Good morning church family! Unfortunately I do want to mention that we lost both Bob Severt and Joanne Edmiston this past week. Please be sure and keep their families in your thoughts and prayers as they begin the process of mourning their loved ones.
This morning we are going to look at chapter seven in Acts which is a long chapter, so we are looking primarily at the end of it. Thus, if you haven’t read the whole chapter, I highly encourage you to do so. To briefly recap chapter six, we learned about the disciple Stephen who was one of the seven chosen to distribute food among the Jews. The job had become too much for the twelve apostles whose primary concern was to preach and to pray. Consequently, it was decided to choose seven Godly men who were then elected to serve basically as the first deacons.
Now we are told that Stephen was a man full of the Holy Spirit, and because he allowed the Holy Spirit to dwell within, he was truly a powerful earthen vessel used by God. And at the end of chapter six we learn he was arguing with various other Jews who were members of the Freedmen’s synagogue and because they didn’t like what he had to say and they were unable to argue against his logic, they found some men to provide false testimony against him. He was charged with making false claims against both the temple and mosaic law, then they had him arrested.
Which takes us to chapter seven. The beginning and middle of the chapter is Stephen’s speech or defense to the Sanhedrin, also known as the Jewish Council. It’s a partial summary of the Jews own history that we learn about in our reading of the Old Testament. Stephen recited how God had been at work from earliest times with His chosen people.
Yet, his recounting of their history is highly selective. The summary starts with Abraham, and Stephen then meanders down through Joseph, Moses, Joshua, and David, spending a lot of time focused on Moses. If you remember, the Israelites initially questioned Moses as their ruler. Perhaps Stephen brought Moses up to such degree to provoke reconsideration of Israel’s assessment and rejection of Jesus. They had been wrong about Moses. Might they have been wrong about Jesus too?
Thus, when you look closely at his speech you will notice he focuses on the rejection of God’s chosen instruments – Joseph, Moses and His Old Testament prophets; ultimately ending with their rejection of the “Righteous One” – Jesus Christ Himself. And that’s where we are going to begin our scripture passage for the day, verses 51-60.
“You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him – you have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.
When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. Look, he said, I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.
At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.
While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. Then he fell on his knees and cried out, Lord, do not hold this sin against them. When he said this, he fell asleep.”
Stephen’s authenticity was called into question because the ideas he expressed about the temple – that God was not confined to a single spot was a problem for them. Though God doesn’t dwell in sanctuaries made with hands, He allowed a house to be built for Him by Solomon. Why? Because God accommodates Himself for us in order to make relationship with Him possible! Let’s praise Him for that! The Alpha and the Omega, the One and Only God, the Almighty One, desires a personal relationship with us!! And He offers it to us through His amazing grace and the sacrifice made by Christ! Thank You Jesus!
So, how does Stephen respond to the high priest’s question at the very beginning of chapter seven, “Are these charges true?” He turns the charges made against him back onto the Jewish Council. Stephen’s words would either raise the ire of his audience or break their hearts, leading to repentance. The Old Testament prophets had delivered messages exactly like Stephen’s. And so too, did Christ. Jesus confronted the Pharisees often during His ministry on earth because He saw right through the Jewish Council and the teachers of the law. The entire chapter of Matthew 23 is an indictment against them. He starts each indictment with Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Here are just a few of those verses 25-28.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup,[f ] so that the outside also may become clean.
27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. 28 So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
So, as we’ve been studying Acts, we’ve witnessed Peter and now Stephen do the very same thing as the Old Testament prophets and Jesus – confront the Pharisees and the teachers of the law with their sinful behavior. And just as Jesus did not mince words, neither has Peter or Stephen. Rather, Stephen clearly identifies the Sanhedrin as opponents of God’s agenda, rather than as Godly men.
How did they react to Stephen’s words? They expressed extreme displeasure both inwardly (enraged in their hearts) and outwardly (gnashed their teeth at him). Remember, they considered themselves to be Israel’s religious leaders, pious men of God and yet Stephen charged them with deep spiritual corruption. And that absolutely infuriated them! They literally become enraged and rushed him, drug him out of the city and stoned him to death.
Keep in mind, the Romans allowed the Jewish leaders to maintain the sanctity of the temple area, but not carry out the death penalty. Which is why Jesus was taken to Pilot, a Roman official for trail. In this instance however, they were so enraged they did not stop and think about what they were doing. Instead they acted on pure impulse. And this wild, crazy mob illegally killed Stephen, while a young man named Saul looked on. It’s been disputed whether or not Saul was a member of the Sanhedrin at that time, or just a young rabbinic student who was zealous for traditional Jewish faith. But whether he was formally involved with the Sanhedrin or not, he “agreed” with the decision to stone Stephen.
Both of Stephen’s requests are quite remarkable. His first, Lord Jesus receive my spirit proclaims that Jesus is judge and savior. His 2nd request that God not charge his executioners with sin illustrates his non-vindictive spirit of one who understands that his own sins have been forgiven by grace.
Although Jesus was executed by crucifixion and Stephen through stoning, the parallels between their death and burial scenes are strong. This positions Stephen with the “Righteous One,” as well as the prophets, Moses, and Joseph; their status before God was not canceled by their human rejection. We need to remember that it does not matter what other people think of us. What matters is what God thinks of us – and only Him. Rejection is a wound that every human experiences at one time or another and it is a very painful wound. But the wonderful news is that when we turn to God, He NEVER rejects us. Rather, He welcomes us with open arms!!
In comparing Jesus and Stephen, we see they were highly passionate men in which leadership was understood as “service.” They were both full of the Holy Spirit, thus accordingly, produced great signs and wonders. At their respective deaths we hear they were both taken out of Jerusalem, the heavens opened, the Son of Man was at the right hand of God, both cried out committing their spirits to the Father, and both through prayer pled for the forgiveness of their executioners. We are told of their death, that they were buried by those who were righteous and devout, and that they were mourned by others.
Stephen’s vision of the Son of Man standing at God’s right hand is a strong vindication of Stephen and his message, since it identifies Stephen with Jesus’ vindication, as well as displays God’s residence in heaven rather than in the temple as the Jews believed.
Are you aware that Jesus was the only one who called Himself the Son of Man and He does so frequently throughout the New Testament, except when people were quoting His Words and in this verse when He is called such by Stephen?
Also, when Stephen exposes their corruption and accuses the Sanhedrin of betraying and murdering God’s Son, Stephen has a vision of Jesus standing. Every time in scripture when we hear that the Son of Man is at the right hand of the Father, He is sitting, except in this instance – He is standing. There are about 16 New Testament references to Jesus or the Son of Man being at God’s right hand. Acts 7:55-56 is unique in describing the Son of Man as standing (twice), four verses describe him simply as “at” God’s right hand (Acts 2:33, 5:31; Rom.8:34; and 1Pet.3:22), and the remainder describe him as seated (Mt.26:64; Mk.14:62, 16:19; Lk.22:69; Acts 2:34; Eph.1:20; Col.3:1; Heb.1:3, 8:1, 10:12, and 12:2).We don’t know why as the text does not explain the significance. But perhaps it parallels Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin; where he once stood accused, he now stands vindicated. Or, more typically, scholars see in Stephen’s vision a picture of the Savior standing beside those who testify on his behalf, or perhaps the Good Shepherd greeting the soon-to-be-martyred saint. I don’t know about you, but I would love to think of Jesus standing to welcome me home as He did Stephen. So that I can run into His arms and hold Him tight! Let us pray:
Holy God, we pray for the Severt and Edmiston families and all those who are mourning the loss of a loved one. We pray for those who are in pain of any nature — whether physical, emotional or spiritual. We ask for Your healing and wholeness for each one of us. We praise You that You are a God who loves us so much You do wish to bring us healing. We know that the word salvation means to save, help in distress, rescue, deliver, and set free. And that scripture also uses the word salvation to denote health, well-being and healing. Thus, when we receive Your awesome gift of salvation then at least some healing comes along with it. You don’t always heal us of every wound and pain, but often You offer us some degree of healing if we reach out and take it. Thank You Father for loving us so much that You sent Your Son Jesus. Thank You for helping us to become more like Him and to live for Him!
Our Father, Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name. Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the Kingdom, and the power and the glory now and forever. And all of God’s people said, amen.
God bless you all. Remember Jesus loves you and so do I!