Stephen

Just to remind everyone this tour of Acts means that I am paraphrasing the story (in italics) but I do expect you to read the full version as homework. Act’ 6:8 – 7:end

Talk Acts session 6 Stephen’s witness
Let’s recap on the story so far, after Pentecost the church grew in large numbers
Stephen along with six others were voted to help in a leadership role
Wonder, signs and healing were even encouraging priests to accept the faith
The Temple leaders wanted to discredit belief in Jesus being the Messiah
They had failed with Peter and John and so needed to target another,

Session 6 – Stephen’s witness – being seized
6:8 Stephen, filled with God’s power, performed great wonders. The Jews couldn’t argue against the wisdom the Spirit gave him so they said he had blasphemed against Moses and God. The people and the teachers of the law took him before the Sanhedrin, the witnesses testified falsely that Stephen taught Jesus would destroy the temple and change the customs Moses taught. Stephen face looked like an angels when the High priest asked, “Are these charges true?”

Stephen became the focus of attention to the High Priest since he wasn’t one of the original disciples, he was healing people, telling them Jesus was the Messiah, and by his witnessing was converting them. This was their third attempt at discrediting Jesus’ followers and their teaching to them the Jesus movement had to be stopped, The Sanhedrin had to take action.

Stephen was arrested and put on trial, they twisted his words to become their accusations. He was accused of lying by saying as Jesus did that the temple would be destroyed and built again in three days as well as changing Moses’ teachings

The temple leadership had decided they could no longer allow the conflict between their teaching and of Jesus professing to be the Messiah, the Son of God offering the forgiveness of sins. Their own authority was being put into question so action had to be their control was being threatened. As in our churches it’s mostly linked to doctrine, relationships and abuse of power so we need to ask how do we know what to believe and who to follow? The answer; believe the words of Jesus and follow the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit over and above everything else. That is what freewill means each of us is responsible individually for what we believe.

Stephen’s Speech to the Sanhedrin
7:2-50 Stephen replied: The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham, he led him to Harran and then this country, promising his descendants would possess it four hundred years later when they to would be worshiping God here, before that they would be enslaved and mistreated, but the perpetrators would be punished. He gave Abraham the covenant of circumcision, his son was Isaac and his son was Jacob, whose sons were the twelve patriarchs. One of them, Joseph, was sold to be a slave in Egypt but God gave him wisdom, so gaining the good will of Pharaoh allowing him to become the ruler of Egypt. When a famine struck Joseph brought his whole family to Egypt.

Abraham’s story is as important to the Jews as Jesus’ resurrection is to Christians what happened to Abraham and his descendants is their history as Jesus is ours. Moses commands came directly from God they are true and are to be obeyed and to them they history is to them the proof that God is with them proving history is the creator of the present and helps define they future

The prophecy is that when the Jews captured Israel they would worship God. They stayed in Egypt for nearly 400 years they flourished but in the end they did suffer, because they were seen as a threat to Egypt. God for many years didn’t stop the mistreatment of his people for many years until they cried out to him in their distress. God knows what people are like and how man will so easily exploit power, and abuse the people they have responsibility for. How well he loves those who do not follow that way, but do follow his paths. We need to follow his Son and do those things that God has designed us for and when we are in trouble cry out to him. .

Considering the characters of Abraham’s off-spring we find they’ve many weaknesses, these Jewish patriarchs were indeed floored yet God still loved them. They were greedy, dishonest, didn’t put God first and didn’t keep to his ways yet God kept his promise and sent prophets to give them and Israel direction and so they were given their freedom to use the freewill that we are all designed with. God always shows his care, overlooking flaws and forgiving and this should give us great confidence that after all we do the same thing and God does still love us.

7:17 The Jews multiplied until a new Pharaoh oppressed them, forcing them into slavery and made them abandon their infants. Baby Moses was found by the Pharaoh’s daughter who brought him up as her own son. Moses killed an Egyptian who was mistreated a Jew, trusting his people would realize God was using him to rescue them, but they didn’t. Moses next tried to reconcile two Israelites fighting but one said, ‘Who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?’ Moses fled to Midian, where he settled and had two sons. Forty years later Moses saw a burning bush and The Lord told him ‘I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I have decided to send you to free my people from Egypt’s oppression.’ Moses performed wonders and signs leading them out of Egypt it was he who prophesied God will raise up a prophet from our own people.’

Stephen was showing he knew and accepted the Jewish history, he was not changing the history nor the customs Moses taught, more importantly he showed them that Moses foretold Jesus would be sent by God

On Mount Sinai, Moses received God’s word, but our ancestors refused it and turned their hearts back to Egypt telling Aaron, to make an idol in the form of a calf then brought it sacrifices revelling in what they had made. God destroyed it and gave them the tabernacle of the law, Joshua brought it into this land and although David wanted it housed in a temple, it was Solomon who built it. However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands. As God told a prophet, “‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool, what kind of place will you build for me, where is my resting place? Has not my hand made all these things?’
Even being witnesses of God’s miracles these freed Jewish slaves still rejected God. We have been made of three parts, body, mind and spirit, when we are unable to deal with the Spirit side of our being we resort to handling concepts of God with our own limited thinking which results in us making idols to represent Gods, something God doesn’t want

Throughout history people have use symbols and images for their Gods, many Christians use Icons, statues, pictures, candles, crosses in churches since people like to have something physical to relate to. Understanding this of the Jews God gave Moses the ark for his people and it was David who wanted to build God a temple, but God never wanted the ark nor the temple. Jesus taught our temple to God is ourselves, God dwells in us, it is our bodies, minds and souls that need to be placed before God to be used for him a church is just a building or group of for Christians to meet in to grow as a community with God

The church of God is when people come together to join with him going to a prayer group, a bible study, a committee meeting, and when worshiping. We can be with God every hour of every day not just in a building for an hour a week

Looking at the history of Israel and the interaction between them and God what does it tell us about the character of God and his thinking towards mankind? Well we are his creation, we were given a purpose in living to care for this world. We should live in a way that reflects the ways and standards of our creator for we have the potential to be in tune with God and share the experience if only we really try.

Back to Stephen, he had said nothing to give credibility to the charges, every Jew would have agreed with him and at this point he could have walked free. Something in Stephen must have snapped, for he could not hold his feeling in, he had to voice his witness in what he knew was in the hearts of his judges. The honesty of God’s Spirit working within him demanded he shouts out the truth

7:51-end And so Stephen makes his accusation against the Sanhedrin.
“You obstinate people! You resist the Holy Spirit like your ancestors, you persecute every prophet, even killing those who predicted the coming of the Messiah and now you have betrayed and murdered him. You received the law through angels and disobeyed it.”
The Sanhedrin were furious, then Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven saw the glory of God and exclaimed, “I see heaven open and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.”
At this they covered their ears and yelling at the top of their voices, they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him, Saul was there approving of what was being done. Then Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” He fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” then he died.
Stephen was not sentenced against the charges brought against him, in fact no sentence was passed, what occurred was unlawful and unseemly, it was his statement that Jesus was standing next to God that was unforgivable. To the Sanhedrin no-one has ever seen God, so how could Stephen, to them Jesus was not the Messiah so he could not have seen him standing with God. If he was then they would have to admit they murdered him.

If Jesus was with God they had indeed killed the promised Messiah everything Jesus had done and said would be true, he would be the Son of God. The consequences to them if true were too terrible to comprehend they had to stop Stephen speaking, the people could not hear this for it was blaspheme. If the people believed Stephen then all the Sanhedrin stood for would be undermined

Now their action was criminal, they hadn’t the authority to put a man to death, no sentence was considered or passed, The chief leaders of Israel became a mob, in today’s terms it would mean our Archbishop, Bishops, Attorney General, Chief Judges, Police Commissioner, The Prime Minister and his cabinet would all bundle Stephen outside the houses to Parliament and stone him. Then, like Jesus, Stephen asked God not to judge them for what they were doing. Why?

Because what they were doing was in ignorance of knowing God’s mind, they were in fact doing what they honestly thought God wanted them to do. People do go against God’s Ways, thinking they are doing what God wants for they simply don’t understand the Word of God and that is what Jesus taught they didn’t open themselves to God’s Holy Spirit and listen to his guidance.

This is where in the history of the early church we come to Saul, he was there approving of what was being done. Now he was man who loved God unconditionally. Yet he believed God’s high priests couldn’t be wrong he was trying to listen to God through man, in the end Jesus spoke to him directly but more on that next time.