Stephen, a spirit filled deacon, a servant of the early church, and serving tables; had stood up and preached the message of Jesus Christ, and was being called a “blasphemer”. In Acts 6:8-15 we see the beginning of chapter seven and Stephen’s sermon of the testimony of Scripture and the history of the Jewish people.
The charge of “blasphemy” is a serious charge, especially in Israel, during these early days. In some countries it is still a serious charge and often paid with the death of the accused or guilty. Blasphemy is the calling someone God who would be human, or using the name of God to proclaim a message that was not of God. In Stephen’s case all he had apparently done was quote the words Moses had written concerning the Prophet who was coming, and proclaimed Jesus as the Prophet, and preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.
When the true gospel of Jesus is preached it reveals Him in His true character, ie., God-man. How could a man stop storms, walk on water, raise the dead? No mere man would willingly go to a cross of death in the place of a sinful world; Jesus did. No mere man has ever been raised to life in His own power; Jesus has. To these Jewish leaders Stephen was a blasphemer, because He had proclaimed Jesus as deity – the God-man. Thus, they sought to put Stephen on trial.
In verse eleven of chapter six we find them bringing in false witnesses against him. Sound familiar?
THE TESTIMONY OF ABRAHAM AND THE PATRIARCHS (vv. 1-8). Stephen, filled with the Spirit of God confronts them with their own Scriptures and history.
The history of Abraham is one of the nation of Israel. Without Abraham there would be no Israel. Abraham is the man whom God chose to use to birth the nation. He was a man of faith, and his faith grew.
Called out of Ur of the Chaldeans he left the life he knew to go to a land he had never seen, and did not go where he was going. All he knew was that he had met God, and God told him to “Get”, and he got going.
Stephen is not answering to the charge of blasphemy; he just gets into the Scriptures proclaiming to them, what they probably do not want to hear. He gives it to them anyway. Some preacher I once heard made this statement after telling about being caught in a mob, “When you have an angry crowd, and they are trying to do you bad; then preach”, at least something along that line. I would not say that is what Stephen is doing, but even if he is, it does not negate the message.
The land was promised to Abraham and he never so much as received one acre of it; with the exception of a tomb for Sarah, and himself (Genesis 23). Yet, he still believed, trusted the Lord and is an example of great faith to all followers of Jesus Christ today.
Isaac was/is the promised son of Abraham’s faith. Isaac also received the promise of the land, and of being a great nation; as did his son Jacob as well.
The message of Abraham is faith. The history of Abraham is faith. He left all to go where he knew not where. He faced famine in that land almost immediately upon arriving, yet even though he left the land, he returned and is called the “friend of God”. The ultimate test of his faith was when God called on him to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice, and in that he was faithful.
THE TESTIMONY OF THE PATRIARCH’S ENVY, JOSEPH, AND EGYPT (vv. 9-16). When we find that Abraham was counted righteous by God, according to Scripture, we also find that God gave Abraham a bit of prophetic knowledge. In Genesis 15 we read,
“And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance.” Genesis 15:13-14 (KJV)
In verse 6 of Genesis fifteen we find these words,
“And he [Abraham] believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.”
He was not counted or reckoned “righteous” because of his good works, or for anything he had done, but because God had spoke and he acted on it believing God.
Joseph, the son of Jacob, the first born son of Rachel; Jacob’s beloved wife; was a dreamer of dreams. These dreams were not brought on by eating too much pizza, or from some dose of crazy weed, but they were from God. As a dreamer of God dreams he also had an understanding of dreams. Because of some of his dreams the other brothers got jealous of him. According to his dreams the brothers and the whole family would one day bow at his feet.
Joseph may not have realized the significance of his dreams. The significance was that what he was dreaming was going to be the fulfillment of God’s promise/prophecy to Abraham in bringing a nation out of Egypt. The significance was that God was working through the evil conduct of his brothers. You may flinch at that thought, but God is sovereign over all things, and so don’t think for a minute that evil thwarts the will of God; in fact He uses it to accomplish His purposes and will. That in no way means He approves it, causes it, or empowers it; it only means that man has a freewill, and God uses man’s freewill to accomplish His own.
The Psalmist wrote of Joseph:
“He sent a man before them, even Joseph, who was sold for a servant: Whose feet they hurt with fetters: he was laid in iron: Until the time that his word came: the word of the LORD tried him.” Psalm 105:17-19 (KJV)
Verse 19 in particular is the one we need to see. “Until the time that his word came the word of the LORD tried him.” From the time Joseph was sold by his brothers into slavery, into Egypt, to Potiphar, then to prison, then freed; there was probably a total of about twenty years. Do you think Joseph had ever dreamed that he would go through all these trials? I really doubt it. Joseph, however, remained ever faithful. There appears to be no doubts, no complaints, no anger toward God, no heart of vengeance against his brothers (though some may want to disagree with that when he comes face to face with his brothers). All the time Joseph was waiting for the word of the LORD to come to pass. Oh, how the Christian today needs that type of faith; that “waiting faith”; that faith that waits on God, and His time and place.
THE TESTIMONY OF MOSES, THE RED SEA, AND THE WILDERNESS (vv. 17-36). The time between the last verse of Genesis and the birth of Moses, recorded in Exodus 2 is near to 400 years; nearing the promise and prophecy of God to Abraham in Genesis 15.
The descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob have grown to quite a large number in those 400 years. They have become so numerous that the Pharoah who rules at the time of Moses’s birth is a tyrant toward Israel, has no memory of Joseph, and doesn’t care for the people at all; but fears their numbers. This tyrant Pharoah orders the death of all baby boys born to the Hebrews. The mother and father of Moses hid him for a period of three months, and then finally put him in a “ark of bulrushes” placed it in the Nile River, along the shore, and floating down near the place where the princess of Egypt bathed; was found and adopted by her. Only the sovereign LORD could work something like that out.
The Hebrew people were enslaved, and treated like livestock or worse. They were not allowed to worship God; and maybe only a few really knew about YHWH [YaHWeH]. We know that they did have homes to live in, though what condition we are not aware.
Moses was taken out of the water of the Nile and named Moses by the daughter of Pharoah. “Drawn out” is the meaning of his name and it is a perfect fit for him. We see him all his life being “drawn out”. He was “drawn out” of the water. He was “drawn out” to his own people. He was “drawn out” to the desert/wilderness. He was “drawn out” to serve Jethro for forty years.
For forty years Moses was in Egypt learning the ways of Egypt. For forty years he was in the desert with Jethro learning the ways of the desert/wilderness. After delivering the children of Israel from Egypt he spent forty more years in the wilderness preparing them for life in the Promised Land.
We complain if we must wait a minute or two at a traffic light. Lord help us. How we need to learn to wait, and trust the LORD with His word, His church and His people. Moses had to learn the lesson of waiting on God. He supposed that when he killed the Egyptian that the people would know that he was God’s deliverer, but it was not the time, and Moses had to leave Egypt to be prepared.
A THOUGHT: Joseph, by God’s providence, was in Egypt to prepare Egypt for the world famine, and to prepare Israel to become a nation. Moses fled from Egypt to be prepared to return to Egypt, and deliver the people from the world.
In the wilderness the new nation saw the mighty hand of God the LORD. When they did not see a way God made a way across the Red Sea. The LORD delivered them from their enemies by causing the Sea to collapse in upon the soldiers of Egypt, killing them all. The Almighty provided them water, meat to eat and He provided them with bread from heaven – “Manna” meaning “What is it?”
THE TESTIMONY OF ISRAEL’S REJECTION, REBELLION, AND CAPTIVITIES (vv. 37-50). Moses testified of One who would come, a Prophet, the Prophet of prophets. Stephen reminds his listeners, persecutors of the prophecy of Moses and his teachings. Hear the words of the prophet Moses concerning the Prophet;
“The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken…” Deuteronomy 18:15 (KJV).
While Moses was in the wilderness with the people we find them many times rejecting his leadership, such as while he went up on Mount Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments from the Lord. They built a golden calf to worship in the place of God. Our impatience is somewhat astonishing. God says something and we do the opposite.
We Christians have been accused by some who refer to themselves as atheist or agnostic of being “makers of our own god”, and they mean that of the world religions as well. With the latter I would agree. The God of Creation who created all that is is not a god of man’s own making, however. No man has ever imagined a god who is Almighty, All-Knowing, All-Present, All-Powerful, and Immutable. No man has ever invented a god who condemns sin and wickedness, and provides a means of fellowship, relationship, justification, sanctification, and being glorified together with him in an eternal home. No man has ever created a god that would send his only son to die for the sins of the world. The God of Christianity is the Creator of the universe, and all that is in it; and He loved us so much He did send His Son to die on a cross for our sins, was buried, and He rose again bodily from the grave and was witnessed by over 500 eyewitnesses.
All the gods of man’s creation allow them to behave and act any way they choose. The god’s of men cause the immorality of all the world. The god’s of men’s own making is what causes wars and strife. Every individual without Jesus Christ is their own god; and will one day crumble, fall at the feet of Jesus, and be cast from His presence into eternal fire.
The “golden calf” for those people of Israel was a reminder of their lives back in Egypt. They had been freed from its bondage, yet they still cling to it, even to the point of desiring to return and continue as slaves. Even the gods people worship today, the images, are images which puts no guilt on them, or would make them question their actions. The world hates any guilt, or shame. That is one of the things, however, which is needed in the world; ie., guilt and shame. It can be the “straw that broke the camel’s back” and turn them toward the only One who can cleanse them and forgive all their sin.
When people turn to Wall Street, Dow, or other stocks and bonds, etc. for their security; then they have turned their back on God. Christian we may be in a financial crisis in this nation [USA], however, there is a greater crisis that many do not even realize. That crisis is a Spiritual crisis. With greed ruling the day through the lies of satan; there is a genuine spiritual need for God. Whether it is believed or not; there is only one way to God and heaven, and that is the way He has provided; and that way is by way of the cross of Jesus Christ, his burial and resurrection.
Oh, how we need to understand the fulness, power, vastness, and glory of our God. The nation of Israel is still in rejection of their God, His Son and their future foretold by God.
THE TESTIMONY OF ISRAEL’S REJECTION OF JESUS AND THE HOLY SPIRIT (vv. 51-54). These men to whom Stephen was speaking were just as the prophets which foretold the coming of the Prophet, the Messiah, their Deliverer. “Stiffnecked and uncircumcised heart” shows a rebellious attitude and an unclean heart of these people.
All Stephen did was proclaim to them the truth of their own history, confront them with Jesus, their betrayal of him, and how they had “murdered him” (v. 52).
THE TESTIMONY OF STEPHEN A PERSECUTED, MARTYRED SOUL FOR JESUS CHRIST (vv. 55-60). When the angry men heard the message delivered by faithful Stephen they proceeded to kill him.
The Word of God works as a sword, a “twoedged sword”. In the book of Hebrews we read,
“For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12 (KJV)
In other words; that means God will make things uncomfortable for you until He gets you where He desires you to be; if you are His own. When you are God’s He will not allow you to remain in sinful behavior.
These men hated Stephen and his words that he spoke, then, they proceeded to kill him.
The deacon never sought to strike back. His last words before his dying breath was, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge”, and then he “fell asleep”. The stones which were hurled at Stephen, hitting his body, were stones of identity. It is not without merit to mention that in the Revelation is mentioned a stone,
“He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.” Revelation 2:17
Stephen had his stones, and they were stones of blessing because as he was dying he looked into heaven and could see glory;
“Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.”
O, for the passion of our people like Stephen had. For a fire to burn in our hearts for people who are bound in religion, but hate Jesus Christ, and refuse His death, burial and resurrection, by continually trying to earn their way to God’s presence and favor. Preaching to the religious may not get you any popular vote, but you will see God.
-Tim A. Blankenship
These are the study notes for a sermon preached on October 05, 2008.