Cody H. –
I’ve been studying through Acts seven lately. And this is Stephen’s sermon and when I’ve read it in the past, it always seems like a bit of a history lesson. Kind of strange, you know, it’s a very detailed recounting of Israel’s history. It just seems kind of out of place.
It’s the longest sermon recorded in Acts. It’s 51 verses. And so that should tell us, ok, Luke thought this was important. He’s gonna include that in his account; a lot of space devoted to it.
But Stephen, as I’ve looked at it, appears to be making three main points for the Jewish leaders there. He’s talking to the Sanhedrin.
I wanted to work through these with you. And it’s important to remind ourselves of this accusation that they’re accusing Stephen of because he’s responding to that accusation. So his entire discourse is a response to that.
So let’s look at Acts 6:11-15. Thanks, John. “Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, ’We heard him speaking blasphemous words against Moses and God.’ They stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes. So they came, seized him, and took him to the Sanhedrin. They also presented false witnesses who said, this man never stops speaking against this holy place and the law. For we heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs that Moses handed down to us. And all who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at him and saw that his face was like the face of an angel.”
So there are three main things here, as I said, that really bubble to the top.
The first is that there’s progress and change in God’s program. He doesn’t always operate under the same paradigms. He mixes things up and he changes the ways that he does things. So, with each of these three points, I’m going to have a number of examples and every example are things that Stephen references specifically.
So under this, the progress and change in God’s program, he points out the promise to Abraham when God, after the flood, and everything God was working with the entire human race, right? And then he had them all spread out, obviously. I think I’ve got my history right there.
The Lord sovereignly called Abraham from Mesopotamia to the land of the promise. That was a big change in the ways that he was interacting with people. He’s calling out the single guy. Of course, he gave him 12 great-grandsons that would become the ancestors, the fathers of Israel’s 12 tribes.
The sojourn of Joseph in Egypt, moving from the land of Canaan to Egypt. That was a big change for Joseph’s descendants. For Joseph’s children, famine drove them to do that, right?
You got the deliverance under Moses. Again, these are all things that Stephen talks about in this discourse. He devotes a bunch of space to Moses and the Exodus.
The building of the Tabernacle. It was built portably, to be portable, so that it would be clear that this was a temporary arrangement. This was not a permanent arrangement. It was called the Tabernacle of testimony because it testified to God’s presence among them.
And then you’ve got the construction of the temple. The temple was supposed to be a symbol of God’s presence and not the actual home of God. So he’ll get into that more.
But those were a number of things that were changes when God enacted these things and acted this way and did these things. They were changes from the current paradigm.
Then you got the second big point here. The blessings of God are not limited to the land of Israel and the temple area. Some of Israel’s greatest favors were bestowed apart from the land and the temple.
Several examples of that. Israel’s patriarchs and their leaders were blessed outside the land. Abraham, the father of Israel was called from Mesopotamia, Ur of the Chaldees. He was given promises there before he lived in Haran.
In Egypt, Joseph found favor with Pharaoh because God was with Him. Moses was commissioned by God in Midian. That’s not in the land of Canaan. And then Stephen carefully recounts, to emphasize that Moses was blessed outside the land of Israel, he recounts that two sons were born to Moses there.
The law itself was given outside the land. Moses was in the congregation “in the desert.” The Tabernacle was “in the desert.” The Tabernacle was built in the desert and it was with them in the desert.
So these are all things that happen outside the land. Even the temple, though it was in the land, was not to be limited in its theology because Stephen quotes Isaiah 66:1 where God said, “Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool.” How could I be limited to a building on earth? That’s God’s point there. So remember the accusation is that he was putting down the temple, he was putting down the Law. He was saying these things don’t matter. So he’s trying to defend himself in this.
The third point, Israel in its past always evidenced a pattern of opposition to God’s plans and his men. This ultimately is the main point of Stephen’s discourse.
So in Acts 6:51b, this is what made them so mad when he said, “You are just like your fathers, you always resist the Holy Spirit.” And so that theme is through the entire sermon. And he gives a lot of specifics to this.
Instead of going directly from Mesopotamia to the promised land, remember, Abraham tarried in Haran until his father died, he didn’t obey right away. Joseph was sold by his brothers into slavery in Egypt. So that was an interesting angle on that that I hadn’t realized is that Joseph’s brothers were essentially rejecting the dreams that he told them about. The dreams that he said, “Hey, essentially, I’m going to be your leader.” They rejected that; they sold him into slavery.
Moses was rejected by the Israelites. That first time when he killed the Egyptian, he defended the Hebrew and killed the Egyptian. Then they said, “Who made you judge over us?” They were rejecting him. And then this one commentator pointed out it’s highly significant that both Joseph and Moses were not accepted until their second appearances. And that reminded me of someone who would come later after them, who will be more accepted at His second appearance.
So Israel’s blatant unbelief was seen in idolatry because Stephen highlights that God judged the nation of Israel for the idolatry by sending her into exile in Babylon.
And then the people of Israel missed the point of the temple. This was right at the end of his sermon where Stephen is trying to emphasize this. The temple was to be a place of worship and prayer, but it was not God’s home.
So there’s a lot here. I was glad to be able to spend a little more time on this and go a little deeper and I had some takeaways for myself.
The first one is, how open am I to God changing things in my life, in my family, in my church? Am I missing changes that God’s trying to bring about because I’m too rigid in my own personal ruts and preferred ways of doing things?
I’m a man of habit. I think a lot of us are. We’re all humans, but all humans are creatures of habit. We like the way that we do things and when it’s comfortable, we stay with it.
The second one, what are the ways that God’s changing things in my life? And I’ve identified a few in my own life. What are some ways God could be changing things up in your life? Has he brought people into your life recently? New people? Has he taken one or more key people out of your life? That’s happened to me. That brings huge changes. What’s God trying to do in that? Is he asking us to step outside of our comfort zone in some areas? Is he asking us to take on more responsibilities? Is he asking us to step into people’s lives and maybe play a different role in their lives? How am I responding to that?
So, I’ve taken some admonishment, some challenge, from that and I hope it is the same for you.