The church in Acts 7, had a significant impact on the city of Jerusalem. In Acts 5:28, the Sanhedrin meets, and these are the words of the high priest to the apostles: “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name.” The name of Jesus. “And yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” That’s exactly what the church intended.
Acts 7 tells us all you need to know about Stephen. And Philip we’ll meet in Acts 8. These men were not just servants who cared for widows. They were great, powerful, effective preachers. They, from the time that our Lord had taught His apostles on the road to Emmaus, all the things concerning Himself and the law of the prophets, they learned the Old Testament meaning unfolded in Christ.
The church has been proclaiming that Christ is alive, Christ is Messiah, and Christ is our Savior. He has provided redemption. And now, they have the same problem, only the problem has spread throughout the city. And they have commandeered the temple as their meeting place. They cannot shut them down. They have done everything short of killing them, and they will finally do that.
Stephen sees this trial as an opportunity to stand before the supreme court of Israel, and speak the truth to them, and then turn the tables and indict them as the real blasphemers. There are four things that he has in mind. One is to get their interest about the Old Testament. Then, the second goal is to answer the charges that he is a blasphemer of God, Moses, the law, and the temple.
Thirdly, he indicts them as being blasphemers by tracing them right back through their ancestors who were also blasphemers. And then fourthly, he accuses them of the blood of the Messiah, murdering the Righteous One. That triggers their hatred. They drag him by arms and legs, throw him off a cliff, and crush him under bloody rocks. All throughout this defense, Stephen quotes the Old Testament.
So, in the opening part of Acts 7, we saw that he answers that. He says, “Hear me, brethren and fathers!” And he calls God, “the God of glory.” He describes Him having appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, and he goes through God promising Abraham land and a people through the Abrahamic Covenant. He became the father of Isaac, Jacob and the twelve patriarchs.
He follows with the story of Joseph and how God rescued Joseph from his afflictions, showed him favor, and used Joseph to save Israel. Eventually, we have at the end of this first portion, all of the Jews, all of the children of the patriarchs living in Egypt. Verse 15, “Jacob went down to Egypt and there he and our fathers died.” And then there’s a word about their burial.
And now we see the second accusation and the answer of Stephen regarding Moses. Verse 17, “But as the time of the promises was approaching.” Now the promise was that God would give a land, and descendants. They never saw the promise. All the patriarchs died in Egypt. But that was predicted too in verse 6. And God said that His descendants would be aliens in a foreign land, mistreated for 400 years.
Verse 18 says, “There arose another king over Egypt who knew nothing about Joseph.” He didn’t know how great Joseph was. And so, he decided to turn them into slaves because he was afraid they would be a threat. Verse 19, “This man dealt treacherously with our people, and oppressed our forefathers, making them throw their babies in the river, so that they might not live.”
Exodus 1:22 says, “Every son that is born you shall cast into the river.” But God had another plan. Verse 20, “At this time Moses was born, and was well pleasing to God; and he was brought up in his father’s house for three months.” Yes, he was thrown into the river, but in a basket. Verse 21, “But when he was set out, Pharaoh’s daughter took him away and brought him up as her own son.”
Amazing providence, because Moses was then raised as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter and was well educated. Verse 22, “And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and deeds.” I’m no Moses blasphemer, but you have accused me of blaspheming Moses? I give Moses honor. Moses had knowledge of astronomy, geometry and medicine.
Stephen is saying everything positive he can say about Moses. And he leaves out anything negative about Moses. Verse 23, “Now when he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren, the children of Israel.” God moved in his heart. Verse 24, “And seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended and avenged him who was oppressed, and struck down the Egyptian.”
And so, Moses defended him and took vengeance for the oppressed by striking down the Egyptian. And Moses thought that his people would respond, and that he would become some kind of hero to them. But that’s not their reaction. Verse 25, “For he supposed that his brethren would have understood that God would deliver them by his hand, but they did not understand.”
The people didn’t understand. Verse 26, “And the next day he appeared to two of them as they were fighting, and tried to reconcile them, saying, ‘Men, you are brethren; why do you wrong one another?” Verse 27-28, “But he who did his neighbor wrong pushed him away, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge over us? 28 Do you want to kill me as you did the Egyptian yesterday?”
Moses had no choice. So in verse 29, “Then, at this saying, Moses fled and became a dweller in the land of Midian, where he had two sons.” His people didn’t want him as a deliverer and peacemaker. Stephen’s point is that Israel is the rejecter. Israel is the blasphemer. And this point will build and build to reach the fact that they also rejected Jesus Christ in verse 51.
Verse 30, “After forty years had passed.” Israel blasphemed Moses, and so blasphemed God because Moses was God’s chosen deliverer. What had Moses been doing for 40 years? Well, he married a daughter of Jethro, named Zipporah. He had a family there. Verse 30 continues, “An Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire in a bush, in the wilderness of Mount Sinai.”
Verse 31-33, “When Moses saw it, he marveled at the sight; and as he drew near to observe, the voice of the Lord came to him, 32 saying, ‘I am the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses trembled and dared not look. 33 ‘Then the Lord said to him, “Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.”
Verse 34, “I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt; I have heard their groaning and have come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send you to Egypt.” God is faithful. He will fulfill His promise. He will rescue His people. That was holy because God was there. God had not forgotten His covenant. He was ready to bring back the deliverer.
Verse 35, “This Moses whom they rejected, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’ is the one God sent to be a ruler and a deliverer by the hand of the Angel who appeared to him in the bush.” Moses came a second time and was the deliverer. Do you see in that the foreshadowing of Christ? Rejected the first time; He will return again with full deliverance.
Verse 36, “He brought them out, after he had shown wonders and signs in the land of Egypt, and in the Red Sea, and in the wilderness forty years.” The Jews were always priding themselves on their love of their historic leaders, but their fathers had rejected both Joseph and Moses outright. They were blasphemers of God because they blasphemed God’s purposes in rejecting His chosen leaders.
Verse 37, “This is that Moses who said to the children of Israel, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear.’ And at this point, he directly speaks of Messiah. This Moses that you rejected was the very one who prophesied the coming of a prophet like himself, a prophet chosen by God, set apart by God. This is pointing to Christ.
The history of Moses is like the foreshadowing of the history of Jesus. It was Stephen who believed with all his heart in the very Messiah of whom Moses wrote. Stephen, as a believer in Jesus Christ, gave more honor to Moses than anybody did. You couldn’t honor Moses without honoring Christ. Stephen gives accolades to Moses. He is neither a blasphemer of God or Moses.
The third charge was that he was a blasphemer of the law. Verses 38, “This is he who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the Angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our fathers, the one who received the living oracles to give to us.” Moses on Mount Sinai, received the Law, the living oracles, to pass on to you in Exodus 19. An oracle is a command from God.
The law of God is alive. The Word of God lives and abides forever. Our Lord Jesus said not one small speck of that law will ever pass away until it’s all fulfilled. He saw the law that came to Moses on Sinai as divine. It was vital, spiritual revelation from heaven. Stephen is no blasphemer of the law. He understood that God is the author, angels are the mediators, and Moses was the recipient.
He is saying, that the Pentateuch is written by Moses, the inspired writer, but the truth is all from God. And here comes the indictment again. Verses 39 - 40, “Our fathers would not obey, but rejected it. And in their hearts they turned back to Egypt. 40 saying to Aaron, ‘Make us gods to go before us; as for this Moses who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”
Moses is up in the mountain, and they’ve already forgotten him. It’s the history of this nation. The Sanhedrin were going to have a hard time with Stephen boasting about great, historic integrity for their fathers and leaders, while Moses was up in the mountain. Verse 41, “And they made a golden calf in those days, offered sacrifices to the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their own hands.”
Verse 42-43, “Then God turned and gave them up to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the Prophets: ‘Did you offer Me slaughtered animals and sacrifices during forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel? 43 You also took up the tabernacle of Moloch, and the star of your god Remphan, images which you made to worship; and I will carry you away beyond Babylon.”
Stephen condenses all of that in the words of Amos. You shall have no other gods before Me, no carved images, no likeness of anything. Amos actually says beyond Damascus. And here in the New Testament, it enriches that by saying all the way to Babylon. God says, “It was not to Me that you offered sacrifices forth years in the wilderness, was it?” So who are the blasphemers?
So Stephen is reciting these huge parts of history, and he doesn’t editorialize. It’s just hard facts from Scripture. And finally, he answers the indictment that he was guilty of blaspheming against the temple. Verse 44, “Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness, as He appointed, instructing Moses to make it according to the pattern that he had seen.”
And he continues in verse 45, “which our fathers, having received it in turn, also brought with Joshua into the land possessed by the Gentiles, whom God drove out before the face of our fathers until the days of David.” All of the elements of that tent were earthly symbols of God’s glory, God’s majesty, God’s character, God’s nature, God’s covenants, and God’s redemption.
Exodus was God’s testimony. I’m not against the temple. They brought the tabernacle in a tent, whom God had commanded them and given them the formula to build. They drove the nations out before our fathers, and the tent was there all the way until the time of David. Verse 46-47, “who found favor before God and asked to build a dwelling for the God of Jacob. 47 But Solomon built Him a house.”
Verse 48, “However, the Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands,” as the prophet says, and Stephen quotes Isaiah 66:1-2 in verses 49-50, “‘Heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool. What house will you build for Me? says the Lord, or what is the place of My rest? 50 Has My hand not made all these things?” Stephen says, don’t overdo the significance of the temple.
Temples are temporary. First it was a tent, then there was Solomon’s temple, and then there was Zerubbabel’s temple and finally Herod’s temple was built. And in Herod’s temple the veil had been split from top to bottom, and the Holy of Holies exposed. Stephen is saying: you are blaspheming God as if the temple itself is holy, and you have turned the temple into a den of thieves.
Verse 51-53, “You stiff-necked and 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 foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers, 53 who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it.”
From there, they drove Stephen out of the city, began stoning him. If a first generation preacher like Stephen, who’s been a believer in Jesus Christ for maybe a few months, can preach with that kind of facility handling the Word of God and that kind of boldness and courage, may the Lord release on this generation a myriad of Stephens especially in Denver and the west, Let us pray.