Stephen stands before the council accused of blaspheme. The specific charges were “this man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law” (verse 13). Well, let’s see how Stephen answers these charges.
The first thing Stephen does when asked to answer the charges is to address everyone in attendance (and judgement of him) as respectfully as possible. Stephen takes the charges very seriously and in answering them he starts at the beginning of the Jewish history, with Abraham, to lay a firm foundation for his testimony. He doesn’t give them his personal conversion testimony but God’s account of how the law was delivered and how the “holy place” was established and what their own ancestors, and themselves, did with what God had given them.
Abraham started this journey under God’s instructions and with a future promise. The only promise he actually saw come to fruition was the birth of Isaac. Everything else was a promise for his descendants. Abraham trusted God for his children’s future. As a sign of the promise Abraham, without the law, received the first sign of binding agreement; circumcision. He passed this on as a directive from God to his descendants. Even in that sign they failed to be faithful. There would be several more times that they would renew this sign as a nation.
Joseph is highlighted by Stephen as a rejected savior for the people. He was sold into slavery but God protected him and blessed him during that time. Because of his position he was able to provide for the household of Jacob; the first “Israelite.” God blessed and cared for Joseph in a Godless place. God also cared for the increasing nation of people while they were in Egypt. We are not told when the practice of circumcision stopped in Egypt. Did this mark a time when they stopped looking for the promise?
But God never stopped working towards His promise. He sent Moses. Stephen shares Moses’ history next. Moses should have been killed but God had other plans. He was raised in the house of Pharaoh, just as Joseph had been in his later life. But Moses also knew his true heritage, again, just as Joseph had.
After 40 years under Pharaoh’s roof Moses went to check on his “brothers.” He didn’t like what he saw being done to them and he struck out. He didn’t do this as a redemptive act but as an impulsive act. It didn’t win him any points with his fellow Israelites. Caught between two worlds and fitting in neither, Moses fled. In exile he met God. THE God of his ancestors. Did Moses know the stories of his people since he was raised in Pharaoh’s home? Did he know of the promise of deliverance? Moses got a crash course from I AM. Was he circumcised?
I know, I’m throwing questions into the mix of Stephen’s testimony. Sorry all but they keep popping into my mind.
Moses, Pharaoh’s daughter’s adopted son, a man caught between two peoples, finally receives a purpose and calling for his life. One he NEVER expected and one he tried to get out of. He will be his brother’s redeemer. Moses returned to Egypt and followed God’s instructions to the letter. God’s miracles through Moses’ hands brought the people safely out of Egypt. Easy peasy, the rest should be grateful people who are ready to follow God wherever He leads. Not this bunch!
Moses gets everyone settled safely and goes to spend time alone with God to get the rest of the marching orders. Our group can’t sit still and wait. Instead they want another god to save them. REALLY!? Can any other god do what your God just did? They made their own god while Moses was receiving the very law that the chief priests were accusing Stephen of breaking. Their own “fathers” were rejecting the law as it was being written.
Never in all the years of Israel’s history did they strictly adhere to the law. They rejected it at every possible opportunity. Israel also rejected every prophet God sent them. They suffered the consequences of their rejection too. Captivity and enslavement were their “reward.”
Stephen also addresses the history of the “holy place” they were accusing him of threatening through his faith in Jesus. These same men accused Jesus of threatening to destroy the temple. Moses was given the plans in the wilderness too. The people cheerfully complied with the building of the temple. They worked as one on the designs Moses received. They carried it through the wilderness for 40 years. I’m wondering if many of that first generation looked on the dwelling as their “salvation” rather than the Dweller. Did they worship the tent of God or the God of the tent?
Stephen shares that the tabernacle (God’s tent) remained a vital part of Israel’s heritage until king David asked to build God a permanent home. Solomon was the one God finally allowed to build the temple but even it couldn’t contain God. His presence is bigger than any building could hold. How can the possibly contain in one building the God who uses earth as His footstool? Again, the question becomes are they worshiping the house of God or the God of the house?
If they were truly seeking the God of the house and the God of the law, they would NOT have rejected Jesus. He was the completion of the law and the true temple of God. They refused at every opportunity to recognize the truth of God’s promise. They wanted their “promise” on their own terms and refused to accept anything or anyone that didn’t meet their expectations. THAT is why they missed who Jesus was/is. He didn’t fit their mold. And now Stephen doesn’t fit it either. The God Stephen was serving was one they had already chosen to reject.
Holy Spirit You gave AMAZING knowledge to Stephen. After reading my bible helps I see how DEEP his explanation really was. I can’t even come close to conveying the depth and breadth of his answer. Thank You Lord for letting me see a small portion of it. Thank You also for letting me ask questions. They probably don’t even pertain to the thread Stephen and the Spirit were weaving, but You let me ask them anyway. Will You answer them during bench time? I hope so. There sure a lot of them building up. Will You bring them all back to my mind at that time or will You simply give me all the answers at once?
You gave Stephen AMAZING boldness before the council that day. I pray for that same boldness when the tough topics hit. Speak through me Lord in all things, even the small ones.