As we witness the final part of Stephen's address before the Sanhedrin, we learn what it looks like to follow Jesus in life and death.
In Acts chapter seven. We're going to pick things up in verses 44. We're going to get there in just a minute. But to set the scene. Stephen is on trial before the Sanhedrin, the Council of Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem.
He is charged with blaspheming God, the law, Moses and the temple. The latter charge carries the death penalty. In his defense, Stephen has been walking the Sanhedrin through certain aspects of Israel's history, drawing out undeniable and critical truths, such as God has never needed a holy temple, city or land to meet with his people. Those who follow God cannot dictate how he fulfills his promises. Israel was founded on faith, israel's rejection of God's deliverer.
Moses delayed her liberation from Egypt by 40 years. Israel's refusal to believe God's promises delayed her entry into the Promised Land by 40 years. Israel's ancestors loved Egypt more than the Promised Land. They loved pagan idols more than the living God. And most damnable of all, Israel's history reveals a pattern of rejecting the rulers and deliverers that God sends.
In response to the accusation that he had blasphemed the temple, stephen now says a few words about the dwelling places of God. As I said, we'll pick things up. Acts chapter seven, verses 44. Our ancestors had the tabernacle of the testimony in the wilderness, just as he who spoke to Moses commanded him to make it according to the pattern he had seen. Our ancestors in turn received it, and with Joshua brought it in when they dispossessed the nations that God drove out before them until the days of David.
This is your first villain, and then we'll unpack it. Stephen points out that when God commissioned a dwelling for his presence, he specified the tabernacle. He specified the tabernacle. God didn't ask for a temple because a portable dwelling for his presence fulfilled his desire to dwell among his people wherever he led them. A tabernacle allowed God's people to move with his presence and his presence to move with his people.
And indeed, that was the case throughout Israel's conquest of the Promised Land all the way up to the days of David. God commanded Israel to build Him a tabernacle, not a temple, because a tabernacle better reflected God's desired relationship with his people. Now, if you're a Bible nerd, you might want to underline the three words he had seen, because it's a little bit of a nugget if you're into that kind of thing. It tells us that not only did God give Moses the specifications for building the tabernacle, but he also showed Moses what the tabernacle would look like. And I know this isn't what happened, but in my head, I just imagined God speaking to Moses through the angels top of Mount Sinai, and he's giving Moses the law and the specifications for the tabernacle.
And Moses is just looking at them and he's a bit confused. And then he just asks God, can you, like, draw me a picture. And God's like, fine, I'll just show you. And bam, he just shows him what it looks like. Steven now revisits how Israel got the temple.
Did God tell him to build it? Later, Stephen reminds the Sanhedrin verse 46 he that's David, he found favor in God's sight and asked that he might provide a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. It was Solomon, rather, who built him a house. David had wonderful intentions. After God had given him victory over his enemies, David found himself sitting in his splendorous palace, and he became vexed by the fact that the Ark of the Covenant, where God's presence dwelled, was currently living in a tent.
He concluded that he should build a glorious temple to house the Ark of the Covenant. David shared his desire with the prophet Nathan, who impulsively told David that it was a great idea, and he should do everything that was in his heart. However, that night, God spoke to Nathan, and Nathan had to sheepishly go back the next day and tell David I spoke out of turn. I was impulsive, and I should have sought the Lord first. God says that he doesn't want you to build him a house because your hands are bloodied from war.
But God will build you a house, David, and establish your throne and your family line forever. God was speaking of the fact that Jesus the Messiah would come from the family line of David. And one day in the future, jesus will indeed reign as king over the earth from the throne of David in Jerusalem at the time of the millennium. This is what the angel was speaking of when he first appeared to Mary and told her, you will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.
And the Lord God will give him the throne of his Father David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will have no end. Now, obviously, this incredible gesture by the Lord just blew David away. Nathan then went on to tell David that it would be his son Solomon who would build a house for the Lord. The first temple in Jerusalem.
Steven continues in verses 48 but the Most High underline this. The Most High does not dwell in Sanctuaries, made with hands, as the prophet says. And now Stephen quotes from Isaiah 66 heaven is my throne and the earth my footstool. What sort of house will you build for me? Says the Lord, or what will be my resting place?
Did not my hand make all these things? Stephen points out that God permitted Solomon to build the temple as an answer to David's desire to honor the Lord. God didn't ask for a temple, and the idea that he could somehow be honored by a building is ridiculous, as he's the one who created everything that would be used in its construction. The God who makes universes and heavens and everything on the earth can make whatever he wants, if there's anything that he wants. As far as a building or a house goes.
Stephen again masterfully quotes the scripture and says, isaiah understood this. David understood this as well. He collected a special offering from the people of Israel to raise money and supplies for the temple that his Son would build. When the people responded with radical generosity, david's prayer included these statements but who am I and who are my people that we should be able to give as generously as this? For everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your own hand.
Lord our God, all this wealth that we've provided for building you a house for your holy Name comes from your hand. Everything belongs to you. And when Solomon dedicated the Finnish temple, his prayer included this but will God indeed live on earth? Even heaven, the highest heaven, cannot contain you, much less this temple I have built. Steven's point is clear.
The Jews had elevated the importance of the temple to the level of idolatry, foolishly believing that God's work and presence was entirely contained within it and limited by it. They were accusing Stephen of blaspheming the temple. Stephen was accusing them of blaspheming God by limiting his power, presence, and work among his people to the confines of the temple, making the temple greater than God himself. The temple was a symbol of God's presence, not a prison for it. If God has a home on earth, it is among his people, for wherever they are, there he is too.
Write this down by limiting God's presence and power to the temple, the Sanhedrin were blaspheming. By making the temple greater than God. By limiting God's presence and power to the temple, the Sanhedrin were blaspheming. By making the temple greater than God. The words immediately following the quote that Stephen pulls from Isaiah are revelatory in our discussion.
After pointing out that he has no need for a house because no house can contain him, the Lord speaks through the prophet and says, this is the Lord's declaration. I will look favorably on this kind of person, one who is humble, submissive or broken in spirit, and trembles at my word. David wrote the same thing in Psalm 50 117 the sacrifice pleasing to God is a broken spirit. You will not despise a broken and humbled heart. God and Jesus began the Sermon on the Mount with the Beatitude blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
All these scriptures are making the same point. God has never been foremost interested in a temple and rituals and religion. He has always been blessed most by the same thing a heart that sees itself and the Lord clearly a heart that knows it resides in a broken sinned, recognizes that God is holy and glorious, perceives the incalculable gap between the two, and seeks grace and mercy from the Lord, fully aware that it deserves neither. God's presence has always resided among his people, and the sacrifice he has always found most pleasing is a humble heart belonging to those who know they are poor in spirit. Therefore, it should not be surprising that the God who cannot be contained by any building, has always desired to be among his people and has therefore made a temple for Himself in his people.
This mystery is beautifully articulated by the Apostle Paul's letter to the Ephesians, where he writes you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Jesus Christ Himself as the cornerstone. In Him, the whole building being put together grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In Him you are also being built together for God's dwelling in the Spirit. Steven's speech will now dramatically change course. Instead of recounting lessons from Israel's history, he turns his focus squarely to the men before him.
It could be that Steven has made his point and was planning at this moment all along to reach his conclusion, or it could be that he could have gone on for some time, recounting more points from Israel's sordid history. But perhaps as Stephen looks out across the sea of faces, he sees nothing but contempt, and recognizing their impenetrable hardearedness, he changes gears. Up to this point, Stephen has included himself in the address, using phrases like our Father, our ancestors and our race. But in this moment, a distinction is made between those who receive Jesus as the Messiah and those who do not. And that's why Stephen will now switch to addressing them as you.
In doing this, Stephen represents Jesus and the Church, and things will never be the same again. The view that Christianity is a sect of Judaism or a harmless trend that will pass and fade away, can no longer be held. A line in the sand is being drawn here, and as a result, as we shall soon see, intense persecution of the Church is about to break out. The fermenting jealousy and hatred of the Jewish religious leaders toward Jesus and his followers is about to explode from a small flame into a raging fire. Write this down.
Verse 51 marks the dividing line between Christianity and all other belief systems. Here's the line jesus is God and the only way to be saved from one's sins. Jesus is God and the only way to be saved from one's sins. That's the dividing line between true Christianity and everything else. Stephen looks at the Sanhedrin and says in verses 51, you stiff necked people.
This was a Hebrew idiom intended to conjure the image of someone who refuses to bow before God, someone who is in stubborn rebellion against the Lord. It's the term God used for the Israelites immediately following their idolatry with the golden calf at Mount Sinai. And then, Stephen says, with uncircumcised hearts and ears. Circumcision, as you may know, was a right given by God to Abraham. It marked God's people physically as distinct from the pagan Gentiles around them, who had their own physical marks to identify themselves and their ethnicity and their pagan gods.
It was a physical indicator that the Israelites belong to God. The Jews were very proud of their unique status as the people of God, and so therefore they were very proud of Circumcision, as weird as that might sound to us today, when Stephen says they have uncircumcised hearts and ears, he's saying that while they've marked their bodies as God's property, their hearts and ears do not belong to God and are not dedicated to God. In fact, their hearts and ears are in an identical spiritual condition to those of the pagan Gentiles, in that they do not want to hear the truth and they do not want to respond to the conviction of the Holy Spirit in their hearts. God had used this language of their forefathers in the Book of Leviticus. Moses had used it when speaking to the people in the Book of Deuteronomy.
Jeremiah, the prophet had used it when appealing to the men of Israel to repent, writing things like, who can I speak to? And give such a warning that they will listen. Look, their ear is uncircumcised, so they cannot pay attention. See, the word of the Lord has become contemptible to them. They find no pleasure in it.
You see, even in his rebuke of the Sanhedrin, steven is using language connected to Scripture that makes the point. They are following in the footsteps of their stubborn and rebellious ancestors by rejecting God's chosen messenger to them on a spiritual level, they are as lost in their sins as the pagan Gentiles are. He says, you are always resisting the Holy Spirit as your ancestors did. You do also. Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute?
As I've shared repeatedly throughout Stephen's address, the Israelis persecuted and or murdered all the prophets. They tried to stone. Moses tradition says they put Isaiah inside a dead tree trunk and sought it in half. They threw Jeremiah into dungeon several times before finally stoning him to death, and they killed Zechariah inside the temple. Jesus lamented this tragic pattern of stubbornness when he wept over Israel, crying, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones?
Those who are sent to her. Stephen is clearly walking in the footsteps of Jesus as he confronts the religious leaders. Turn with me, if you would, to Luke, chapter eleven. Just put something in your Bible where we're at in act seven and turn a couple of books back to Luke chapter eleven. And we'll begin in verses 37 because I want us to see how Jesus interacted with the religious leaders who had uncircumcised hearts and ears.
Some of the religious leaders in this interaction with Jesus were likely there with Stephen at the sanhedrin at this time. In Luke 1137, we read as he that's Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him. So we went in and reclined at the table. When the Pharisees saw this, he was amazed that he did not first perform the ritual washing before dinner. But the Lord said to him, now you Pharisees, clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and evil.
Jesus was saying, how like you to care about outside cleanliness. Don't you know that God cares more about what's going on in the heart? You religious leaders have perfected the art of looking clean on the outside while being absolutely filthy on the inside and full of ugliness fools. Didn't he who made the outside make the inside too, but give from what is within to the poor and then everything is clean for you? He's saying if you worried more about what was going on inside your own heart, if you had a heart that truly loved the Lord, good works would flow from the heart and God would be pleased by them.
And God wouldn't care about any of the outside stuff, because if the inside loves the Lord, then the outside is clean as well, because everything that flows out will be good and will be pleasing to God. Unlike trying to do good things with an impure heart, that's not pleasing to the Lord. But woe to you, Pharisees. You give a 10th of mint, rue and every kind of herb and you bypass justice and love for God. These things you should have done without neglecting the others.
He says you're tithing to God from your spice rack. You're that concerned about getting the law right, but you don't even care about justice for the people and you have no real love for God at all. Woe to you, Pharisees. You love the front seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces. He says you love the public attention you get for the positions you've created for yourselves, for the public persona that you've created.
Woe to you. You are like unmarked graves. The people who walk over them don't know it. Under the law, if you came into contact with a grave, you would become ceremonially unclean and would have to go through ceremonial cleansing rituals, which would take several days. It was really inconvenient.
And so it was a big thing in Israel that if you bury the bones of somebody anywhere, you really had to mark their grave clearly. And then you also had to keep it clean. You had to go back and paint it white over and over and over again so that it didn't just blend in, lest somebody accidentally walk over it, then realize they've done so and have to go through all the ceremonial rituals. And so what Jesus is saying. He says you guys are like unmarked graves, so people walk over you.
They don't know that it's a place of death, but then they get infected with it. Jesus is saying people who hang out with you and come into contact with you get infected by sin and death the same way that somebody would become ceremonially unclean under the law if they walked over an unmarked grave. I don't think I've ever been to a dinner that was this awkward before. I cannot imagine the awkwardness. And it gets even better, because one of the experts in the law answered him, captain Obvious over here, teacher, when you say these things, you insult us too.
Then he Jesus said, oh, my apologies for not being more inclusive. Woe also to you, experts in the law. You load people with burdens that are hard to carry, and yet you yourselves don't touch these burdens with one of your fingers. The scribes and religious scholars would work with the Pharisees and Sadducees to add hundreds of additional laws to the law of God, turning obeying God into an unbearable burden. And to make matters worse, the men who were adding all these additional unbiblical laws were doing nothing to even help the people keep them.
They were just misrepresenting God by turning, serving and following him into a misery. Woe to you. You build tombs for the prophets, and your fathers killed them. Therefore, you are witnesses that you approve the deeds of your fathers, for they killed them, and you build their monuments. Because of this, the wisdom of God said, I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them they will kill and persecute, so that this generation may be held responsible for the blood of all the prophet shed since the foundation of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary.
Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible. These men would turn the tombs of the prophets into shrines and places of veneration and even pilgrimage. Jesus calls this behavior ridiculous because he says your hearts are exactly the same as your forefathers, and your forefathers were the ones who killed them in the first place. Scripture tells us these religious leaders would say at the time of Jesus, well, if we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we wouldn't have taken part in the shedding of the prophet's blood, but the Lord knew they would soon kill him, the greatest of all the prophets and the Messiah showing themselves to be exactly like their forefathers. Woe to you, experts in the Law.
You have taken away the key to knowledge. You didn't go in yourselves, and you hindered those who were trying to go in. Jesus says you don't understand the heart of the law, and then you teach a wrong interpretation of the law to people, preventing them from ever being able to understand the true heart of the Law. When he that's Jesus left there, the scribes and the Pharisees began to oppose him fiercely. And we see the same thing happening here with Stephen and the Sanhedrin.
Steven continues speaking about their forefathers. We can turn back to the Book of Acts. Acts, chapter seven, the rest of verse 52. They even killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become. Steven is rebuking the Sanhedrin by pointing out how perfectly they fit into the pattern of their ancestors.
Their ancestors killed those who prophesied the coveting Messiah, and now they have taken their place in their family line by taking things to their inevitable conclusion betraying and murdering the Messiah, the Righteous one prophesied by the prophets, their ancestors killed too. You received the Law under the direction of angels, and yet have not kept it. The you that Stephen refers to in this verse is the Sanhedrin, sitting before him, the nation of Israel collectively, and their ancestors. He says, you, Israel received the Law under the direction of angels at Mount Sinai, and yet you have not kept it. As we mentioned in our previous study, while God was giving the Law to Moses through angels on top of Mount Sinai, Israel was at the foot of the mountain, demanding Eren make an idol for them so that they could worship it instead of Yahweh.
The whole reason God created the nation of Israel was to have a people dedicated to Himself, who would represent them to the nations of the earth and invite them to be part of his family. The culmination, the crescendo of Israel's mission was always intended to be the arrival of Messiah who would bring salvation to all peoples and fulfill the words of the prophets spoken over the centuries. And yet Israel failed to even recognize her Messiah. When he arrived, Jesus condemned the insincerity of Israel's religious devotion, telling them, you pour over the Scriptures because you think you have eternal life in them, and yet they testify about me. And if you believed Moses, you would believe me, because he wrote about me.
Stephen is saying I'm not guilty of blaspheming Moses in the Law. I revere both. It is you who do not revere either, for if you did, you would have recognized and welcomed Jesus as the Messiah. Everything Stephen has shared is about to be proven true to the greatest possible degree. For Stephen is about to be murdered.
The Sanhedrin are about to follow in the footsteps of their forefathers. Stephen is about to take his place in the prophetic line, joining the great men of antiquity who testified fearlessly to the truth at the cost of their lives. And Stephen is about to follow in the footsteps of his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. When the the Sanhedrin heard these things, they were enraged and gnashed their teeth at him. To Nash, one's teeth is to be so enraged that you grind your teeth in anger and hostility.
In the Old Testament, it's often used to describe the hatred that the wicked feel toward the righteous. In the Gospels, it's the attitude displayed by the wicked toward God when it's revealed they are not part of his kingdom. They don't repent, they just gnash their teeth. These men are being convicted by the Holy Spirit. Their innermost motivations have been laid bare by Stephen's Spirit empowered address.
But like their forefathers, they refuse to repent. They simply become enraged toward God's messenger. In Acts chapter two on the day of Pentecost, we saw a very different reaction from thousands of people when Peter told them, let all the house of Israel know with certainty that God has made this Jesus whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah. It says, when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart. The phrase they were pierced to the heart is very similar in the original Greek to the phrase we just read in Acts 754.
That's translated, they were enraged. In Acts chapter two, their hearts were pierced by the truth. In Acts chapter seven, the original Greek is even more intense. Their hearts were cut into. They were torn asunder by the truth.
Here's how they responded to Peter's appeal. In Acts chapter two, they said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, brothers, what should we do? Peter replied, Repent and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off as many as the Lord our God will call. The conviction of the Holy Spirit generally produces either repentance or it increases one's hardness of heart toward the truth.
Acts chapter seven is a sobering reminder that many will perish, not because they don't know the truth, not because they haven't seen it, not because it hasn't been told to them, but because they don't want to repent. They don't want to repent. Jesus explained this to Nicodemus in John chapter three when he told him this is the judgment. The light has come into the world, and people love the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light and avoids it so that his deeds may not be exposed.
Jesus words were proven true by the response of the Sanhedrin to Stephen's truthful testimony. Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit underlined, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven. Now, notice that Stephen did not become full of the Holy Spirit in this moment. He was already full of the Holy Spirit. Back in Act Six five and Act Six eight, it was the way that Stephen lived his life.
When a crisis hits your life, when persecution comes, when pressure pushes down on you, you are who you are at that moment. You are who you are at that moment. Here's what I mean. I mean, there's no switch that you can flick to suddenly become somebody else. You cannot suddenly change from someone who is casual about their faith to someone who is deeply committed to their faith.
You cannot suddenly change from someone who doesn't believe the promises of God to someone who does. Just because you recognize the situation now really requires that of you. You cannot suddenly change from someone with no demonstrable faith in God to someone with great faith. And you cannot change from someone who is controlled by the flesh to someone who is controlled by the spirit. Christian, I beg you, do not fool yourself.
Don't fool yourself. I really don't care if what I've said or what I'm about to say offends you, because it's true and I'm saying it because I love you and I want you to follow Jesus with everything you have. But listen, if you don't have the faith to trust God with money, with dollars and cents, why would you expect to have the faith? To trust God through cancer? You're delusional.
You're fooling yourself. If you don't have the faith to even identify yourself as a Christian to your friends, peers or coworkers. If you never want to let on that the reason you're busy on Sunday is because you're going to church, why would you expect to be able to stand firm for Jesus when real persecution comes, and it will, you're fooling yourself. I'm not talking about being the kind of mature Christian that takes years and years to become. I'm talking about the kind of maturity of understanding that any believer can begin walking in today.
It's about saying, I will do everything I can to obey Jesus as best as I know how right now. And as soon as I learn that there's something else I should be doing to obey Jesus or that I need a change in my life, I will do it as quickly as I can. I'll spend time with Him and ask Him to fill me with his spirit every day. That's what I'm talking about. The question for each of us is, who am I right now?
Who are you right now? If a crisis or persecution explodes in your life tomorrow, who will you be? Who will the person be going into that crisis or experiencing that persecution? I can tell you that person will be who you are right now, who you are right now. And so if you need to change anything in your life to change who you are right now, then do it.
Because the crisis and the persecution rarely arrive with six to eight weeks advance notice. When his moment of life-or-death persecution arrived, Stephen was the same man that he was when he woke up that morning. A man full of the Holy Spirit, wisdom, faith, grace, and power. In contrast to the demonically inspired rage. Of his adversaries, Stephen's face continued to glow with the radiance of God's presence, and he was empowered with supernatural boldness and peace.
God gives special grace to believers to enable them to stand firm in the face of persecution and martyrdom. Peter wrote if you are ridiculed for the name of Jesus, you are blessed because the spirit of glory and of God rests on you. Stephen serves as the prototype of the believer filled with this special grace, and his example has been repeated in the lives of millions of believers over the past 2000 years. When the apostle Paul was being troubled by a specific issue, he asked the Lord for deliverance, and he received this reply my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness. This changed Paul's perspective, ending him to write so I take pleasure in weaknesses, in insults, hardships, persecutions, and difficulties for the sake of Christ, for when I am weak, then I am strong.
To give Stephen the strength he needs to endure what's about to happen, the Lord opens his eyes to see into the spiritual dimension and he sees heaven, he sees where he's about to go. Verse 55 tells us he saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. In his address, Stephen had referred to times past when the glory of God had appeared to Abraham and Moses, and now he Himself joins their ranks as he witnesses this remarkable vision of the glorified Son of God. The only other men in Scripture who were blessed with a glimpse of heaven were Isaiah, Ezekiel, Paul, and John. And Stephen is the first to see Jesus in his glorified state after his ascension, further enraging the Sanhedrin.
Stephen's vision testifies that the Jesus they murdered is indeed alive, has been glorified, and will judge those who reject him. In Psalm 110, Ephesians 1, and Hebrews 1 and 8, we are told that the Father raised Jesus from the dead and seated him at his right hand. David prophesied that Jesus would remain seated at the Father's right hand until the time of judgment known as the day of the Lord arrived. And we see Jesus stand for that future time in prophecies found in Isaiah two, Isaiah three, Daniel seven, and Revelation five. But this was not the day of the Lord.
Stephen though, saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And as best we can tell, the reason Jesus was standing was to welcome Stephen into his presence. Verse 56 says he that Stephen said, look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God. When Jesus was on trial before the Sanhedrin, he said, I tell you, in the future you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of power and coming on the clouds of heaven. And this is how they reacted at that time to those words by Jesus then the high priest tore his robes and said, he is blasphemed.
Why do we still need witnesses? See? Now you've heard the blasphemy. What is your decision? They answered, he deserves death.
Stevens vision and testimony affirmed Jesus words to the Sanhedrin that he was and is the Son of man of Daniel, chapter seven, who will rule over and judge the nations, including these men? Jesus was who he said he was, is where he said he would go and will do in the future. What he said he would do. Stephen is telling them, the righteous one whom you murdered is right now glorified and at the right hand of the Father in heaven. They judge Jesus worthy of death for speaking the truth.
And here's how they respond when Stephen does the same. Verse 57. They yelled at the top of their voices, covered their ears, and together rushed against him. They yelled and covered their ears to prevent themselves from hearing any more of Stephen's testimony to the glorified Jesus. You see, unless they were willing to recognize their grievous error in arranging the murder of Jesus and repent, they had no logical choice but to likewise find Stephen guilty of blasphemy as they had found Jesus.
The Greek word used by Luke, that's translated rushed, is the same word used to describe the demonpossessed herd of pigs as they charged into the Sea of Galilee. In Matthew chapter eight and Mark chapter five, the idea is that these men were demonically inspired to oppose the truth Stephen was speaking, and they eagerly gave themselves over to baseless rage, anger and hatred. They turned into a frenzied mob. At this point, it says, they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. The scene is reminiscent of Luke, chapter four, where Jesus's own townsman in Nazareth, enraged by his speaking the truth, dragged him outside the town to try and throw him off a cliff.
And the witnesses laid their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. This is our introduction to the man better known as the Apostle Paul, the one who would go on to become the greatest church planter, evangelist and pastor in history. Oh, yeah, and also write about a third of the New Testament. The Book of Acts is written by Luke, a physician and historian who would later become a traveling companion of Paul's. And this fascinates me, because Luke wasn't there when the Sanhedrin tried and executed Stephen.
By all accounts, the apostles weren't there either. So how did Luke learn what happened at Stephen's trial? What Stephen said? The most logical answer is that Paul told him that the men stoning stephen laid their garments at Saul's feet, suggest that he was the initiator and driving force behind the Sanhedrin's prosecution of Stephen. Saul was likely already the ending voice in opposition to Christianity.
He wasn't taking a let's wait and see approach, as some of his elders, like gamble, were saul's view was these followers of Jesus are an abomination who teach blasphemies and must be eliminated. Another side note for you the term young man likely refers to someone between the ages of 24 and 40. Saul was not a teenager or a young adult, as we might think when we read that phrase. Verse 59. While they were stoning stephen, he called out, Lord Jesus underline Lord Jesus.
Lord Jesus received my spirit. He knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, lord, underline Lord, do not hold this sin against them. And after saying this, he fell asleep. When Jesus was hanging on the cross about to die, he cried out, Father, into your hands I entrust my spirit. As Stephen is about to die, he cries out, lord Jesus, receive my spirit.
Jesus committed himself to the Father. Stephen committed himself to Jesus, testifying that Jesus is God and equal with the Father. Steven's words reveal that he expected to be with the Lord the moment he died. He did not expect to awaken, purgatory or enter some sort of soul sleep because this is what Scripture teaches. Paul wrote that if he was away from his earthly body, it meant he would be at home with the Lord.
He also wrote that departing this earthly life would mean being with Christ. Jesus promised the thief on the cross beside him that he would be with him in paradise that very day. And there are other examples I could share. About to die on the cross, Jesus cried out, Father, forgive them because they do not know what they are doing. Stephen cries out Lord, do not hold this sin against them.
Stephen affirms the reality of Jesus's words in John chapter five, where he said the Father in fact judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son so that all people may honor the sun, just as they honor the Father. Stephen cannot offer forgiveness and salvation to those who shout down and cover their ears to the truth, so he prays that God would forgive them, continue reaching out to them, and work a miracle in their lives. And if you know the story of the Book of Acts, I want you to take heart and to be encouraged. Because in the life of at least one man, stephen's prayer for his hardearted brethren would be answered to a degree more wonderful and astounding than he could ever have imagined. As Augustine wrote, if Stephen had not prayed, the Church would not have had Paul saints.
Do not give up praying for even the most hardhearted person. Don't give up God. Put them in your life for a reason. What is impossible with man is possible with God. Do not give up.
Persist in prayer for them. The final words of Jesus and Stephen, as they are being wrongly put to death, reveal the difference between the Old and New Covenants. In two Chronicles 24, we read of the murder of the prophet Zechariah. And I want you to notice both the similarities and the differences to the death of Stephen. It says the Spirit of God enveloped zechariah.
Son of Jehoita, the priest. He stood above the people and said to them, this is what God says. Why are you transgressing the Lord's command so that you do not prosper? Because you have abandoned the Lord. He has abandoned you.
But they conspired against him and stoned him at the king's command. In the courtyard of the Lord's temple, king Josh didn't remember the kindness that Zechariah's father, Jojoida had extended to him, but killed his son while he was dying. He said, May the Lord see and demand an account. Zechariah was a prophet and a righteous man who was speaking the truth, empowered by the Spirit. However, his final prayer was that God would judge his murderers and avenge his death.
Jesus and Stephen died praying for their murderers. Father, forgive them because they do not know what they are doing. Lord, do not hold this sin against them. To state the obvious, that is not a normal human reaction toward those who are murdering you. It is not natural.
It is supernatural. It is a love that comes from God and can only be found in God. And the only way it ever comes out of a human being is if God puts it in them. Paul said it like this in Romans chapter five god's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. Only a Christian full of the Holy Spirit and the love of God can love in this radical kind of way.
It's not a human love. Stephen serves as the model disciple, the model martyr, as he imitates Jesus in life and in death. The similarities between Stephen's words and deeds and those of Jesus were not contrived. It was the natural behavior and speech of a man who was full of the same spirit that filled Jesus. Stephen died steadfastly, doing the will of his Lord Jesus, and the things of this world grew strangely dim.
The hatredfilled faces of his killers faded away and they were replaced by the smiling face of his savior, Jesus, who greeted Stephen as a friend with open arms and the words well done, good and faithful servant. When I examine the little that scripture tells us about the life and ministry of Stephen, I am astounded. And I find myself asking, has there ever been a man more like Jesus than Stephen?
This episode ends with the first part of the first verse is chapter eight. Saul agreed with putting him to death. Stephen, the first martyr, deserves to be honored and remembered. And the best way to honor his memory is to imitate his devotion to serving Jesus, loving his church and boldly proclaiming the truth. To be a follower of Jesus means we want to be like him.
We want to be like him in life. And if circumstances demand it, we want to be like him in death. I'll close with these few scriptures. Jesus said if the world hates you, understand that it hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you.
Gas is own, however, because you are not of the world. But I have chosen you out of it. The world hates you. Remember the word I spoke to you? A servant is not greater than his master.
If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it. But whoever loses his life because of me will save it. For what does it benefit someone if he gains the whole world and yet loses?
Or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me. In my words, the Son of man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and that of the Father and the Holy Angels. And the man who orchestrated Stephen's murder, who would be transformed by the love of God into the apostle Paul wrote if we live, we live for the Lord and if we die, we die for the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.