April 14, 2019
Pastor Jeff Struecker
We’re going to step the accelerator and blow through about fifty verses of Acts chapter seven so we can get to these last ten verses and really slow down and focus our attention. Stephen is on trial. The high priest asks him, “What do you say? We’re accusing you of violating the Temple. We’re accusing you of undermining Moses. We’re accusing you of ignoring the Law. And Steven gives his answer. The first answer that Stephen gives is, “Hey, I’m not by myself. I’m not alone here.”
Christian, when you feel like you’re alone and you’re standing on your own, you’re not. Here’s why: God calls a people.
I. God calls a people
“Are these things true?” the high priest asked. 2 “Brothers and fathers,” he replied, “listen: The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he settled in Haran, 3 and said to him: Leave your country and relatives, and come to the land that I will show you. 4 “Then he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran. From there, after his father died, God had him move to this land in which you are now living. 5 He didn’t give him an inheritance in it—not even a foot of ground—but he promised to give it to him as a possession, and to his descendants after him, even though he was childless. 6 God spoke in this way: His descendants would be strangers in a foreign country, and they would enslave and oppress them for four hundred years. 7 I will judge the nation that they will serve as slaves, God said. After this, they will come out and worship me in this place. 8 And so he gave Abraham the covenant of circumcision. After this, he fathered Isaac and circumcised him on the eighth day. Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob became the father of the twelve patriarchs.
Stephen is doing a Bible lesson in front of some of the world’s greatest Bible scholars. What he’s telling them is, “I don’t think you understand what you guys teach. The faith that God called Abraham to, he still calls us to today. God says, “Abraham, you’ve got to be willing to leave your father, leave your land, leave everything and come follow me.” This is what Jesus asks of people, “If you’re willing to call yourself my disciple, you must be willing to leave your family and leave your friends, if necessary, and come follow me.” Stephen is reminding us today that when God calls us, he calls us to him above everything else.
II. God protects his people
“The patriarchs became jealous of Joseph and sold him into Egypt, but God was with him 10 and rescued him out of all his troubles. He gave him favor and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who appointed him ruler over Egypt and over his whole household. 11 Now a famine and great suffering came over all of Egypt and Canaan, and our ancestors could find no food. 12 When Jacob heard there was grain in Egypt, he sent our ancestors there the first time. 13 The second time, Joseph revealed himself to his brothers, and Joseph’s family became known to Pharaoh. 14 Joseph invited his father Jacob and all his relatives, seventy-five people in all, 15 and Jacob went down to Egypt. He and our ancestors died there, 16 were carried back to Shechem, and were placed in the tomb that Abraham had bought for a sum of silver from the sons of Hamor in Shechem.
Stephen says next, “You don’t stand alone whenever you’re feeling over your head and isolated, because God is also big enough that he can protect you in the midst of your circumstances.” He uses Joseph from the Book of Genesis as an example. Stephen reminded everybody that Joseph had eleven brothers and one sister. Joseph’s brothers became jealous, and they hated Joseph. So, they threw him in a pit, and then they sold him into slavery. When Joseph is in this pit, he feels isolated. When he’s in slavery in Egypt, he’s isolated. He’s accused of something that he didn’t do wrong, and he lands himself in jail a totally innocent man.
Stephen is probably speaking to himself now and saying, “Even when he was in that jail, Joseph wasn’t alone. He wasn’t by himself because God’s big enough to protect his people.” Even when he was in that jail, God was with Joseph in ways that Joseph probably didn’t understand, and certainly his brothers didn’t understand. I think I need to be reminded of that this week. You probably need to remind yourself also; God is bigger than your circumstances. Certainly, he’s big enough to protect you from trouble when it comes.
III. God rescues his people
“As the time was approaching to fulfill the promise that God had made to Abraham, the people flourished and multiplied in Egypt 18 until a different king who did not know Joseph ruled over Egypt. 19 He dealt deceitfully with our race and oppressed our ancestors by making them abandon their infants outside so that they wouldn’t survive. 20 At this time Moses was born, and he was beautiful in God’s sight. He was cared for in his father’s home for three months. 21 When he was put outside, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted and raised him as her own son. 22 So Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in his speech and actions. 23 “When he was forty years old, he decided to visit his own people, the Israelites. 24 When he saw one of them being mistreated, he came to his rescue and avenged the oppressed man by striking down the Egyptian. 25 He assumed his people would understand that God would give them deliverance through him, but they did not understand. 26 The next day he showed up while they were fighting and tried to reconcile them peacefully, saying, ‘Men, you are brothers. Why are you mistreating each other?’ 27 “But the one who was mistreating his neighbor pushed Moses aside, saying: Who appointed you a ruler and a judge over us? 28 Do you want to kill me, the same way you killed the Egyptian yesterday? 29 “When he heard this, Moses fled and became an exile in the land of Midian, where he became the father of two sons. 30 After forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in the flame of a burning bush. 31 When Moses saw it, he was amazed at the sight. As he was approaching to look at it, the voice of the Lord came: 32 I am the God of your ancestors—the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob. Moses began to tremble and did not dare to look. 33 “The Lord said to him: Take off the sandals from your feet, because the place where you are standing is holy ground. 34 I have certainly seen the oppression of my people in Egypt; I have heard their groaning and have come down to set them free. And now, come, I will send you to Egypt. 35 “This Moses, whom they rejected when they said, Who appointed you a ruler and a judge?—this one God sent as a ruler and a deliverer through the angel who appeared to him in the bush. 36 This man led them out and performed wonders and signs in the land of Egypt, at the Red Sea, and in the wilderness for forty years.
Look at what Stephen says next. Sometimes God doesn’t rescue you from trouble. Sometimes he rescues you through trouble. Sometimes he goes with you in the midst of that difficulty, but God is still with you. God is big enough to rescue his people.
First, Stephen talks about Joseph in prison, and his family is living large. Pretty soon, Joseph is living large, and his family is in trouble. Even in the midst of those circumstances, God is protecting his people. He’s ready to rescue his people.
Then he goes to Moses and he says, “Hey, you’re accusing me of undermining or speaking against Moses; I’ll tell you exactly what I think about Moses. The Scriptures teach that Moses was a good man. Moses was a great leader. -perhaps the greatest leader that’s ever lived, apart from Jesus Christ himself. But Moses was no Messiah.” In fact, when Moses showed up on the scene in verses thirty-five and thirty-six, the people didn’t necessarily recognize him as a rescuer.
What Stephen is really saying to us is, perhaps some of those miracles that God did in Egypt were to get the attention of Israel and remind Israel that this is my rescuer, not just to get the attention of Egypt. God has a plan to rescue his people. Stephen knows those people in Israel spent four hundred years as slaves in Egypt wondering, “God, you know what we’re going through. God, do you care?” For four hundred years, God was putting the steps in place to rescue his people. They weren’t alone for those four hundred years.
IV. God speaks to his people
“This is the Moses who said to the Israelites: God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your brothers and sisters. 38 He is the one who was in the assembly in the wilderness, with the angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our ancestors. He received living oracles to give to us. 39 Our ancestors were unwilling to obey him. Instead, they pushed him aside, and in their hearts turned back to Egypt. 40 They told Aaron: Make us gods who will go before us. As for this Moses who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we don’t know what’s happened to him. 41 They even made a calf in those days, offered sacrifice to the idol, and were celebrating what their hands had made. 42 God turned away and gave them up to worship the stars of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets: House of Israel, did you bring me offerings and sacrifices for forty years in the wilderness? 43 You took up the tent of Moloch and the star of your god Rephan, the images that you made to worship. So I will send you into exile beyond Babylon.
God speaks through his Law to his people. Stephen says, “Hey, you religious leaders, you’re accusing me of undermining the law of God, so I’m going to answer this accusation. Here’s exactly what I believe about the law: I believe that God hasn’t left us. -that God still speaks to his people, and he sometimes speaks to his people through the Bible or through the living oracles of God.”
If you’re in the habit of writing in your Bible, would you please underline or circle those two words “living oracles”? Because what Stephen is really saying is, “Hey, you religious leaders are teaching a set of rules. You’re teaching, “Do this and don’t do that in order to get to Heaven.” That’s not what the law was ever meant to accomplish. The law was just simply for you to hear from God and to realize how far you and I are from the kind of perfect life that God expects us to live.” In fact, what Stephen is saying is, “You’re accusing me of undermining the law, and I’m going to tell you, I believe in the law. In fact, I believe that it’s living, it’s active, and God is still speaking to people today through the law.”
V. God dwells with his people
“Our ancestors had the tabernacle of the testimony in the wilderness, just as he who spoke to Moses commanded him to make it according to the pattern he had seen. 45 Our ancestors in turn received it and with Joshua brought it in when they dispossessed the nations that God drove out before them, until the days of David. 46 He found favor in God’s sight and asked that he might provide a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. 47 It was Solomon, rather, who built him a house, 48 but the Most High does not dwell in sanctuaries made with hands, as the prophet says: 49 Heaven is my throne, and the earth my footstool. What sort of house will you build for me? says the Lord, or what will be my resting place? 50 Did not my hand make all these things?
Stephen answers the last charge next. They accuse him of undermining the Temple. So, Stephen is going to answer this charge for them. In his next statement, he says, “Hey Church, you’re not alone. You’re not on your own, because God is with you to the point that he dwells inside you.” God’s dwelling with his people.
I don’t want you to miss the significance of the word tabernacle. That word means that God made a conscious decision to dwell on Earth with people. If you’re not familiar with the Bible, you’re going to miss how serious and significant this is. Since God is perfect and holy, God can’t be around imperfect, unholy people. Yet he gives his people an ability to sacrifice and ask God for forgiveness. Then God says, “I’m going to dwell with you. I will come, and I will have a tent on Earth where you can meet with me and I can meet with you.” This word tabernacle means dwelling place or the tent of God.
Stephen says, “You’re accusing me of speaking against this Temple, but I’m going to remind you guys of something Jesus taught a foreign woman not long ago. He said that God doesn’t dwell in a specific place on Earth anymore.” Back in ancient Israel, you had to go to Jerusalem to a specific hilltop or into a specific building. That’s not how God meets with people anymore. Now, because of the Holy Spirit of the living God, God moves in and takes up residence inside you. Now he dwells in you.
In fact, later on, the New Testament says it this way: Your body becomes a dwelling place or a Temple of the Lord, if you know Jesus Christ personally. Stephen is answering every charge that’s brought against him. He’s saying to them, “Abraham was a great man, but he is not the Son of God. Moses was a big deal, but he’s not the Son of God. The Law, the Temple, all of it’s really important, but they’re not as important as the Son of God.
VI. God stands with his people
“You stiff-necked people with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are always resisting the Holy Spirit. As your ancestors did, you do also. 52 Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They even killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become. 53 You received the law under the direction of angels and yet have not kept it.” 54 When they heard these things, they were enraged and gnashed their teeth at him. 55 Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven. He saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 He said, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” 57 They yelled at the top of their voices, covered their ears, and together rushed against him. 58 They dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. And the witnesses laid their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 While they were stoning Stephen, he called out: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” 60 He knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” And after saying this, he died.
Let’s hear what Stephen says next, because it will cost him his life. Stephen basically says, “Can I remind you of something? God dwells inside his people. God stands with his people.” Here is what I’m trying to say today: When you stand with Jesus, Jesus stands with you. Stephen is about to make a stand, and this is going to cost him his life. This is the first Christian martyr recorded for us in history.
This brother just went from being on the stand and hearing the accusations of the religious leaders to being the guy who’s accusing the religious leaders. The fingers that they were pointing at him, he’s now pointing at them and saying, “You are the very men who murdered an innocent man. -not just an innocent man; you murdered the Son of God. The reason why you did it is because you don’t understand the law. You don’t understand the Temple. You don’t understand Moses because your hearts are far from God. Your ears can’t hear what the Bible teaches.” Is there any reason or any confusion about why they would act the way that they act next in verse fifty-four?
The great preacher, Adrian Rogers, once said, “Persecution doesn’t make martyrs. Persecution reveals who really has a martyr’s faith.” You see, Stephen was on trial where most of us would be so intimidated that we wouldn’t even have the words to say, but this bold brother goes on the offensive. As a result, all of those religious leaders start to pass judgment. They immediately take him out and sentence him to death. They immediately start to stone him. Stephen is now following in the exact same footprints of his master when Stephen is being murdered for his faith. Stephen’s thoughts are of them and the consequences for this action.
Stephen looks up to Heaven and God parts the heavens, and Stephen is able to see something in Heaven that perhaps he’s never seen before in his life. Stephen is able to see Jesus Christ get up off of his throne and stand as this stoning is taking place. Many preachers have said Stephen gets a standing ovation from Jesus, and I believe they’re accurate. But I think there’s more than just this going on.
You see, Psalm ninety-one makes it very clear. God sits on the throne in Heaven, and God’s Son sits at his right hand. Stephen is no longer looking at these men who have his life in their power. Stephen now looks to the One who judges them, and he sees the righteous judge get up off of his throne, stand in applause, and pass judgment on what Stephen is doing. Stephen sees the reward of his faith. He gets the benefit of knowing that God is totally aware of what’s going on. While Stephen is being murdered, he knows his Savior, Jesus, is standing at the right hand of the Father, advocating on his behalf. Folks, listen to me. Stephen is in the midst of this life-or-death ordeal, and he’s no longer thinking of himself. He’s thinking of them.
Then the Bible does something very unusual. In fact, if you were to read it just casually, you would say, “Wait a second. This doesn’t make sense. Why do we hear about a guy by the name of Saul at the end of this passage when for two chapters we’ve been hearing about Stephen?” I think what the Bible is trying to tell us is that there was a guy in the crowd that day who passed judgment and made it possible for Stephen to be murdered. That man named Saul never forgot what he saw. He never forgot what he heard from Stephen when those rocks were hitting him, and he was literally dying in front of him. Saul never forgot what happened. Very quickly the blood of Stephen, the first martyr, will become the seed of Saul’s faith. I think for the rest of Saul’s life he replays this scene over and over and over again. What kind of man would stand up and pray for the forgiveness of the very people that are murdering him?
Please keep this in mind. Maybe you feel lonely. Maybe you feel isolated. Maybe you feel like you’re in over your head. Maybe you feel like you’re just far from God or it’s been a long time since you felt God’s touch. If that’s the case, please learn from Stephen today. God is big enough to protect you. Even if he chooses not to, God loves you enough that he will go right with you in the midst of those difficult circumstances.
• I need to become a part of the family of faith. Today, I turn to Jesus for the first time.
– I haven’t felt the Holy Spirit’s presence lately. Pray for me to draw close to him this week.
+ I will make a stand for Jesus when my faith is confronted.
1. How do you define “family”? -by marriage, relationships, history, and/or by something else entirely?
2. Good, bad, or indifferent, does one’s history define who he or she is as a person?
3. Read Romans 8:12-17:
a. Why do we feel obligated at times to live by the current culture, and what is the cost?
b. What does it mean to have received, “the Spirit of adoption”?
c. How does our history in the family of God provide hope, rather than fear?
4. If we are also heirs of God as followers of Christ, what then does our shared history teach us?
5. How does the history of the family of God define us even today?
6. What does it mean to belong to a family of faith?
7. Praise God for your adoption into the Family of God, and pray for those in need of that same relationship.