God's plans and intentions towards fallen man, and they were in rebellion against Him and His plans.
1 Then said the high priest, Are these things so?
Then said the high priest.
The last verse of the preceding chapter stated, “And all that sat in the council, looking stedfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel (6:15)” The glorified countenance of Stephen had caused a pause of surprise and admiration, which the high-priest interrupts by asking the accused to make his defense.
This high priest was probably Theophilus, the son of Annas, son-in-law of Caiaphas, and brother of Jonathan. Since he was the official in charge of the proceedings he called for Stephen to defend himself against the charge of blasphemy (Acts 6:13, 14). Steven is allowed to plead his case, but it would be under a disguise and pretense of a fair trial, since the court had already determined to put him to death.
“But how could Luke get all this circumstantial information?” is a legitimate question. He might have been present, and heard everything; or, it is more likely that he heard the account from Paul while serving as his companion, for we know Paul was present when Stephen was judged and stoned, because he was consenting to his death, and held the coats of those who stoned him (Acts 7:58; Acts 8:1; Acts 22:20).
“Why did Stephen preach this sermon?” is another legitimate question. Do you remember the charges brought against Stephen in Acts 6:11 and 13-143: First, they charged him with speaking blasphemous words against Moses and the Law, and that he urged others to change Jewish customs. Second, that he spoke blasphemous words against God and God’s dwelling place, the temple. In this sermon, Stephen gives a brief history of the Jewish nation as it is reported in the Old Testament. We shouldn’t suppose that Stephen’s purpose was to instruct the Sanhedrin on points of Jewish history they were ignorant of. Instead, Stephen wants to emphasize some things revealed in Jewish history they may not have considered: That God has never confined Himself to one place (like the temple), and that the Jewish people have a habit of rejecting those God sends to them! This really is not a defense. Stephen isn’t interested in defending himself. He simply wants to proclaim the truth about Jesus in a way people can understand. Such a speech could not secure an acquittal before the Sanhedrin. It is essentially a defense based upon the truth that pure Christianity is God’s appointed way of worship.
Stephen, as far as we are told, had not known the Lord during His life on earth. Certainly he was not appointed, like the apostles, to be a witness of that life. He was simply the instrument of the Holy Ghost, distributing the gospel of Christ to anyone who would listen.
Are these things so?
Can you see with your mind’s eye this brave man standing alone before the highest Jewish court, and can you hear the court’s president as he asks, “Is it true what they say, that you have spoken blasphemous words against the temple, and the law, and have you said that Jesus of Nazareth will destroy our temple and our law? What do you have to say for yourself, and in your own defense? Did you really predict the destruction of the temple? And did you actually say that Jesus of Nazareth will change our customs, abolish our religious rites and temple service? Have you spoken these ridiculous, blasphemous things against Moses, and against God? There was a hint of justice in that Stephen was permitted to defend himself. And, in the course of making his defense, he would give an account of their history from the beginning of their nation; and he would show how kindly God had dealt with them, and in return, how ungraciously they and their fathers had treated Him. And all this naturally led him to the conclusion, that God could no longer bear with a people whose cup of iniquity had been overflowing for a long time; and therefore they might expect to receive from God, wrath, without mercy.