Summary: Stephen's Acts 7 defense before the Jewish leaders is a masterful theological treatise on the presence of God. But it was a message with ominous implications to these power-hungry leaders. Stephen's message has applications to us today 2000 years later.
Where Does God Live?
May 3, 2015
TEXT: Turn to Acts 7
Have you ever heard a church referred to as “God’s house?” I’ve often used this term myself, speaking of the importance of being faithful to “God’s house” by which I meant to the services of the church.
Illus. – I heard a mother talking to her daughter one time who was misbehaving after church, running around like a little banshee chicken. I was about to go and talk to her myself, but thankfully, her mother came in and saw her rambunctious behavior. She grabbed her arm and said, “Beth, you must not behave that way here. This is God’s house.”
Well, I don’t want to split hairs here, but Stephen would never refer to a church building as the house of God, and his statements to that effect where what got him stoned to death.
Last week we saw what we could learn from his life and martyrdom, but today we want to zero in specifically on Stephen’s defense before the Jewish religious leaders, which turned into a combination history lesson and lecture in theology. In it, Stephen teaches some basic biblical teachings these men should have known, but which they obfuscated because it would mean the loss of power and privilege. By confronting them with their false perception of God and their rejection of God’s new working through Jesus Christ, to shut him up, they flew into a fit of rage to kill him.
Let’s examine Stephen’s defense, and think about what his teachings mean to us 2000 years later.
I. FIRST STEPHEN TAKES THESE JEWISH LEADERS ON A TRIP DOWN MEMORY LANE.
What Stephen does is give a short synopsis of Jewish history. He takes a trip down memory lane for a reason, and what he was implying is what got him killed.
This is a long chapter, so we won’t read it all, so let me see if I can summarize his main point in one sentence, and then we’ll choose selected verses from his defense to help us get the thrust of what he was trying to say to them. In summary, Stephen was challenging the basis of these men’s authority.
They were all wrapped up in the temple. The temple was where you met God. The temple was “God’s house” and though they recognized the omnipresence of God in the abstract as a theological concept, they conveyed the idea that to get to God; to experience God; to be with God; you had to go to the temple, even if you had to make a pilgrimage from many miles away.
Stephen turns this upside down by saying that all the great men of God in Jewish history experienced God; knew God; felt his presence and experienced His power…long before there ever was a permanent temple.
Let’s look at Stephen’s main points:
1) First, Stephen said in verses 2-8 that God was with ABRAHAM wherever he went.
We’ll not read the whole passage, but look at verse 2 as an introduction to his thoughts – “And he said, Men, brethren, and fathers, hearken; The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran.”
In verses 3-8 Stephen told how God worked in Abraham’s life, and led him, and guided him and gave him promises of great blessings to come even though he had no building to worship God in; no traditions handed down and no rituals.
2) Next, in verses 9-19, Stephen told them that God was with JOSEPH.
Again, we’ll not read it all, but look at verse 9 – “And the patriarchs, moved with envy, sold Joseph into Egypt: but God was with him.”
God was with Joseph while he was IN SLAVERY IN EGYPT; while he was IN PRISON; and while he was PRIME MINISTER OF EGYPT—even though he had no building to worship God in, and no traditions and ceremonies to follow.
3) Next, Stephen told them in verses 20-43 that God had been with MOSES.
This is a long passage, but the essence of his words here was to prove that God was with Moses while he was in Pharaoh’s house; in Midian; on Mt. Sinai; during the Exodus and in their desert wanderings—even though he had no building to worship God in, and only after God gave the pattern of the tabernacle were there any ceremonies to follow.
4) Then in verses 44-45, Stephen reminded them that God was with JOSHUA as he led the Israelites into the Promised Land, even though God had no permanent building.
Yes, he had the Tabernacle, but that was only meant to be temporary, and it was never meant to convey the idea that God was confined to that one place.