Welcome Home everyone
But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,1 Peter 3:15
Stephen faces false charges of Blasphemy against Moses, God, the Tabernacle/Temple, and the Torah
My big idea for today is that we must be ready to give a defense of the reason for our hope in Jesus Christ. My prayer for us today is that by hearing this message together we might be filled with the Spirit of God to give a biblical and reasonable defense for our faith. If you have your Bibles today you can join me in Acts chapter, verse
Then the high priest asked Stephen, “Are these charges true?”Acts 7:1-53
2 To this he replied: “Brothers and fathers, listen to me! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Harran. 3 ‘Leave your country and your people,’ God said, ‘and go to the land I will show you.’[a]
4 “So he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Harran. After the death of his father, God sent him to this land where you are now living. 5 He gave him no inheritance here, not even enough ground to set his foot on. But God promised him that he and his descendants after him would possess the land, even though at that time Abraham had no child. 6 God spoke to him in this way: ‘For four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated. 7 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves,’ God said, ‘and afterward they will come out of that country and worship me in this place.’[b] 8 Then he gave Abraham the covenant of circumcision. And Abraham became the father of Isaac and circumcised him eight days after his birth. Later Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob became the father of the twelve patriarchs.
9 “Because the patriarchs were jealous of Joseph, they sold him as a slave into Egypt. But God was with him 10 and rescued him from all his troubles. He gave Joseph wisdom and enabled him to gain the goodwill of Pharaoh king of Egypt. So Pharaoh made him ruler over Egypt and all his palace.
11 “Then a famine struck all Egypt and Canaan, bringing great suffering, and our ancestors could not find food. 12 When Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent our forefathers on their first visit. 13 On their second visit, Joseph told his brothers who he was, and Pharaoh learned about Joseph’s family. 14 After this, Joseph sent for his father Jacob and his whole family, seventy-five in all. 15 Then Jacob went down to Egypt, where he and our ancestors died. 16 Their bodies were brought back to Shechem and placed in the tomb that Abraham had bought from the sons of Hamor at Shechem for a certain sum of money.
17 “As the time drew near for God to fulfill his promise to Abraham, the number of our people in Egypt had greatly increased. 18 Then ‘a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt.’[c] 19 He dealt treacherously with our people and oppressed our ancestors by forcing them to throw out their newborn babies so that they would die.
20 “At that time Moses was born, and he was no ordinary child.[d] For three months he was cared for by his family. 21 When he was placed outside, Pharaoh’s daughter took him and brought him up as her own son. 22 Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action.
23 “When Moses was forty years old, he decided to visit his own people, the Israelites. 24 He saw one of them being mistreated by an Egyptian, so he went to his defense and avenged him by killing the Egyptian. 25 Moses thought that his own people would realize that God was using him to rescue them, but they did not. 26 The next day Moses came upon two Israelites who were fighting. He tried to reconcile them by saying, ‘Men, you are brothers; why do you want to hurt each other?’
27 “But the man who was mistreating the other pushed Moses aside and said, ‘Who made you ruler and judge over us? 28 Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?’[e] 29 When Moses heard this, he fled to Midian, where he settled as a foreigner and had two sons.
30 “After forty years had passed, an angel appeared to Moses in the flames of a burning bush in the desert near Mount Sinai. 31 When he saw this, he was amazed at the sight. As he went over to get a closer look, he heard the Lord say: 32 ‘I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.’[f] Moses trembled with fear and did not dare to look.
33 “Then the Lord said to him, ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground. 34 I have indeed seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their groaning and have come down to set them free. Now come, I will send you back to Egypt.’[g]
35 “This is the same Moses they had rejected with the words, ‘Who made you ruler and judge?’ He was sent to be their ruler and deliverer by God himself, through the angel who appeared to him in the bush. 36 He led them out of Egypt and performed wonders and signs in Egypt, at the Red Sea and for forty years in the wilderness.
37 “This is the Moses who told the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your own people.’[h] 38 He was in the assembly in the wilderness, with the angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our ancestors; and he received living words to pass on to us.
39 “But our ancestors refused to obey him. Instead, they rejected him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt. 40 They told Aaron, ‘Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who led us out of Egypt—we don’t know what has happened to him!’[i] 41 That was the time they made an idol in the form of a calf. They brought sacrifices to it and reveled in what their own hands had made. 42 But God turned away from them and gave them over to the worship of the sun, moon and stars. This agrees with what is written in the book of the prophets:
“‘Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings
forty years in the wilderness, people of Israel?
43 You have taken up the tabernacle of Molek
and the star of your god Rephan,
the idols you made to worship.
Therefore, I will send you into exile’[j] beyond Babylon.
44 “Our ancestors had the tabernacle of the covenant law with them in the wilderness. It had been made as God directed Moses, according to the pattern he had seen. 45 After receiving the tabernacle, our ancestors under Joshua brought it with them when they took the land from the nations God drove out before them. It remained in the land until the time of David, 46 who enjoyed God’s favor and asked that he might provide a dwelling place for the God of Jacob.[k] 47 But it was Solomon who built a house for him.
48 “However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands. As the prophet says:
49 “‘Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me?
says the Lord.
Or where will my resting place be?
50 Has not my hand made all these things?’[l]
51 “You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! 52 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— 53 you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.”
In order to help me share with you today, I have separated my thoughts into 3 sections or points that stood out to me.
POINT #1: Stephen Stands on Scripture
“Brothers and fathers, listen to me! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Harran.Acts 7:2
He begins by addressing his listeners in the traditional and familial manner. Brothers and. Fathers. Brothers meaning fellow Jews. Fathers meaning the Sanhedrin or the elders of Israel. Keeping in mind their primary reference for all matters of life was the Torah, the Writings, and the Prophets. The three elements of the Hebrew Bible or what we know as the Old Testament. In essence, the very things Stephen in now accused of blaspheming. Genesis tells the story of God’s creation of man and how Israel became the family of God. Exactly how God called Abraham to a far-off land to make them the father many. By calling them Brothers and Fathers, Stephen is reminding them how God’s covenant with Abraham brought forth the Patriarch and the 12 sons that represent the 12 tribes of Israel. As Stephen shifts his focus on God, He could have said anything at all about who God is or any attribute or aspect of His nature. Stephen opens up with this…The God of glory.
Ascribe to the Lord, you heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.Psalm 29
2 Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.
3 The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord thunders over the mighty waters.
4 The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is majestic.
5 The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; the Lord breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon.
6 He makes Lebanon leap like a calf, Sirion like a young wild ox.
7 The voice of the Lord strikes with flashes of lightning.
8 The voice of the Lord shakes the desert; the Lord shakes the Desert of Kadesh.
9 The voice of the Lord twists the oaks and strips the forests bare. And in his temple all cry, “Glory!”
10 The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord is enthroned as King forever.
11 The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.
From the outset, Stephen begins to address Jewish tradition and the value of the scripture in defining God and His relationship to Israel. Stephen’s defense is not to Its not true. His defense was not to shift the focus to the deceitfulness of false accusers. His defense was to simply allow them to hear for themselves Stephen’s heart as he stands on the scriptures. Stephen is bridging the gap between the scriptures of the Old Testament and the teachings of Jesus Christ that will soon become the New Testament. Judge for yourselves if there is anything blasphemous. In speech Stephen connects his theology to the Old Testament, but by faith he his actions to are connected to his Christology.
This is really important for us to get here in this moment with Stephen (full of the Holy Spirit). When Jesus was tempted, he answered by these 3 words “It is written.” (Matt. 4)
9 “You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. 10 And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. 11 Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.Mark 13:9-13
12 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 13 Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.
As Stephen stands firm in the scriptures, he is laying the foundation of fulfillment in His life and ministry. Let’s take this a step further…
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”Acts 1:8
This word here in the original Greek is the same word that’s used for martyr. Here is my question for you today, are you standing on the scriptures in your life? I know we love the ones that tell us the good news. But are we as eager about the ones that relate to suffering for His namesake? I heard you, No! I don’t receive that. Nope! Are we allowing the foundation of trust in Christ to be laid so that His fulfillment can take rest in our lives? In the good and the uncomfortable, Stephen puts his trust in God’s word with the full confidence that Christ will find him in his time of need. We must look to the scriptures.
I’ll move on to my next point.
POINT #2: Stephen Finds Common Ground
Stephen is commissioned by the Holy Spirit to speak or bear witness to what he has seen and heard. He begins with a recap of their shared history. Notice Stephen doesn’t just come out and answer the question, is this true? He finds common ground to remind them that they are all family. They are bonded by a shared experience as a people. Obviously, they love Abraham, Moses, Torah, etc. His hope is that by establishing their common origin story they will remember the words of the prophets and God’s promises regarding the Messiah. Somehow, they might come to their senses. I’m sure that at some point Stephen might have been concerned about his safety, but you would never guess by the way he went on. It seems as though he was expecting God to move on their hearts. The perhaps Israel’s elders would be moved to repentance and call all of Israel back to God.
This is the heart of all reformers. They loved the church. Martin Luther never dreamed of starting a new denomination. He simply wanted to encourage the leadership to move back to a biblical orthodoxy. It wasn’t until all options were exhausted that reformers were forced to continue down the narrow road towards authentic worship and biblical expressions of faith and fellowship.
When we give our defense of our reason for hope think about what we say and how we say it. Are we looking for common ground? Are we seeking to unify our brothers and sisters? Is our goal to see Christ glorified in our words? And if we are people full of faith and the Holy Spirit, do we speak on our own authority or are we speaking only what we hear from our father in heaven?
I’ll move to my final point.
POINT #3: Stephen Levels the Indictment
The charge against Stephen is a blanket charge of blasphemy, punishable by death. From the outside looking in, it may seem as though Stephen is the one on trial. In actuality from the big picture perspective, this is indictment and trial of Israel. This sites Israel’s total rejection of the Messiah’s Kingdom. Stephen’s martyrdom is the equivalent of the banging gavel after a court case has been decided.
From the beginning, it was God’s plan to use the Jewish people as light that would draw the world to God. The message of God would go out to the Jews first and then to the Gentiles. The Messiah would come and make all thing right and bring clarity to the scriptures. This is where they began to twist Stephen’s words regarding changing the traditions and destroying the temple etc. Jesus said this temple meaning his body crucified and resurrected. Just because some repeats a lie over and over, it doesn’t become true. God’s word is always true. God’s promises are always kept.
No matter how humanity tries to manipulate God’s word, God will not be mocked. God will use you as a light for others to see. Or God will use you as a cautionary tale. In Israel’s case God foretold their judgment, but also promised their redemption.
I’ll close with this. The truth is that Stephen’s message cut deep in the heart of the Jews. They just couldn’t bear it. Their arrogance and attitude of entitlement would not allow them to entertain Stephen any longer and their anger overtook them. The reality is that if they had know God they would have seen Stephen for who he was. They would have understood the it wasn’t Stephen’s words that they were hearing, but the words of god through his holy spirit.
You live in the midst of deception; in their deceit they refuse to acknowledge me,” declares the Lord.Jeremiah 9:6
They did not know Christ or accept him because they did not know God. This all boils down to relationship. Relationship with God. And fellowship with the body.
Will you join me as we seek an authentic relationship united in Christ and each other? Rejecting division, embracing God’s reality in Jesus, and encouraging one another. It’s just between you and God. Here’s the thing, If we love God and abide in Christ we will find ourselves more and more loving each other. You will we more and you will love better. We will experience God in spirit and in truth and we will share that amongst each other. Share all the ways God has shown you mercy and grace. Will you allow the Holy Spirit to stir faith in someone through your testimony? Would you join me as the Holy Spirit moves on us to be unified in the spirit of Christ? These are the kingdom values. This is truly the work of God. The intentional actions of the body of Christ. Remember the devil seeks only to kill steal and destroy. Steal your freedom, kill your joy, and destroy your destiny for hope and love. But God has a plan! He’s stealing from your neighbor, your family, and your loved ones today.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.John 3:16
Jesus, He’s the Son of the living God, and we can receive from Him today His Righteousness, His purpose and His calling. Will you call on him today? Your salvation/forgiveness is just one prayer away. Will you trust in his ability to do what He said He would do? Will you believe today? Many of you need a fresh touch from God today. Is there some form of unbelief or a fracture of trust as it relates to God in your life today? God wants to redeem and restore those areas of your life? He wants to restore Joy and hope for you today. You’re hearing this now and the Holy Spirit has brought someone or something to mind. He wants to speak life into this today. He wants to bring healing in this area today. There are areas of deep regret when it comes to your relationship with God and you have rejected Christ as your savior …It’s not too late
It’s not too late to humble yourself before him today, hold out your arms and open your hands to receive from him today. Will you say yes to Jesus, today? Will you bow your heads with me? Some of you already know the Lord, but maybe he’s put something on your heart that you need to deal with, you need to ask his forgiveness today. If that’s you will you just acknowledge that to him today. This is just you and God here. Now someone here may not have that relationship with Jesus and today you’ve felt him tugging at your heart, you’ve been hurt, and you’re guarded, I know. Jesus is here and wants set things right in your life. If you’ll say Pastor, I want Jesus to be my Lord and savior. Remember, it’s just you and God here. Will you pray with me today, we’ll pray here as a family and you can repeat after me?
Jesus, I know that I’m a sinner. I ask you today for your forgiveness. I believe that you died for my sins and on that 3rd day, you rose from the dead. I ask you to come into my heart today. I trust and follow you as my Lord and savior. Guide me and help me to do your will. In Jesus’ name Amen.
“‘“The Lord bless youNumbers 6:24-26
and keep you;
25 the Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
26 the Lord turn his face toward you
and give you peace.”’