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Stephen's Defense

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Stephen tries to win the Sanhedrin to Christ

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Stephen’s Defense

Acts 7:1-41
Last week we saw that Stephen was arrested and brought before the Jewish ruling counsel - the same people that had arrested Jesus and had falsely accused him. Now they have once again found people willing to lie, saying that Stephen was teaching that Jesus of Nazareth would destroy the temple. And the last verse of ch. 6 “All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.”
Acts is a book of sermons and this is a very lengthy one. Interesting. Why devote so much space to a minor character? What does Stephen say that Luke thought must be captured for posterity? As we read, ask yourself, as a gentile believer follower of Christ, “what happened to the Jews? Why aren’t more of them following Christ?” Also, as I read, notice how Stephen is trying to lead his listeners to Christ - Stephen goes through history - focus on Abraham, Joseph, and Moses, and gives the Sanhedrin things to be proud of and ashamed of in the history of their nation. And then he’s going to drive his point home forcefully.
Read 7:1-3
A few points - again if Acts was written AFTER the destruction of the temple in 70 AD you would expect....
The Great Sanhedrin met in the Hall of Hewn Stones that was located in the temple complex.
Stephen begins by calling the councilmen his brothers and fathers - both humble & inclusive, but then he does an interesting thing in vs. 3. He reminds them of God’s call on Abraham to “Leave your country and your people and go to the land I will show you.” Basically be willing to leave behind what you know to go where I tell you to go. This will be an important concept in Acts - God calling His people beyond their comfort zone, calling them to become one family with people they normally would not associate with. Chrysostom (late 300s early 500s) said that “country and home is where God calls us.”
And then there is this phrase “God of glory.” It’s a rare phrase. Only one other place. Usually “the glory of God” but Stephen uses this phrase “God of glory” that comes from
“Ascribe to the LORD, you heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. 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. (skip to vs 9) 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.” The New International Version. (2011). (). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
If Stephen was thinking of this passage, and if the members of the Sanhedrin caught the connection - this is an amazing way to begin his defense. He proclaims glory to God, no doubt emboldening himself an at the same time declaring his faithful devotion to God. He magnifies the greatness of God, while in the temple of God, in contrast to those who also stood in God’s temple but spread slander instead, spoke of God’s transcendence over the temple, but at the same time contained this memorable phrase “in his temple all cry, “Glory!” And then the 29th Psalm ends with a word of blessing to the Jewish people, “
ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
The LORD (Yahweh) gives strength to his people; the LORD (Yahweh) blesses his people with peace.” The New International Version. (2011). (). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
the LORD blesses his people with peace.
2 Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;
So I don’t know if Stephen or his hearers had in mind, but given their knowledge of Scripture and how unique the phrase “God of glory” is, I think it’s very possible.
Read 7:4-10 - vs 8 - pride! circumcision and the renowned Patriarchs after whom the 12 tribes of Israel are named and then vs. 9 - The patriarchs became jealous of Joseph and sold him into slavery. But vs. 10 - God turned it to good. In Joseph tells his brothers, “As for you, you meant to harm me, but God intended it for a good purpose, so he could preserve the lives of many people, as you can see this day.”
worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness.
Read 7:11-25 - “He supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand.” Just as Jesus, and now Stephen representing Jesus, wanted to bring the people salvation, but they did not understand. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
Read 7:26-41 - Lets go back and look at the elements in Stephen’s message about Moses and think of how they speak to the Jewish ruling council and also how they speak to us today.
3 The voice of the LORD is over the waters;
The New International Version. (2011). (). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
vs 20 - Moses was beautiful in God’s sight - even though he would be rejected by human beings - the enemies of God’s people (the Egyptians) and God’s own people he was called to lead would struggle against him.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
the God of glory thunders,
the LORD thunders over the mighty waters.
vs 22 - Moses was mighty in words and deeds - just as we saw last week that Stephen was!
4 The voice of the LORD is powerful;
vs 25 - Salvation came to the people but they reject it - not recognising - not understanding
the voice of the LORD is majestic.
vs 27 - When Moses tries to help they get angry and say “Who made you a judge over us?” Today, instead of accepting forgiveness and salvation from God, many people react angrily and deny that they need saving
vs 29 - Moses runs away from God’s people into a gentile land - just as Jewish Christians will soon be scattered into gentile lands
5 The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars;
the LORD breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon.
vs 32 - God appears in the gentile lands
vs 33 - The land where God came down (a theophany) was Holy ground - Even though it wasn’t in the Holy Land!
(skip to vs 9)
vs 34 - God saw the suffering of His people and sent Moses in the OT. God saw the pain of people all over the world and sent Jesus - and Stephen, and then Christians down through the ages and now, we are among the people of THIS generation that God is sending to suffering people. People often cry out to God for help - and when He sends it - even when it’s a great miracle - He often sends it through people He calls. If you are a Christian you have been chosen ( “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s possession, so that you may proclaim the virtues of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light...”), equipped ( , “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, 17 in order that the person of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”), and deputized ( “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,20 and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” ) God delights to call people to bring salvation, hope, peace to the world. If you are a Christian that’s you. that’s us.
Sirion j like a young wild ox.
vs 35 - Moses was revered by the people of Jerusalem at this time, but Stephen reminds the Council that the people of Moses’s time continually fought with him. Here’s some application for Christians in 2018 America - if people didn’t like to listen to Moses, Jesus, Stephen, or Paul - how much more difficult will it be for Christians to follow Average Joe pastors that God calls to shepherd His people. And those of you who lead a small group, or Sunday School Class, or your family - why would you expect it to be easy to lead if people rejected and killed almost every prophet and disciple God sent them? Because of sin it is not easy to lead and it’s not in our nature to follow. It glorifies God when we struggle to do these things with humility and joy.
7 The voice of the LORD strikes
vs 37 - Stephen reminds his listeners that Moses had prophesied there would be another prophet like him - who would lead people from slavery to freedom. This prophecy from Moses is about Jesus!
with flashes of lightning.
Harris, W. H., III, Ritzema, E., Brannan, R., Mangum, D., Dunham, J., Reimer, J. A., & Wierenga, M. (Eds.). (2012). The Lexham English Bible (). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press. ), equipped, and deputized ( ) to bring salvation to the world. If you are a Christian that’s you.
Harris, W. H., III, Ritzema, E., Brannan, R., Mangum, D., Dunham, J., Reimer, J. A., & Wierenga, M. (Eds.). (2012). The Lexham English Bible (). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press. ), and deputized ( ) to bring salvation to the world. If you are a Christian that’s you.
vs 39 - the people thrust Moses away and in their hearts they returned back to Egypt - Freedom from sin, the Promised Land, goodness is within their grasp, but they turn away to go back to the life they had left. We need to trust God - and not do the same thing.
8 The voice of the LORD shakes the desert;
vs 40-41 - the people ignored Moses and worshipped and idol - Stephen puts it this way, they were “rejoicing in the works of their hands.” We have that choice too. Will we rejoice in God or in the works of our own hands. Will we honor God as first in our hearts of will something else take His place? Will we worship God and find our joy in Him? Or will our lives revolve around earthy things.
the LORD shakes the Desert of Kadesh.
9 The voice of the LORD twists the oaks 
Stephen took a humble, yet unbelievable bold message to the Sanhedrin. They could accept His words and change their lives, put their faith in Christ - or turn away into darkness. What do we do when we hear God’s voice? Lets take that question home, and think about it this week, and then come back next Sunday and see how the listeners of Stephen’s sermon took what he had to say.
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.
The New International Version. (2011). (). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
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