Stephen Accuses His Accusers
Acts 7:1-50 records Stephen’s defence before the Jewish supreme court
also called the Sanhedrin or the Council
having been accused of Stephen defended himself against 4 charges
blasphemy against God and his Temple and blasphemy against Moses and the Law
Stephen used Israel’s history to prove he was not guilty
he knew that the those to whom he was speaking were fiercely proud of their Jewish history and loved listening to it and so in order to get them to listen to him, he used it to prove his innocence
he also wanted to confront their obstinate rejection of Christ and used the sons of Jacob and Israel at mount Sinai as examples
he also wanted to present Jesus as their Messiah and used Joseph and Moses as types
Israel’s repeated turning away from the Lord is recorded throughout the OT scriptures
constant ebb and flow of drawing near to God and going their own way
began right at the beginning with the sons of Jacob who rejected Joseph
filled with jealousy they sold him into slavery never thinking they would ever see him again
also rejected Moses when he first came to rescue the descendants of the patriarchs when he was 40 yrs
after another 40 years of slavery God sent Moses back to them
as he led them out of Egypt to the land that God had promised them they often murmured against him
when he took too long coming back down Mt Sinai they created and worshipped the golden calf and engaged in sexual immorality
he was challenged by his own brother and sister
revolt of Korah, Dathan and Abiram
at the bad report of the spies the people threatened to stone him
though God miraculously made himself known in the Tabernacle and the Temple when the people thought him the could think of him as being nowhere else
not present in their every day life
pursued idolatry in their homes and on every high place and under every spreading tree
though God’s chosen people kept on breaking the covenant God remained faithful
sent prophets over and over again to warn them
they persecuted the prophets and killed those who prophesied of Christ
in his closing argument Stephen goes from being the accused to being the accuser
from the defence to the prosecution
confronted the leaders of the nation and by extension the nation as well, for being like their forefathers, in a state of constant rebellion against the Lord
they were the ones who were guilty, not him
would not look realistically at their forefathers and thus would not look honestly at themselves
focus on acts rather than actions and their motivation
fully convinced their were right yet were doomed
I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.”
Like Father, Like Son
Like Father, Like Son
though Stephen’s accusers loved their history and idolized their forefathers they turned a blind eye to their nation’s obvious and persistent opposition to God and rejected his deliverers and prophets
51 “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. 52 Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, 53 you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”
stiff-necked = obstinate
a person who defiantly refuses to bow before the Lord
will not bow his head in humility acknowledging his own lowliness vs. the greatness and glory of God
And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’ ” And the Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people.
Stephen’s accusers were fiercely proud of their connection to Abraham and Moses and the Law of God and the Temple but were blind to their forefathers’ obstinate pride which led them to oppose and resist God
led to their own inability to see it in their own lives!
uncircumcised in heart and ears
I am not going to explain circumcision, if you don’t know what it is please speak with me after the service or do your own research!
God gave circumcision to Abraham and his offspring as a sign of the special covenant he had made
was not supposed to have been only a physical surgical removal of some extra skin but signified something much deeper, a profound change of heart and mind toward God
the removal of a rebellious, hard heart and the giving of a submissive heart
hard heartedness must be removed in order respond rightly to God, to be accepted by Him, to be in a covenant relationship
6 And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.
circumcision was something God had to do
physical circumcision means nothing if it does not correspond to a profound change of heart
15 For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.
3 For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh—
the Jews thought their physical circumcision meant they automatically enjoyed God’s favour
i.e. they were saved apart from a change of heart
led them to ignore the accompanying signs of the covenant
also true of many professing Christians today
trusting in a decision, in a prayer, in an act of going forward while the marks which accompany a true turning to God are missing
love for God, love for his Word, love for holiness and righteousness, love for his people, love for prayer
the hearts of Stephen’s accusers were so hard so that they could not accept the truth about themselves or their ancestors
thought of themselves more highly than they ought
refused to admit their wretchedness
they were hard of hearing God’s truth, could not hear his warnings
they had not done the hard work of dealing with their own hearts
Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.
stubbornness the result of not dealing with their own hearts
And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.
a true relationship with the Lord means that both He and His child will both be dealing with the heart
context is the nation under curse and exiled
if they repent God will have mercy on them and one of the ways he does so is by circumcising their hearts and those of their offspring
the result: they will love God with all their hearts
God will again pour out the covenant blessings when they turn to him with all their heart and soul (Dt 30:9-10)
when they turn with all their heart and soul God circumcises their hearts
“Which of the prophets did you fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand
15 The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place. 16 But they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words and scoffing at his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord rose against his people, until there was no remedy. 17 Therefore he brought up against them the king of the Chaldeans, who killed their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary and had no compassion on young man or virgin, old man or aged. He gave them all into his hand.
summary of why Judah was exiled to Babylon
in loving faithfulness God persistently sent his messengers to warn them and call them back
they kept mocking the messengers, despising God’s words, scoffing at the prophets until there was no remedy
as your fathers did, so do you, rejected the Righteous One, their Messiah
Stephen spoke to them as a prophet, identifying their sin, calling them to repentance and they resisted until they killed him just like their forefathers had done
they did this even though it was patently clear they and their forefathers were resisting God
“you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it”
this would have been most insulting to them as they prided themselves on their law keeping
the Pharisees were so careful and scrupulous about the Law of Moses that they had created many other laws to surround the Law
Rabbinical laws surrounding the sabbath:
examples of the 39 activities prohibited on the Sabbath:
cannot prepare the ground for planting - included dragging a chair through the dirt, pouring water on dry ground or making hole in the soil
reaping = severing a plant from its source of life
cannot climb a tree lest a leaf be broken off
cannot ride an animal lest a branch be broken off which might be used to prod an animal
Jesus addressed this:
8 You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” 9 And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!
13 thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”
‘the Law as delivered by angels’
consider Gen 19
when God came to Abraham to announce both Sarah’s giving birth and his intention to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah he is described as angels, most likely a reference to the triune God, the Father, the Son and the HS
creation: Gen 1:1 vs John 1:3 - God created but through the Word
God formulated the Law and delivered it through the Son and the HS
Stephen accused the Sanhedrin of receiving the law but not keeping it
3 He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?
Mt 22 & Lk 11 records many woes Jesus pronounced on the scribes and Pharisees
Jesus accused them of neglecting the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy and faithfulness (23)
full of greed and self-indulgence (25)
full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness (27)
full of hypocrisy and lawlessness (28)
20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus was saying that the righteousness of the Pharisees was not enough to save them
without a heart change their focus on the externals could not save them
Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
How easy it is to look at the past as ‘the good old days’ ignoring the sin and the evil
10 Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.
our natural tendency to gloss over the sins and failures of our past and those of them we love
need to consider all things in the light of God’s word
5 Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!
10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 11 For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
our problem: we hate confronting sin
must resist the desire to ignore sin
must deal with it in our own lives
if we don’t deal with it in our own
will either make us legalistic and judgmental (Mt 7)
will lead us to do ignore sin, sweep it under the carpet
both are deadly
If Jesus had not confronted our sin where would we be?
how did he deal with it: sacrificed self
we are called to be like Him
must be ruthless with sin in our own lives
4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.
as we do battle with our own sin will make us gentle and compassionate with other sinners!
we see this in Stephen: uncompromising when it came to sin but prayed for the salvation of those who were killing him
learn from those who killed Stephen:
unwillingness to look honestly at ourselves and our past always has a profound impact on how we live in the present
The Sanhedrin had many opportunities to hear the truth
witnessed Jesus’ teaching + miracles
were preached to 3 times and could not deny the apostles’ miracles
because of their continued rejection in the face of such clear teaching and proofs Stephen boldly charged and rebuked them for their hard hearted rebellion
their reaction previewed what they would be doing for all eternity in hell!
the suffering of hell will include the endless anger and frustration at God’s judgment upon them
When faithful believers find themselves under attack for their faithfulness to Christ and his gospel they discover special grace and strength
the fruit of being filled with the HS
11 And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, 12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”
14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.
the HS grants grace to persecuted Christians enabling them to glorify God as they are being attacked and even killed
believers ought not to shy away from conflict
10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
boldly communicate Christ even when people are opposed knowing that the HS will give grace enabling them to endure with joy and peace
had an impact on Saul who would become Paul
Paul, looking back on these days, describes himself
13 though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.
Stephen’s bold witness to those who hated him, his calm courage in face of opposition and his forgiving love in death had a profound impact on Saul
20 And when the blood of Stephen your witness was being shed, I myself was standing by and approving and watching over the garments of those who killed him.’
out of Stephen’s influence came Paul
God took death dealing Saul and turned him into life giving Paul
through his ministry the gospel penetrated the Roman world and altered the course of history