Introduction: In the previous chapter,
Acts chapter six,
Steven is introduced as an exceptional servant of God; full of faith, of good reputation and skillful in proclaiming Christ. Opponents managed to have him called before the council where they attacked his teaching with twisted quotes and outright lies, accusing him of blasphemy.
1 Then said the high priest, Are these things so?
[Are these things so?] An unwitting truth was embedded within the lies spoken against Stephen. Is Jesus going to change the customs which Moses delivered to us? The significance of Messiah's death and resurrection was beginning to dawn upon the religious leadership. Moses gave them the sacrificial system with its priests and ceremony which pointed forward to the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God.
John 1:29, Hebrews 10:1-13,. Galatians 3:21-27.
After Christ's sacrifice of himself there was no longer a need for continuing the ritual sacrifices. An entire bureaucracy of the nation had outlived its purpose. There would be plenty of room for faithful teachers and proclaimers but few were willing to embrace the transition. Satan suggested what seemed to be an easier path -- reject Jesus Christ and maintain the status quo.
Under the guidiance of the Holy Spirit Stephen launched into a summary of Israel's history. His teaching regarding Jesus Christ was not blasphemy but an announcement of God's fulfillment of prophecy. As God had executed his marvelous plan leading to the Son of God becoming the Lamb of God, Israel had relentlessly resisted God's representatives and even God himself.
I. Abram (Abraham). God determined to develop a family of people who would be uniquely his own and through whom the messianic line would proceed, culminating in the birth of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God. Abraham was required to leave his comfort zone in Ur of the Chaldees and move to a land which was unfamiliar to him.
2 And he said, Men, brethren, and fathers, hearken; The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran,
3 And said unto him, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and come into the land which I shall shew thee.
4 Then came he out of the land of the Chaldaeans, and dwelt in Charran: and from thence, when his father was dead, he removed him into this land, wherein ye now dwell.
5 And he gave him none inheritance in it, no, not so much as to set his foot on: yet he promised that he would give it to him for a possession, and to his seed after him, when as yet he had no child.
6 And God spake on this wise, That his seed should sojourn in a strange land; and that they should bring them into bondage, and entreat them evil four hundred years.
7 And the nation to whom they shall be in bondage will I judge, said God: and after that shall they come forth, and serve me in this place.
8 And he gave him the covenant of circumcision: and so Abraham begat Isaac, and circumcised him the eighth day; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat the twelve patriarchs.
Abraham received none of this land as an inheritance (passed down from predecessors) but as a promise from God.
Since the land was given by God to Abram it became an inheritance to Abram's descendants.
Genesis 15:1-6, Genesis 15:18.
II. They rejected Joseph. God's plan for the children of Israel (the patriarch Jacob had been renamed Israel but his original name, Jacob, continued in use.) was to use Egypt as an incubator and growth stimulant. Joseph was chosen by God as the person who would insure the success of this change of venue. Joseph's adventure with God was marked by the hostility of his brothers toward him.
9 And the patriarchs, moved with envy, sold Joseph into Egypt: but God was with him,
10 And delivered him out of all his afflictions, and gave him favour and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh king of Egypt; and he made him governor over Egypt and all his house.
11 Now there came a dearth over all the land of Egypt and Chanaan, and great affliction: and our fathers found no sustenance.
12 But when Jacob heard that there was corn in Egypt, he sent out our fathers first.
13 And at the second time Joseph was made known to his brethren; and Joseph's kindred was made known unto Pharaoh.
14 Then sent Joseph, and called his father Jacob to him, and all his kindred, threescore and fifteen souls.
15 So Jacob went down into Egypt, and died, he, and our fathers,
16 And were carried over into Sychem, and laid in the sepulchre that Abraham bought for a sum of money of the sons of Emmor the father of Sychem.
III. They rejected Moses. When the Israelites were commanded by the Egyptians to kill all male babies as they were born. God worked it out so that the one who would lead the children of Israel out of Egypt would be raised and educated in Pharoah's own household. Even then the Israelites' attitude toward Moses was, "Who made you a prince and a judge over us?" The answer, of course, was God.
17 But when the time of the promise drew nigh, which God had sworn to Abraham, the people grew and multiplied in Egypt,
18 Till another king arose, which knew not Joseph.
19 The same dealt subtilly with our kindred, and evil entreated our fathers, so that they cast out their young children, to the end they might not live.
20 In which time Moses was born, and was exceeding fair, and nourished up in his father's house three months:
21 And when he was cast out, Pharaoh's daughter took him up, and nourished him for her own son.
22 And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds.
23 And when he was full forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren the children of Israel.
24 And seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended him, and avenged him that was oppressed, and smote the Egyptian:
25 For he supposed his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them: but they understood not.
26 And the next day he shewed himself unto them as they strove, and would have set them at one again, saying, Sirs, ye are brethren; why do ye wrong one to another?
27 But he that did his neighbour wrong thrust him away, saying, Who made thee a ruler and a judge over us?
28 Wilt thou kill me, as thou diddest the Egyptian yesterday?
29 Then fled Moses at this saying, and was a stranger in the land of Madian, where he begat two sons.
30 And when forty years were expired, there appeared to him in the wilderness of mount Sinai an angel of the Lord in a flame of fire in a bush.
31 When Moses saw it, he wondered at the sight: and as he drew near to behold it, the voice of the LORD came unto him,
32 Saying, I am the God of thy fathers, the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Then Moses trembled, and durst not behold.
33 Then said the Lord to him, Put off thy shoes from thy feet: for the place where thou standest is holy ground.
34 I have seen, I have seen the affliction of my people which is in Egypt, and I have heard their groaning, and am come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send thee into Egypt.
35 This Moses whom they refused, saying, Who made thee a ruler and a judge? the same did God send to be a ruler and a deliverer by the hand of the angel which appeared to him in the bush.
36 He brought them out, after that he had shewed wonders and signs in the land of Egypt, and in the Red sea, and in the wilderness forty years.
IV. They rejected Jehovah. At the time Moses was receiving the ten commandments from God (the initial installment of the law) the Israelites were at the base of the mountain creating a golden calf idol to worship. They intended to reject both Moses and Jehovah and return to the familiar captivity and idol worship of Egypt. Through Moses' strength of will and God's oversight Israel yielded and continued toward the promised land, griping and complaining all the way.
The very first of the ten commandments is "Thou shalt have no other gods before me."
Exodus 20:3. Repeatedly Israel preferred to abandon the Creator of the universe in favor of the manufactured gods of the local inhabitants.
37 This is that Moses, which said unto the children of Israel, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear.
38 This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spake to him in the mount Sinai, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us:
39 To whom our fathers would not obey, but thrust him from them, and in their hearts turned back again into Egypt,
40 Saying unto Aaron, Make us gods to go before us: for as for this Moses, which brought us out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him.
41 And they made a calf in those days, and offered sacrifice unto the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their own hands.
42 Then God turned, and gave them up to worship the host of heaven; as it is written in the book of the prophets, O ye house of Israel, have ye offered to me slain beasts and sacrifices by the space of forty years in the wilderness?
43 Yea, ye took up the tabernacle of Moloch, and the star of your god Remphan, figures which ye made to worship them: and I will carry you away beyond Babylon.
44 Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness, as he had appointed, speaking unto Moses, that he should make it according to the fashion that he had seen.
45 Which also our fathers that came after brought in with Jesus into the possession of the Gentiles, whom God drave out before the face of our fathers, unto the days of David;
46 Who found favour before God, and desired to find a tabernacle for the God of Jacob.
47 But Solomon built him an house.
48 Howbeit the most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; as saith the prophet,
49 Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool: what house will ye build me? saith the Lord: or what is the place of my rest?
50 Hath not my hand made all these things?
In verse 45 the name translated Jesus refers to Joshua. The Hebrew name Joshua and the Greek name Jesus are approximately the same, having a meaning of Jehovah is salvation, so in a Greek version of the Bible (example; the Septuagent) both names are often spelled the same. When Hebrew and Greek are translated into an English version of the Bible it is customary to translate Old Testament references as Joshua and New Testament references as Jesus. The formula works everywhere except this verse. Context makes it clear that Stephen was referring to Joshua.
Verse 45 is discussing the fact that the tabernacle which had been with the children of Israel in the wilderness was brought into the promised land during Joshua's conquest and continued to be a center of worship even during the reign of David..
V. Stephen's conclusion: Israel's attitude toward God had not changed.
51 Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye.
52 Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers:
53 Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it.
[Stiffnecked:] A comparison to an ox or a horse which will not yield to its masters direction.
[Uncircumcised:] Circumcision was the sign of the covenant between God and Israel. Circumcision of the heart is symbolic of a heart from which sin and ulterior motives have been excised. One does not necessarily imply the other.
[The Just One:] Messiah -- Jesus Christ, the one whom you recently murdered.
VI. Driven by their own guilt the outraged assembly took the law into their own hands and killed Stephen by stoning him.
54 When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth.
55 But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,
56 And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.
57 Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord,
58 And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul.
59 And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.
60 And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
[Cut to the heart] This is the result of hearing unpleasant truth. It angered them to face it.
[I see the heavens opened.] Ahh! Something toward which we can redirect our anger. Obviously, no man can see into Heaven and especially cannot see Jesus, whom we have declared an imposter, standing at the right hand of God. If what he claims to see is true then we have been horribly mistaken.
From our point of view this is blasphemy!
[And they stoned Stephen.] Even if the charge of blasphemy was accurate, the Sanhedrin could not legally carry out an execution without Roman consent. The careless abandon with which they carried out the stoning reveals the depth of their hatred for Jesus and anyone representing him.
[And they laid down their clothes at a young man's feet,] A zealous young man, a rabbinical student under Gamaliel, who was energized by this event to begin persecuting Christians with ferocious intensity. Meet Saul of Tarsus.