Sunday – March 8, 2020
Word On Worship – Sunday – March 8, 2020
Sunday – March 1, 2020
The high priest said, “Are these things so?” And he said, “Hear me, brethren and fathers! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, 3 and said to him, ‘LEAVE YOUR COUNTRY AND YOUR RELATIVES, AND COME INTO THE LAND THAT I WILL SHOW YOU.’
It was charged that Stephen had spoken blasphemous words against Moses and also against God. This developed into the more specific accusation that he never ceased to speak against “this holy place and the law” (Acts 6:13) and teaching “Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us” (Acts 6:14). In other words, Stephen is accused of teaching what Jesus taught. And what Jesus taught, so far as Stephen’s accusers claimed, was He would destroy the temple (with Jerusalem) and the customs which the Jews attributed to Moses (even though they were man-made traditions that violated the law of Moses).
As one can quickly sense, Stephen’s sermon is hardly a defense as we know it. Stephen is not seeking to prove his innocence, but rather he is strongly indicting his accusers for their guilt. Stephen is the prosecutor, so to speak, and is not acting as an attorney for his own defense. His opponents are upset because Stephen, like Jesus, emphasized the Abrahamic Covenant over the Mosaic Covenant. This is because salvation comes through the Abrahamic Covenant, not through the Mosaic Covenant. It all began with Abraham, Stephen is saying, and the covenant God made with Abraham.
Stephen is certainly not pleading for his life here. He is pressing charges against his accusers, for it is they who have blasphemed God. It is they (and their ancestors) who have rebelled against Moses and the prophets. They are a stubborn people, just as God had often said of them. Stephen had to know what lay ahead for him. Luke tells us what enabled Stephen to continue to stand fast, dying in a way that underscored the truth of his faith and of his sermon. Full of the Spirit, Stephen looked into heaven, which opened for him, showing him what lay ahead. He beheld the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.
In Stephen, God offers the Sanhedrin a second chance. He is being accused of the very things which were the real reasons for Jesus’ rejection and execution by this same body. This was their golden opportunity to confess their sin with regard to Jesus, and to acknowledge Him as Israel’s Messiah. Instead, they even more strongly rejected the gospel. And in so doing, they reaffirmed their sin and their guilt in rejecting and crucifying Jesus. The irony of all this is that because when they rejected Jesus once again, they not only confirmed their guilt; they brought on the very destruction they opposed in the preaching of Jesus and the apostles.
Sunday – February 23, 2020
“Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people.”
Stephen was described as a man who was both “full of the Spirit and wisdom” (6:3) and as one who was “full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (6:5). His ministry to Hellenistic widows seems to have put him in contact with a great many Hellenistic Jews. Through Stephen, among the Hellenistic Jews, God accomplished many “great wonders and signs” (6:8). Feeding the widows gave Stephen a much greater exposure and the opportunity to function in a way that was similar to the twelve apostles. The mention of Stephen’s ability to perform “signs and wonders” is very significant. Up to this point, only the apostles were said to have worked signs and wonders. Since the twelve apostles would remain in Jerusalem after the church was scattered (Acts 8:1), it would seem that Stephen (here) and Philip (Acts 8) would serve as apostles to a more diverse group.
We are not told how the power to perform signs and wonders came upon Stephen. Had we been told, we would probably find this viewed as a formula by which saints are to manipulate or persuade God into acting as we would desire. Every indication is that both Stephen and the apostles were surprised by his ability to perform such miracles. It was not because Stephen “prayed through” the right formula nor because of the apostles, of their training, of discipleship, or ordination that these signs and wonders were performed. The simplest explanation for the mighty power which Stephen possessed was that the sovereign God had purposed to make him an apostle, in His own time, and in His own way.
In previous sermons in Acts, many have been saved. Here (and for the first time), the preacher is put to death. God prospers some sermons in the salvation of many, but He also uses sermons for other purposes, as here. We also see that there is an evangelistic thrust, resulting from this sermon. This is an evidence of God’s sovereign control. Those who are saved are not the audience of Stephen, but the Samaritans and Gentiles who will be saved because of the persecution resulting from Stephen’s death. Without knowing it, these Jews are propelling the gospel beyond Jerusalem to the very places from which they have come. Many will be saved because of the sermon and the death of Stephen. And the one who was a part of Stephen’s death—Saul—will be God’s chosen instrument to reach the Gentiles.
No wonder Stephen, a man who was “full of faith and the Holy Spirit,” did not fear death and did not revere the physical temple in Jerusalem. He was a man who “saw” a better temple and whose hope was not earthly. He was free to die, as were the saints of old, because of His faith in God and the promises which were sure to come. May we be more like this great man of old whose life and ministry were short but significant.