Bible Study: Acts, Chapter Seven
Transcript: Today we are going to study Acts chapter 7 in depth. You can follow along in your own Bible if you like. I will be reading from the World English Bible because it is the only modern English translation that is copyright free, and I can read the entire Bible on video without any legal drama or breaking anyones rules. After the meeting today, or sometime this week, please take the matching quiz that I have prepared for you on the website. Also, we will be having communion at the end of the service as it is the first Sunday of the month. Thanks to everyone that has participated so far. Let’s get started:
First let’s set our location and do a brief catchup. In Acts chapter 6, the Greek-speaking widows had complained that they were being shorted in the church food program, that the brothers from Jerusalem were taking care of their own people better than them. Apparently someone suggested that the Apostles oversee this, but they prayed about it and basically said “It is not right for us to wait on tables and neglect studying the scriptures, prayer, and teaching the word.” So they appointed seven men, possibly one for each day of the week to oversee this work. These men are not named as deacons, but the word deacon simply means servant, and they certainly were servants, so many consider this list as the first deacons of the church. The Apostles laid hands on them and prayed. Two of the new deacons were Stephen and Phillip which we will read more about.
The newly-formed group of believers were still meeting at the temple in Jerusalem because there was plenty of room, an abundance of people, and Christianity had not really split from Judaism yet. They all believed in Father God, but the separation began because of Jesus the Son. Stephen was filled with the Spirit and preached Jesus boldly, but soon he was arrested under false charges and brought before the Sanhedrin, the ancient Jewish supreme court. The same court that had condemned Jesus and beaten the Apostles. The court saw that Stephen's face was like that of an angel, in complete peace, and quite possibly shining like Moses’ did. Chapter 7 begins with Stephen standing before the high priest Caiaphas.
Acts Chapter 7 beginning in verse 1, reading from the World English Bible:
The high priest said, “Are these things so?”
The high priest Caiaphas asks Stephen about the charges that people were bringing against him. Caiaphas was not really interested in Stephen’s answer, and he probably knew that the witnesses were lying. This was a mock trial and the outcome was decided before it convened, just as Jesus it had been with Jesus. This formal trial was merely a formality and they planned to teach the Apostles a lesson this time.
Stephen responds with an inspired speech given to him by the Holy Spirit, and he covers the history of the Jewish people from Abraham to Jesus. It was truly an inspired message. Jesus had told the Apostles in Matthew 10:16
“Behold, I send you out as sheep among wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. 17 But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils, and in their synagogues they will scourge you. 18 Yes, and you will be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony to them and to the nations. 19 But when they deliver you up, don’t be anxious how or what you will say, for it will be given you in that hour what you will say. 20 For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.” Matthew 10:16-20 WEB.
We see here that Stephen was delivered up to their council, which took place in their synagogue, and while he was standing there, the Holy Spirit gave him the right message for the moment. So all of this happened just as Jesus had said that it would. Stephen begins in verse 2:
What follows is one of the most amazing and most potent sermons ever preached, and it was spontaneous. Stephen knew his Bible and his Bible history. As he stood tall before the Council, he brought the theology of Christ down hard on the three great pillars of popular Judaism of the day: the land, the law, and their temple - three false bases for confidence before God. They had made idols out of their land, their law, and the temple itself. All three had become a god them. Stephen attacks all three.
2 He said, “Brothers and fathers, listen. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, 3 and said to him, ‘Get out of your land and away from your relatives, and come into a land which I will show you.’ 4 Then he came out of the land of the Chaldaeans and lived in Haran. From there, when his father was dead, God moved him into this land, where you are now living.
The first sacred cow Stephen attacks was the land (v. 2–36). According to popular opinion of the day, God gave special spiritual privileges to those living on the land of Palestine. Owning the land and the status that went with it left little room for the saving work of Jesus the Messiah. Stephen argued that this was wrong. To prove his point, Stephen cited the case of Abraham in verses 2–8. Abraham spent considerable time in the land but he did not live as if he had arrived at the height of God’s purpose for him. Stephen pointed out that God revealed himself to Abraham even before he was living in the promised land. The point is, God blessed Abraham even though he did not yet occupy as much as one foot of the Holy Land. The land is not the blessing.
5 He gave him no inheritance in it, no, not so much as to set his foot on. He promised that he would give it to him for a possession, and to his offspring after him, when he still had no child. 6 God spoke in this way: that his offspring would live as aliens in a strange land, and that they would be enslaved and mistreated for four hundred years.
Stephen begins his sermon in Genesis chapter 11 with Abram and progresses from there.
7 ‘I will judge the nation to which they will be in bondage,’ said God, ‘and after that they will come out, and serve me in this place.’ 8 He gave him the covenant of circumcision. So Abraham became the father of Isaac, and circumcised him the eighth day. Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob became the father of the twelve patriarchs. 9 “The patriarchs, moved with jealousy against Joseph, sold him into Egypt. God was with him, 10 and delivered him out of all his afflictions, and gave him favor and wisdom before Pharaoh, king of Egypt. He made him governor over Egypt and all his house. 11 Now a famine came over all the land of Egypt and Canaan, and great affliction. Our fathers found no food.
12 But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent out our fathers the first time. 13 On the second time Joseph was made known to his brothers, and Joseph’s race was revealed to Pharaoh. 14 Joseph sent and summoned Jacob, his father, and all his relatives, seventy-five souls. 15 Jacob went down into Egypt and he died, himself and our fathers, 16 and they were brought back to Shechem, and laid in the tomb that Abraham bought for a price in silver from the children of Hamor of Shechem.
Here Stephen talks about the time that the Hebrews spent in Egypt as slaves of the Pharaohs. This began during the lives of Isaac and his sons, including Joseph, around Genesis chapter 39. The Israelites were slaves for 400 years before God sent Moses to them in Exodus chapter 3.
17 “But as the time of the promise came close which God had sworn to Abraham, the people grew and multiplied in Egypt, 18 until there arose a different king, who didn’t know Joseph. 19 The same took advantage of our race, and mistreated our fathers, and forced them to throw out their babies, so that they wouldn’t stay alive. 20 At that time Moses was born, and was exceedingly handsome. He was nourished three months in his father’s house. 21 When he was thrown out, Pharaoh’s daughter took him up and reared him as her own son.
22 Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians. He was mighty in his words and works. 23 But when he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brothers,* the children of Israel. 24 Seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended him, and avenged him who was oppressed, striking the Egyptian. 25 He supposed that his brothers understood that God, by his hand, was giving them deliverance; but they didn’t understand.
26 “The day following, he appeared to them as they fought, and urged them to be at peace again, saying, ‘Sirs, you are brothers. Why do you wrong one another?’ 27 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 killed the Egyptian yesterday?’ 29 Moses fled at this saying, and became a stranger in the land of Midian, where he became the father of two sons.
30 “When forty years were fulfilled, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in a flame of fire in a bush. 31 When Moses saw it, he wondered at the sight. As he came close to see, a voice of the Lord came to him, 32 ‘I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ Moses trembled, and dared not look. 33 The Lord said to him, ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you stand is holy ground. 34 I have surely seen the affliction of my people that is in Egypt, and have heard their groaning. I have come down to deliver them. Now come, I will send you into Egypt.’
Stephen’s confirming example was Moses in verses 17–36. God met and took care of Moses and his people outside the Holy Land. Moses was raised in Egypt (v. 17–22). He matured in Midian (v. 29). He was commissioned near Mt. Sinai, and God called that area “holy ground” (v. 30–34). “Holy ground” is wherever God meets His people, and not just inside the borders of Palestine. The greatest miracles of Israel happened in Egypt, at the Red Sea, and in the desert - not in the Promised Land. One sacred cow down, two to go.
35 “This Moses, whom they refused, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’—God has sent him as both a ruler and a deliverer by the hand of the angel who appeared to him in the bush. 36 This man led them out, having worked wonders and signs in Egypt, in the Red Sea, and in the wilderness for forty years. 37 This is that Moses, who said to the children of Israel, ‘The Lord our God will raise up a prophet for you from among your brothers, like me.’
The second sacred cow was the exaltation of the law and making an idol of Moses. Stephen’s basic argument in verse 37 built on Moses’ words from Deuteronomy 18:15, when Moses predicted that God would raise up for the Jews “a prophet like me from your own people.” The Jews’ hope of redemption was not the law of Moses, but Jesus Himself. The law of Moses could not save the Israelites. Besides, Moses told them to look for another prophet that was coming.
Moses was the deliverer sent by God, but at first the people rejected him. Jesus was the Messiah sent by God, and in the same way, many of the Jewish people rejected Him. The Jews in Moses’ day rejected both Moses and the law and wanted to return to Egypt, as we see in the next few verses:
38 This is he who was in the assembly in the wilderness with the angel that spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our fathers, who received living revelations to give to us, 39 to whom our fathers wouldn’t be obedient, but rejected him, and turned back in their hearts to Egypt, 40 saying to Aaron, ‘Make us gods that will go before us, for as for this Moses, who led us out of the land of Egypt, we don’t know what has become of him.’
41 They made a calf in those days, and brought a sacrifice to the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their hands. 42 But God turned, and gave them up to serve the army of the sky, as it is written in the book of the prophets,
‘Did you offer to me slain animals and sacrifices forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel? 43 You took up the tabernacle of Moloch, the star of your god Rephan, the figures which you made to worship. I will carry you away beyond Babylon.’
Now we move to the third sacred cow, idolizing the temple when it is actually just a building. They tended to think that “God is surely with us - we have the temple” but you can have a temple, and not have Him for He is not an object.
44 “Our fathers had the tabernacle of the testimony in the wilderness, even as he who spoke to Moses commanded him to make it according to the pattern that he had seen; 45 which also our fathers, in their turn, brought in with Joshua when they entered into the possession of the nations, whom God drove out before the face of our fathers, to the days of David, 46 who found favor in the sight of God, and asked to find a habitation for the God of Jacob. 47 But Solomon built him a house.
48 However, the Most High doesn’t dwell in temples made with hands, as the prophet says, 49 ‘heaven is my throne, and the earth a footstool for my feet. What kind of house will you build me?’ says the Lord. ‘Or what is the place of my rest? 50 Didn’t my hand make all these things?’
Stephen quotes Isaiah chapter 66 here and says the Most High God doesn’t dwell in temples made with hands, which was like a slap in the face to the high priests and the Sanhedrin. They controlled the temple, and because of that thought they controlled God. We have to remember that God is a lot bigger than our buildings and He will still be around when they are gone.
Stephen now basically says: “Gentlemen, Sanhedrin, rulers of Israel, Sadducees, Pharisees, listeners, you think you are in because you possess the land, the law, and the temple. But you are wrong - dead wrong!”
How does this sermon apply to us today? Here are a few ways:
- The land. It is possible to imagine that since we live in such a privileged nation, where so much good has been done, and so many godly people born, that we will surely inherit God’s blessing. But where we are born does not bring the blessing.
- The law. Sometimes we, just like the Jews of old, make an idol out of God’s Word. We carry it with us, highlight it, thumb throw it slowly, but don’t do a single thing that it says. We don’t let the word change us. Oh, we can talk about it and quote it, but so did satan when he was talking to Jesus in the desert.
- The temple. It is easy to believe that when we go to church, that we will receive special blessings. That is not necessarily so. I have more often met with the Holy Spirit in the workplace and even while playing music in bars, than in many churches that I have visited.
It is possible to have all these things in your life, and yet be pitifully and utterly damned, or be saved but defeated and disobedient, and stalled in your development as a Christian.
“You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit! As your fathers did, so you do. 52 Which of the prophets didn’t your fathers persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, of whom you have now become betrayers and murderers. 53 You received the law as it was ordained by angels, and didn’t keep it!”
Stephen let them have it. They were used to people being terrified before the presence of the Sanhedrin, but Stephen holds nothing back. They resisted the Holy Spirit, and when God sent them prophets who said something they didn’t like, they killed them. They received the law with their lips and talked about it a lot, but they didn’t keep it.
54 Now when they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth.
Stephen’s sermon was his death warrant, but he was standing tall and fearless. He had lived like Christ, he had spoken like Christ, and now he would die like Christ. He did not fear what man could do to him. The Sanhedrin went berserk. “When they heard this, they were cut to the heart, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him”. A preacher knows that he is in trouble when the congregation begins to frown, but it is much worse when they being to grind their teeth and plot how they might kill him.
On the day of Pentecost, Peter preached a sermon and the people were cut to the heart and repented. The people here were also cut to the heart, but became furiously angry. The Holy Spirit spoke through Stephen, the people heard it, and they did not like the way that it made them feel. It made them feel guilty, because they were. This is the way that conviction works. You hear a message and it makes you uncomfortable, it can make you upset, but in your heart, you know they’re right. The proper response would have been for them to repent and turn away from their past, but they stiffened their neck, dug in with their heels, and stayed right on their path of evil and their tradition of killing God’s messengers.
55 But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, looked up steadfastly 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 at the right hand of God!”
The Scriptures picture Jesus as seated by the Father, His work complete, but on this occasion He was “standing at the right hand of God.” Jesus Christ came to his feet with His arms open to welcome the first martyr home. Beautiful! Stephen describes Jesus as the “Son of Man,” a title that Jesus often used Himself.
57 But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears, then rushed at him with one accord. 58 They threw him out of the city and stoned him. The witnesses placed their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 They stoned Stephen as he called out, saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!”
These respected, dignified aristocrats descended on young, innocent Stephen and executed him! Their action was illegal, brutal, immoral, but they did not care as long as they could shut his mouth. Even though his words were directly from the Holy Spirit, they stopped up their ears and rushed into kill him. In their hearts, these men directly opposed God. It was God speaking through Stephen, and they hated every word because the truth burned them. If you think that everyone on earth will be saved, consider this fact: some people hate God and would kill Him given the chance just as they did Jesus, just as they did Stephen. There is a place prepared for them, and it not heaven.
They probably took Stephen outside the city where the witnesses repeated their charges, then threw him down an embankment and cast huge stones on him. It began with the witnesses, then followed with more stones from the crowd. Stoning someone to death as young and healthy as Stephen was not easy. You didn’t get the job done with the first few rocks and broken bottles, and even after you get the man down, it was a long, hot business. To prepare themselves for the job, they stripped to the waist and got somebody to keep an eye on their things till they were through. The man they got this time was a fire-breathing young Pharisee named Saul, who was there because he approved of what they were doing. This man later became the Apostle Paul.
60 He kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, “Lord, don’t hold this sin against them!” When he had said this, he fell asleep.
Stephen died a terrible death but there was also an awesome beauty: on the last day of his life, Stephen lived like Jesus, and he died the same way. While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” and “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” just as Jesus had prayed “Into Your hands I commit my Spirit” and “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” while on the cross. This was an overflow of grace - God’s unmerited, unconditional favor. A special grace for a special time. Stephen lived out Christ’s power, the power to do what God wanted him to do, even when facing certain death.
That concludes our Bible study on Acts Chapter 7. Thank you for watching and being a part of Refreshing Hope!
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