Acts: Modeling the Church; Then, Now, & Beyond – Chapter 7 Part 1c

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.

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.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.
The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory  thunders,  the Lord thunders over the mighty waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;    the voice of the Lord is majestic.
The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;    the Lord breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon leap like a calf,   Sirion like a young wild ox.
The voice of the Lord strikes  with flashes of lightning.
The voice of the Lord shakes the desert;  the Lord shakes the Desert of Kadesh.
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.

Psalm 29

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.
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.

Mark 13:9-13

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 you
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.”’

Numbers 6:24-26