A MAN CALLED STEPHEN (2) – READY, WILLING AND AVAILABLE FOR THE WORK OF THE HOLY SPIRIT THROUGH HIS LIVE
"And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled. But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;. " (1 Peter 3:14-15)
"I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly (fight for it; to be assertive for it) for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints." (Jude 3)
Here in chapter 7 Stephen both defends the faith and contends for the faith. The former is a defensive (when they ask you about your faith) and the latter offensive (not offensive in the wrong way but taking initiave to reach out to the lost who need to know)
He does this often quoting OT Scripture and as the Holy Spirit gave him words that summarized key historical points of OT history. Memorize and share Scripture! I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind. 21 the people I formed for myself
that they may proclaim my praise. Isa 43.21
When sharing our faith it is helpful to share both our personal story (subjective experience – how Jesus changed my life) and God's Word (objective truth). Whether it is quoting Scripture using the four spiritual laws (http://www.gotquestions.org/four-spiritual-laws.html) or the Roman Road (Romans 3:10, 23; 5:12; 6:23; 5:8;10:9-10,13) or other tracts, God's Word has a power to convict and awaken lost people (dead in sin) and raise them to new life. (See Heb. 4:12-13)
He then shows how Christ is seen both in the OT (types/pictures of Christ in Joseph and Moses) and how He is the fulfillment of Messianic hopes and promises.
And he speaks the 1 truth in 2 love. This is seen by both his bold indictment of their sin (truth -vv. 51-53) and his merciful pleading for their forgiveness even as they stone him to death (love – vv. 59-60).
First of all let's look at how Stephen defends his faith and the
accusations against him that he blasphemes 1) God (i.e., they say he does not believe in the one true God); 2) Moses, 3) the law and 4) the temple. (See 6:11-13) Then we will see how he indicts them of sin, especially the sin of rejecting (and murdering) Jesus and presents Jesus the promised Messiah as the only way to salvation (Acts 4:12; John 16:9).
"And he said, "Hear me, brethren and fathers! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham.." He begins by identifying with them (brethren) and showing respect for his elders (fathers). He then connects with them by reviewing their spiritual history as Jews and captures their attention as they loved to hear the account of how God set them apart as his special nation/people. So he begins with the story of Abraham which is when the Lord set apart the Jewish people for blessings and to be a blessing/testimony to the world (Gen. 12). And he affirms that he too believes in the one true God – the God of glory (the sum total of all His attributes; see Psalm 29:3) that appeared to "our" father Abraham. So he defends his belief in the one true God.
Joseph a type of Christ and rejected by patriarch/leaders like Pharisees did jesus
The rest of Genesis will focus on the story of Joseph. As you read the life of Joseph, you see in him a picture of the Lord Jesus Christ. Joseph was greatly loved by his father (Genesis 37:3; Matthew 3:17), hated and envied by his brothers (John 15:25; Mark 15:10), plotted against, sold as a slave, arrested unjustly, and made to suffer. But he went from suffering to glory and became the savior of the people who had rejected him.
Now that he has their interest and attention he begins to do two things: 1) to present Jesus as seen in Joseph and later Moses (as a type of Christ); and 2) to subtly convict them as he reminds them how the patriarchs (the 12 tribes) rejected Joseph (the Christ figure) and yet points forward to the time when "all Israel will be saved" (Rom. 11:26) seen in how Joseph's Jewish brothers eventually embraced him as their "savior" and brother:
A picture of Jews turning to Christ and ushering in his 2nd coming matt 23:39 "On the second visit Joseph made himself known to his brothers." (v.13) A remnant of Jews will turn to Christ in the Tribulation which will usher in His second coming. (See Matt. 23:39; Zech. 13:8-9; Rev. 11:13)
"The patriarchs became jealous of Joseph and sold him into Egypt. Yet God was with him, and rescued him from all his afflictions, and granted him favor and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and he made him governor over Egypt and all his household." The reason Joseph's brothers rejected him was the same reason the Jewish leaders rejected Jesus – envy and jealously: "For he (Pilate) was aware that the chief priests had handed Him (Jesus) over because of envy." (Mark 15:10) Stephen is subtly building his case for Christ and bringing conviction on the Jewish leaders.
Now he defends himself against the accusation that he blasphemes Moses. 35 "This Moses whom they disowned, saying, ‘WHO MADE YOU A RULER AND A JUDGE?' is the one whom God sent to be both a ruler and a deliverer with the help of the angel who appeared to him in the thorn bush. 36This man led them out, performing wonders and signs in the land of Egypt and in the Red Sea and in the wilderness for forty years."
He praises Moses (see vv. 20-40) as he reviews his life and ministry and again subtly convicts them by showing, once again,
Israel always rejected God's appointed deliverers (Joseph, Moses and Jesus). Again, we see how they did accept Moses the second time he appeared as God's deliverer and followed him as he led them out of Egypt to the promised land pointing to the remnant of Jews that will accept Jesus at His second coming.
Yet once out of Egypt, most of the Jews rebelled against Moses' leadership and thus did not enter the Promised Land. This is yet another indictment against the "stiff-necked" Jews who resisted God's leaders and leadership. So he defends himself against the accusation that he blasphemed Moses showing how they as a people (as seen in their disobedient ancestors) in fact rebelled against Moses.
He then defends himself against the accusation that he blasphemes the law. 38 "This is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness together with the angel who was speaking to him on Mount Sinai, and who was with our fathers; and he received living oracles to pass on to you." He calls the law "living oracles", powerful revelation of truth ordained by God. And then he turns the table on them by saying they (as seen in their rebellious ancestors) rebelled against Moses and the law: "Our fathers were unwilling to be obedient to him, but repudiated him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt, 40 SAYING TO AARON, ‘MAKE FOR US GODS WHO WILL GO BEFORE US; FOR THIS MOSES WHO LED US OUT OF THE LAND OF EGYPT-WE DO NOT KNOW WHAT HAPPENED TO HIM.'
You who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it."
Next he defends himself against the accusation that he blasphemes the Temple. 44 "Our fathers had the tabernacle of testimony in the wilderness, just as He (God) who spoke to Moses directed him to make it according to the pattern which he had seen. 45 And having received it in their turn, our fathers brought it in with Joshua upon dispossessing the nations whom God drove out before our fathers, until the time of David. 46 David found favor in God's sight, and asked that he might find a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. 47 But it was Solomon who built a house for Him. 48 However, the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands." He said God ordained the Tabernacle and gave Moses the plans on how to build it and it remained with God's people until Solomon built the Temple.
But even Solomon knew that you cannot contain God Almighty in a building no matter how glorious and said this even as he dedicated the Temple to God. (1 Kings 8:27) They worshiped the Temple and not God because it was a source of spiritual pride, money and power.
Finally he indicts them of the sin of rejecting (and murdering) Jesus and presents Jesus as the fulfillment of the hoped for and promised Messiah. He must prove that the God in whom he believes is the God of Israel, the same God, and not some new sect.
51 "You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did. 52 Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute?
They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; 53 you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it." 54 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him. 55 But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently 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 up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.". . 58 When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!" 60 Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them!" Having said this, he fell asleep."
To this day, Jewish people think that Christianity is a heresy; a new sect that destroys God's promises to Israel when in fact He fulfills all the promises God gave to Israel. ["The inception of Judaism is divine, and God invented it, and God began it, but apart from Jesus Christ it becomes just as Satanic as any other system in the world that leaves Him out." John MacArthur] So Stephen presents Jesus as the Righteous One, which is one of the Names of God in the OT: "As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities." (Isa. 53:11 also see Isa. 24:16)
Stephen's way of dying a picture of Jesus too of his asking forgiveness of those who put him on cross and later exalted to right hand of God the ressurection
And even as he dies he testifies to Christ through the vision of Jesus standing at the right hand of God (the place of highest honor and power) and by his dying words that were almost identical to the dying words of Jesus on the cross.
Did not die in vain Paul and half the nt which millions have read over the centuries 1 cor 15:58
His testimony of truth in love was witnessed by a young man named Saul (Paul) who referred to this event on two different occasions in giving his testimony (Acts 22:20; 26:10). The sacrificial death of Stephen pointed Paul to the sacrificial death of Jesus, whom Paul passionately lived and died for.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION AND APPLICATION
1) What is your main take away from the message and table discussion and how can you apply it to your life?
2) We see in Scripture a command to always be ready to defend our faith and contend for the faith (1 Peter 3:15; Jude 3). We are called to defend our faith in Christ when people ask us about the reason for our hope especially when we are going through difficult trials. Stephen did this by quoting many OT passages about God calling and using various people who believed in Him and thus lived for and testified about Him. Likewise, we should be prepared to share our story (how we came to know Christ and how He has changed our life). One way to be always ready is to write out a brief one to two page testimony and share it with some fellow believers both for practice and for some feedback to possibly make it clearer and better. Also sharing key Bible verses that led you to Christ or that now help you live for Christ can be used by God to convict others of their need for Him. This could be done at our tables over the next few weeks as you take turns literally reading your written testimony and receiving feedback from the other men. I think this is a great application from our study of Stephen's life seen here in Acts 7.
3) What Scripture(s) help lead you to the salvation? Can you quote it/them and give the reference so others can read it later themselves. Eccl 1:14 all is meaningless under the sun (in this life apart from eternity) and I was formed to proclaim God's praise and glory show picture of tape cover make some copies
4) What Scripture(s) can we use to present Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord (Deity)? John11:25 Jesus said, I am the resurrection and the life he who believes in me though he did he will live.