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A Picture of God’s Plan of Redemption

Marc Minter
Acts  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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God has been working His plan of redemption for a long time, and even those circumstances which seem to oppose it most only serve the purposes of God.

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Introduction

Why should you read the Bible frequently, widely, and in big chunks (i.e., not just your favorite book of the Bible, not just the New Testament, and not just a few verses at a time)?
I know the churchy answer: “Because I love the God of the Bible!” or “So that I can grow as a Christian!” or “Because I need to regularly hear God’s Word!
But how does a regular and thorough diet of Bible reading actually “help you grow as a Christian”? Does each verse or chapter count toward some kind of spiritual energy bar that adds up over time?
It seems to me, from my own experience, that reading the Bible is much like learning a new language or learning to appreciate various forms of art. Languages have vocabulary, grammatical rules, and colloquialisms (phrases that don’t mean what they say, like “that guy is a beast” or “she’s an angel”).
To appreciate art, whether it be music or painting or sculpting, one must learn to understand objective beauty and quality; one must gain an eye and an ear for artistic genius, and not mere novelty.
So too, in reading the Bible, one must learn a sort of new language, and one must learn to understand and appreciate beautifully unfolding themes and images. This will only happen as we spend more time reading the Bible frequently, and widely, and in big chunks.
When we read the Bible in this way, we steep ourselves in the Scriptures. The truths, and the vocabulary, and the stories of God become increasingly familiar to us. We gain an ability to see what we couldn’t see before, and we grow in our understanding of God’s own revelation of Himself.
Today, we’re going to read a lengthy passage of Scripture together, and those who know the Bible’s storyline well will follow the passage easily. In fact, if you’re familiar with the Old Testament, then your mind will probably even fill in some of the gaps as we go.
If you don’t know the Bible as well as you’d like, then don’t worry, you’ll still be able to see and understand quite a bit… and part of what we’re doing here is learning together.
Over the last few months, we’ve been making our way through the fascinating book of Acts. This book of the Bible serves as a sort of bridge from the Gospels to the rest of the New Testament. In a very practical sense, the book of Acts records for us how God’s people in the world stopped living under the Old Covenant and started living under the New.
A significant feature of the book of Acts is Luke’s intentional effort to show the reader that the Old Israel or people of God is no more and the New Israel has come.
Jesus is the new “patriarch” with twelve “sons” of His own, in the form of Apostles.
Jesus and His people are the new “temple” of God, where God’s Spirit has now come to dwell upon the earth.
And, of course, Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah or Christ… who has come to bring both salvation and judgement… salvation to those who look to Him for it, and judgment to those who continue in their rebellion and sin.
This message is the summary of the gospel, and Jesus Himself had commissioned His followers to be His “witnesses” throughout all the earth, beginning with Jerusalem (Acts 1:8).
In Acts 6-7 the Apostles and all the other Christians mentioned were still in Jerusalem. And most of the verses in these two chapters are a record of a speech from Stephen. But by the time we get to Acts 8:1 the Christians were “scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria.
What happened?
It’s also important to note that Stephen’s speech, which we will read in full today, is the fifth gospel presentation recorded in Acts. But Stephen’s message here, unlike the one’s we’ve read from Peter before him, does not include a call to respond with belief. Rather, Stephen was stopped short when he started pointing out the sins of his hearers.
Let’s read this passage together, and let’s listen for how the earliest Christians understood God’s work throughout history. Let’s also listen for how Stephen and this whole encounter provide something of a picture of God’s unfolding plan of redemption.

Scripture Reading

Acts 6:8–7:60 (ESV) *page 860
8 And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people.
9 Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and disputed with Stephen. 10 But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.
11 Then they secretly instigated men who said, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.”
12 And they stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council, 13 and they set up false witnesses who said, “This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, 14 for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.”
15 And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel.
1 And the high priest said, “Are these things so?”
2 And Stephen said: “Brothers and fathers, hear me.
The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, 3 and said to him, ‘Go out from your land and from your kindred and go into the land that I will show you.’ 4 Then he went out from the land of the Chaldeans and lived in Haran.
And after his father died, God removed him from there into this land in which you are now living. 5 Yet he gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot’s length, but promised to give it to him as a possession and to his offspring after him, though he had no child.
6 And God spoke to this effect—that his offspring would be sojourners in a land belonging to others, who would enslave them and afflict them four hundred years. 7 ‘But I will judge the nation that they serve,’ said God, ‘and after that they shall come out and worship me in this place.’
8 And he gave him the covenant of circumcision. And so Abraham became the father of Isaac, and circumcised him on the eighth day, and Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob of the twelve patriarchs.
9 “And the patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him 10 and rescued him out of all his afflictions and gave him favor and wisdom before Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who made him ruler over Egypt and over all his household.
11 Now there came a famine throughout all Egypt and Canaan, and great affliction, and our fathers could find no food. 12 But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent out our fathers on their first visit. 13 And on the second visit Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and Joseph’s family became known to Pharaoh.
14 And Joseph sent and summoned Jacob his father and all his kindred, seventy-five persons in all. 15 And Jacob went down into Egypt, and he died, he and our fathers, 16 and they were carried back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham had bought for a sum of silver from the sons of Hamor in Shechem.
17 “But as the time of the promise drew near, which God had granted to Abraham, the people increased and multiplied in Egypt 18 until there arose over Egypt another king who did not know Joseph. 19 He dealt shrewdly with our race and forced our fathers to expose their infants, so that they would not be kept alive.
20 At this time Moses was born; and he was beautiful in God’s sight. And he was brought up for three months in his father’s house, 21 and when he was exposed, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him and brought him up as her own son. 22 And Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds.
23 “When he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brothers, the children of Israel. 24 And seeing one of them being wronged, he defended the oppressed man and avenged him by striking down the Egyptian. 25 He supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand.
26 And on the following day he appeared to them as they were quarreling and tried to reconcile them, saying, ‘Men, you are brothers. Why do you wrong each other?’ 27 But the man who was wronging his neighbor thrust him aside, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge over us? 28 Do you want to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?’ 29 At this retort Moses fled and became an exile in the land of Midian, where he became the father of two sons.
30 “Now when forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in a flame of fire in a bush. 31 When Moses saw it, he was amazed at the sight, and as he drew near to look, there came the voice of the Lord: 32 ‘I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob.’ And Moses trembled and did not dare to look.
33 Then the Lord said to him, ‘Take off the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground. 34 I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their groaning, and I have come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send you to Egypt.’
35This Moses, whom they rejected, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’—this man God sent as both ruler and redeemer by the hand of the angel who appeared to him in the bush.
36 This man led them out, performing wonders and signs in Egypt and at the Red Sea and in the wilderness for forty years.
37 This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers.’
38 This is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers. He received living oracles to give to us.
39 Our fathers refused to obey him, but thrust him aside, and in their hearts they turned to Egypt, 40 saying to Aaron, ‘Make for us gods who will go before us. As for this Moses who led us out from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ 41 And they made a calf in those days, and offered a sacrifice to the idol and were rejoicing in the works of their hands.
42 But God turned away and gave them over to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets: “ ‘Did you bring to me slain beasts and sacrifices, during the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel? 43 You took up the tent of Moloch and the star of your god Rephan, the images that you made to worship; and I will send you into exile beyond Babylon.’
44 “Our fathers had the tent of witness in the wilderness, just as he who spoke to Moses directed him to make it, according to the pattern that he had seen.
45 Our fathers in turn brought it in with Joshua when they dispossessed the nations that God drove out before our fathers.
So it was until the days of David, 46 who found favor in the sight of God and asked to find a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. 47 But it was Solomon who built a house for him.
48 Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by 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 what is the place of my rest? 50 Did not my hand make all these things?’
51 “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit.
As your fathers did, so do you.
52 Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, 53 you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”
54 Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him.
55 But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
57 But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. 58 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him.
And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.
59 And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
60 And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

Main Point

God has been working His plan of redemption for a long time, and even those circumstances which seem to oppose it most only serve the purposes of God.

Message

1) Same Old Story

Stephen himself is a picture of Jesus Christ.
Just like Jesus (and Moses and the Apostles as well), Stephen did “great wonders and signs among the people” (6:8)
Just like Jesus, Stephen spoke prophetically to Israel’s leaders, suffered rejection for doing so, and was ultimately vindicated by God Himself.
Just like Jesus, Stephen was accused by false witnesses of speaking “blasphemous words” against Moses and against “this holy place” [i.e., the temple] (6:11, 13).
Just like Jesus, Stephen committed his soul to God and spoke words of forgiveness to those who murdered him.
Interestingly, Stephen said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (7:59).
Jesus had said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lk. 23:34). And Stephen said, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (7:60).
The Jewish leaders and mob were just like their fathers.
Stephen said, “as your fathers did, so do you” (7:51).
the patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt” (7:9).
Moses “supposed that his brothers [i.e., Israel] would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not...” (7:25)
This Moses,” whom God sent to Egypt “to deliver” Israel, “they rejected, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’” (7:34-35).
When Moses “received living oracles” to give to Israel, they “refused to obey him, but thrust him aside, and in their hearts they turned to Egypt, saying to Aaron, ‘Make for us gods who will go before us.’” (7:38-40).
And, just as Israel had “killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One,” those Jewish leaders were responsible for “betraying and murdering” Jesus (7:52).
And “when they heard these things they were enraged… [and] they cast [Stephen] out of the city and stoned him [to death]” (7:54, 58).
Israel’s rejection of Stephen was a rejection of the Messiah
The climax of Stephen’s message was his report of what he saw.
he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And [Stephen] said, ‘Behold, I see the heaven’s opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God’” (7:55-56).
This was a claim that Jesus was the fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy.
there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom is one that shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:13-14).
But” the Jewish leaders “cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears...” (7:57).
But clearly, according to this passage and its overall biblical context, all of this was exactly as God intended.

2) God’s Unfolding Plan

God’s plan to redeem sinners through a Messiah is older than time.
Stephen reached way back to Genesis 12, referring to God’s promise of a “land” and an “offspring” (7:3, 6).
But God’s promise to Abram/Abraham was a reiteration and expansion of His promise to Adam and Eve in the very beginning.
In Genesis 3, God promised an “offspring” who would “bruise” the “head” of the “serpent” [i.e., the devil] even as that “offspring” would be “bruised” in his own “heel” (Genesis 3:14-15).
In light of the cross, God’s promise in Genesis 3 was already pointing forward to the work of Jesus Christ as the Messiah who redeemed sinners by suffering on their behalf.
And, God’s promise to Adam and Eve was itself a manifestation of the commitments made by the Triune God before time began.
The Bible says that God’s plan of redemption was something He “decreed before the ages [or “before the world” or “before time began”]” (1 Cor. 2:7).
And elsewhere, the Bible says that the gospel was a “mystery that was kept secret for long ages” which was “revealed” or “disclosed” in due time (Rom. 16:25-26).
Of course, Titus 1 summarizes all of this well, when it says, God promised “eternal life… before the ages began and at the proper time manifested [this promise] in his word through the preaching [of the gospel]” (Titus 1:2-3).
Even those circumstances which seem to oppose God’ plan most only serve God’s purposes and accomplish God’s ends.
Sin and death entered God’s good creation, but this event was the necessary beginning of God’s plan of redemption.
Abraham’s descendants were enslaved for more than 400 years in Egypt, but God’s display of justice and mercy in the Exodus story is the primary biblical illustration and analogy of God’s plan of redemption.
Throughout the Old Testament, Israel rebelled and sinned and proved to be hostile to the God who covenanted with them, but it was precisely through Israel’s rebellion that God’s plan to redeem sinners (both Jew and Gentile) became manifest in Jesus Christ.
Right here, in Acts 6-7, the Christians in Jerusalem are facing their toughest opposition yet, but (by God’s good design) Stephen’s martyrdom and the increased persecution that came afterward only served to spread the gospel of Christ farther and faster (Acts 8:1-4).
God has been working His plan of redemption for a long time, and even those circumstances which seem to oppose it most only serve the purposes of God.

3) Four Truths We Might Learn

Nearness to God’s word and work (and even to Jesus) is not sufficient to convert the heart.
The very ones who murdered Christ and Stephen had “you who received the law as delivered by angels,” but they “did not keep it” (7:53).
God does not prioritize earthly comforts and luxuries in the lives of His people.
Abraham, Moses, the people of Israel, the Apostles, and Stephen all experienced great hardships and even persecution.
Only the New Testament saints have seen the climax of God’s plan of redemption, but even they/we have not yet seen the completion of it.
The risen Jesus Christ is King now, and He sees everything.
Stephen said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (7:56).
The repeated refrain of Jesus’ words in Revelation is, “I know
I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance...” (Rev. 2:2).
I know your tribulation and your poverty… and the slander” which you are suffering (Rev. 2:9).
I know where you dwell...” (Rev. 2:13).
I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance...” (Rev. 2:19).
Because the “Son of Man” has ascended and taken His place “at the right hand” of the Father, every Christian may have assurance that we will be there with Him.
Jesus Himself has already prayed for “those who will believe… through [the] word” preached by the Apostles [i.e., the gospel]… that all those the Father “has given” to the Son will be “with [Him] where [He is], [and] see [His] glory” (Jn. 17:20-24).
God has been working His plan of redemption for a long time, and even those circumstances which seem to oppose it most only serve the purposes of God.
May God help us to never take for granted either His word or His work, but instead may we cling tightly to Christ and aim to obey His commands for us, even as we loosen our grip on the pleasures of this present world.
And may God help us to raise our eyes to look to Jesus as our present and sovereign King, who sees and knows every detail of our lives, and who will come again one day soon to bring us to Himself forevermore.

Bibliography

Calvin, John, and Henry Beveridge. Commentary upon the Acts of the Apostles. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010. Print.
Peterson, David G. The Acts of the Apostles. Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, England: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009. Print. The Pillar New Testament Commentary.
Polhill, John B. Acts. Vol. 26. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992. Print. The New American Commentary.
Sproul, R. C., ed. The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust, 2015. Print.
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