Stephen’s Defense – How does it speak to us?

This morning I feel a little like Peter must have felt on the mount of transfiguration where he was so overwhelmed by the wonder and joy of the presence of the transfigured Jesus that he wanted to build a shelter so that he could just remain there in His presence. He was totally overawed by His presence. So as I sang “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face …. turn your eyes to the hillside where He hung on the cross…..turn your eyes to the heavens from where He will come again, I look up at the heavens and in the clouds I see the the outline of a figure – vague and mysterious – the clouds swirling and floating around the figure and I hear a voice “Just like this cloud I cover the whole earth – cover it with My warmth and protection – there is nowhere that I am not present, soak up my love – allow Me to fuse you into one with Me – I want to give to you, I want to give you the Bread of life – Myself – I want to give you the bread, which is every word that I speak to you – I want to give you the bread of friendship from Myself but also through My other children – just be still, be quiet and listen to Me”.

Today I will deal with Acts ch 7. This is a long and complex speech and I could write a chapter in a book about it, but that is not our purpose here. So I want us to try and pick up the main themes of the speech and find what Jesus is saying to us through it. So why don’t you scan through it yourself first, but before you do here is a pointer. In Acts 6:13 there is an accusation made against Stephen and so this speech is primarily his defense. The accusation is basically made against two aspects of what Stephen had been preaching. Can you see them? They accuse him of speaking against the temple and against the law. Now read chapter 7 and see if you can follow the thread of his defense. Don’t get hung up and tied down in the detail but just scan the main points of what he is saying in respect of these two subjects.

At that time the Jews regarded the temple as a sort of Icon which they held in almost more reverence than God Himself. The temple was built, as Stephen reminds the listeners, by Solomon and even at its dedication 1 Kings 8:27, Solomon had recognized that no place could contain God Himself (Acts 7:48 ff). And we know that it was Jesus Himself who said that his body would replace the temple (John 2:19-22). So Stephen in his defense shows how God met Abraham and Moses in various places, even at one time (Acts 7:33) telling Moses that where he was standing was holy ground (Acts 7:33). So the temple is not the only place that the people could meet with God. Everywhere we meet with God is holy. In fact to underline this fact Jesus prophesied what would later be fulfilled – the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem with it. Of course the original place of worship had been a tent (Tabernacle) (Acts 7:44) which reflected the idea of our impermanence on earth, we are pilgrims as it were.

In His defense against the charge about the law, Stephen makes a point of showing his respect for Moses the mediator of the Law. Of course we know that Jesus had made it clear way back in the Sermon On The Mount that He had come to fulfill the law not abolish it (Mat 5:17). What He was in fact teaching, clearly was that the whole OT points forward Him, who He is and His ministry. Stephen then goes over to the attack( Acts 7:37), pointing out that Moses had prophesied about the coming of Jesus and yet from the beginning the people had rejected Moses and his ministry and the law, turning to other gods and astrology, and killing the prophets who foretold the events which were unfolding now. In fact ending by showing them that they were actually the one’s who were breaking the law Acts 7:53.

So he ends his defense with the harsh words of condemnation in Acts 7:51ff reminding them that their real problem was one of rebellion. I suppose one can say that you can understand how this made the people angry enough to kill him, but is that not the problem of the whole world that rejects God? And for Lilly, that is why they were so angry with Stephen, because he showed up the truth to them.

There is obviously more in the passage from which Jesus may have spoken to you, but this is, as I see it the main thrust of the passage. Now, important, what is Jesus saying to you today from this long passage?

In line with His word to me earlier it seemed He was underlining to me the importance of the fact that He is everywhere, through His Spirit. There is no place that is more holy than any other. We may experience a nearness to Him more in some places, like I do in my little “altar room”, but He is everywhere I go. There is so much fuss made about Jerusalem nowadays, and while we have absolute compassion with all the people there and know there is a huge spiritual warfare going on, nevertheless, God is not more present there than elsewhere. It is no more the spiritual capital of the world, ever since the Jews rejected Jesus.

The second point I felt He was saying to me is a very strong reminder that Jesus is the central point of the whole bible. The whole OT points forward to Him and from the beginning of Acts the message flares out to the whole world. This almost drowns me in the realization of the depth of God’s word.

As usual, if you have specific questions about this passage please let’s hear them and talk about them.

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