Last time we saw that Stephen (one of the 7 men of Acts 6) was being accused for blaspheming against Moses (the law) and against the temple (6:13,14).This is an extremely serious charge, for nothing was more sacred to the Jews than the law of God and their temple.
Now to be clear, the law was God's word, and the temple was the manifestation of God's presence. But Stephen pointed out resolutely that the law and the temple were not an end in themselves. Jesus was the End of everything.And so, it was ultimately on account of Jesus, that Stephen as a true disciple of Jesus, was being treated in exactly the same manner as the Lord Jesus when He was being accused by the Jewish ruling council.
And so , as the Sanhedrin were looking (gazing) at Stephen, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel (6:18), and it reminds us of Moses, whose face shone in a similar manner when he had come down from Mount Sinai, after he had received the law of God.
With this observation the high priest commences with the interrogation concerning the false charges made in 6: 11-14. The High priest said: “Are these things so? “ (7:1)
THE DEFENCE: 7:1-53
What follows is a lengthy defense by Stephen. His defense is actually a history lesson of the Jews,beginning with Abraham and ending with a counter - accusing charge in vv. 51-53 in which he accuses the Sanhedrin that they were in fact stiff necked and stubborn, always resisting the Holy Spirit.
So, having read the text, let me sum it up in a nutshell. Remember, the primary charge is that Stephen blasphemes against the temple and the law. Note how he defends himself:
1. Stephens’s defense with regard to the right use of the temple:
The Jews associated the temple with the presence of God in their midst. That is certainly true, as many passages (e.g. Ps. 27:4 etc) would indicate. And God had indeed promised to manifest Himself among the Jews in this way (2 Chron. 7) However in doing so they went far further than Scripture intended - and absolutely bound God to His temple, by making the place and the stones themselves a sacred place.
It is fascinating to see how Stephen demolishes that sort of thinking. He uses prominent O.T. figures such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses (in particular), David and Solomon to make his case.
The important feature of Stephen’s argument is that under none of these people was God's presence limited to any particular place. The God of the O.T. was the God on the move. He was always calling His people to move out into His purposes, and always accompanying and directing them as they went. Think about this :
- Abraham had no temple.
- Joseph had no temple.
- Moses eventually had a moving tabernacle (portable temple)
- David had a tabernacle (and often not - whilst he was fleeing)
- Solomon eventually build the temple, but Solomon and Stephen were quick to point out that no one could build a house for God, for no one and no building could contain the infinite God of the Universe (see 7:48,49).
- So then, the holy place is not so much a temple in Jerusalem. The Holy place is where God is, and it is the place where he is truly honoured. And God is where His chosen people are, and if it happens to be the temple in Jerusalem, then good and well!
Stephen, in citing both Solomon and Isaiah thus had it right when he said, "The most High does not live in houses made by hands."(7:48 -50). God has always lived in the midst of His people. His dwelling place is always with them and the highest expression of His glory is the place where His people assemble. The temple in Jerusalem was built for this purpose, but rarely did it serve this purpose in history, and certainly not in Jesus day, when He had to tell them that the temple was no longer used as a house of prayer and worship, but that it had in fact become a den of robbers.[Lk 19:45-48]
The O.T. and the N.T agree in this !
So then, we remind ourselves that God does not dwell in buildings. He dwells with His people - the living stones! [1 Pet. 2:5] If they happen to be in the building - good and well, but the building itself can never be holy.
Eastside Baptist Church was constituted in the June of 1985, as a community of worship, and to the glory of God. A place of worship was built to meet our need for assembly. It has in fact become a house in which Christian worshipers assemble. The more people assemble for the worship of God, the more glory goes to God. That is why it is important that we do assemble, and God in Holy Scripture has always encouraged the assembly of His people in public worship.
There is something very wrong with a person who does not enjoy the assembly of God’s people. There is something very wrong with someone who chooses to spend his or her Sundays apart from the people of God.
So it is not primarily about the place built for worship - it is about the people assembling for true worship. And sadly, as many places of worship begin to take on a life of their own, and they easily detract from the worship of God.
So, Jesus and Stephen showed that, contrary to the popular religion of their day which thought that God was contained in a physical building, they showed that God is with His people wherever they are. If God's people happened to be obedient to Him and worshiped Him in the temple, He would be there - naturally. But when the temple becomes an end in itself, and when the people of God become disobedient to Him then the glory of God departs, and this is what Ezekiel foresees in Chapter 10, as the glory of God departs from the temple.
2. Stephen’s defense with regard to the right use of the law :
It is ironic that those who charged Jesus and Stephen with blaspheming against the law, where themselves far more guilty of breaking the law. Stephen uses illustrations from Israel's history to prove this:
In 7:25 Stephen shows that the people in Moses’s day failed to recognize Moses as the heaven sent deliverer. In 7:27 Stephen argues that instead of recognizing the wisdom of Moses, the forefathers pushed him aside. In 7:35 they rejected Moses' leadership even though He had met with God, and they ignored the fact that he had become a true prophet among them. In 7:39ff they frequently refused to obey his leadership in the desert. In their hearts they often turned back to Egypt, and so they became idolaters.
It was the same pattern with the prophets. Now they praise them, but then they killed them! (7:52)
The Accused Stephen now becomes the Accuser - 7:51 – 53.
- He accuses them of being stiff-necked and of having uncircumcised hearts and ears. which implied that they were still heathen at heart and deaf to the truth.
- He accuses them of being just like their fathers in terms of their willful rejection of God's Word.
- He accuses them of always resisting the Holy Spirit.
- He accuses them of always persecuting the prophets. In fact they were worse - because they killed God's Son, the Righteous One. So, in effect, they did not obey the law!
The heart of the problem is that they failed to see the Christ, the promised Messiah, whom Stephen proclaimed!
Stephen's speech before the Sanhedrin was full of Christ - and this continued to be true even unto his death. [7:55]
See the Sanhedrin's response in 7:57. They covered their ears, yelling at their top of their voices, thus suppressing their consciences. You cannot think rationally when you close your ears or raise your voice. Thus, in a moment of madness, fueled by a mob mentality they stoned Stephen.
Note in 7:59 the similarity of Stephen's prayer to the Lord's prayer on the cross. oth prayed for forgiveness of their executioners and both committed their spirits into God's hands.
The most direct consequence of Stephen's death was that the church was persecuted and scattered throughout Judea and Samaria (8:1 cf Acts 1:8) and that the mission to the gentiles began. The church was forced out of Jerusalem, and so was the gospel. It was now being carried to gentile territories. Saul who saw this, and who must have observed the way in which Stephen died, is soon going to be converted to become the great apostle to the gentiles. And so we see that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church!
Some would say, how gruesome! How unnecessary! Our reply is, “don't worry about Stephen. He is with the Lord Jesus.” Rather , worry about those hard hearts who will have to stand before the great throne of judgement having to give an account for what they have done. Be concerned for men and women who blaspheme the Name of Christ, and who have no love or concern for Him. It is true that the church must have been shocked at the death of Stephen, but with the benefit of hindsight we can now appreciate God's providence in promoting the church's mission through this means.
This sort of history has repeated itself again and again in the life of the church - Europe, America, Asia and Africa - the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church, and as we have said - don't be concerned about the martyrs. Do not even be concerned about your own life, if you are a Christian.
Maybe some of us will have to die for the sake of the gospel, so that unbelieving men and women will hear! Be more concerned about the unbelieving world. Pray, witness, go and tell! Leave the consequence with God! However we know that generally speaking, Christians are slow to move out.
What will God have to do to get us involved and active in telling the gospel to the unsaved?