Skip Heitzig - Acts 7
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You know, there was a little boy who was in the foyer of his church, and he noticed a board on the wall with stars and names under the stars. He asked his parents, what is that for? What are these names and stars? They said, these are the people who have died in the service. Of course, that was new to him, so he said, would that be the 9:45 service or the 11:15 service? They said no, no, no the military service, it refers to them. I hope that Wednesday night isn't a service that takes life from you, but gives life to you. That it's life-giving, and it's enriching, and refreshing.
We are in a very long chapter, as I mentioned, Acts, chapter seven. Looking to the end you may notice that there are 60 verses in it. These 60 verses are about Stephen's sermon, his message in the Synagogue of the Freedmen. A Hellenistic, Greek-speaking synagogue in Jerusalem, which he was speaking at. It is the longest sermon in the book of Acts. It's the longest chapter in the book of Acts, and he preaches the longest sermon. He preaches a sermon longer than Peter, Paul, or anybody else does. So it's the longest on record.
Why is that noteworthy? Because, we're it not for this chapter, most people would not think of Stephen as the preacher. They would think of them as the deacon. He's the guy back in chapter 6 who was one of The Seven who was selected by the early church to serve tables. The widows who would come to get food and a daily distribution, that was his task. He was probably a young man who loved to serve the Lord, but filled with wisdom, filled with the Holy Spirit. He was of Gentile origin, though Jewish in his faith, and he comes here and delivers a very, very powerful message.
Now let me tell you how powerful this message is. Stephen does what Peter tells us we should do. In 1 Peter 3 he says, always be ready to give a defense for the reason. If anyone asks you a reason for the hope that lies in you with meekness and fear, with reverence, and humility. That we should always be on our toes, and ready to articulate why we believe what we believe.
There are a great number of Christians who know what they believe. They'll say, I believe this. I believe that. I believe this other thing, and these are the tenants of my faith. And yet, unfortunately, there are few and far between believers who can tell you why, and articulate to any unbeliever, why they believe what they believe. To be an effective believer, you need to be able to articulate to the unbelieving world, why it is you believe that. Reasonably, as Peter tells us we should do.
Stephen, the deacon, the guy who just served and helped out, I'm looking at this, and reading it, going Stephen? Is that you. Buddy, wow I'm impressed. He gives an incredible defense. By the way, when Peter, in 1 Peter 3 said, always be ready to give a defense, it is from that word, in the Greek apologia, that we get the term apologetics. Apologia means a statement of defense, or a reasonable defense, as you would present in a court case. When we say, I'm into apologetics, or here's an apology, It doesn't necessarily mean, man and I'm sorry, I am a Christian. Please forgive me. I don't know what got him to me, it's not that kind of an apology. It's a very solid and reasoned defense for your faith. All of that serves as background because he does that here. He's very, very effective at it.
Here's what you'll notice as we go through this speech. So that I don't have to always make note of it, you'll just notice it. He's quoting a lot from the Old Testament. He's standing up, this is off the cuff, he didn't have notes. He didn't have his iPad, or his computer. He's just articulating by the power of the Holy Spirit, based upon what he knows to be truth from this Scripture. Fulfilled Scripture, he's quoting Old Testament passages.
You have to keep in mind that, whether it was Stephen or Paul, or Jesus, or Peter, or John, for them, the only Bible they had was the Old Testament. That's all the Bible they knew. When they quoted Scripture, they weren't quoting the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, or the Book of Acts obviously, they're quoting the Old Testament. Here's what you discover about this guy.
This guy obviously knew the Old Testament, because he quotes from it. And he obviously understood what it meant. And he obviously understood that all of the Old Testament was pointing toward its ultimate fulfillment in Christ. That's what he shows. Before, they would just read the Old Testament, they had no clue that it was speaking about the singular hero of redemptive history, who is Christ. They didn't understand. They didn't quite get it.
You remember the Ethiopian eunuch was reading Isaiah 53, and Philip will come, I'm getting ahead of myself, that's going to be next chapter, along and he says, you understand what you're reading? The Ethiopian eunuch says, how can I unless somebody explains it to me? He was there, and he explained it to him, and he led them to Christ through the Old Testament. We're looking at, and listening to, the defense, the apologia, of Stephen the deacon, as he takes the Scripture and he powerfully unfolds the understanding that is fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The Old Testament fulfilled in the New.
There's something that stuck out to me this time as I read it, The way it opens, and the way it closes, they are like bookends to me. The chapter opens with the statement of, the God of glory, and that chapter opens with this statement, the glory of God. That could just be fortuitous or it could be put there by the Holy Spirit. I see it as a signature, little mark, an earmark, by the Holy Spirit. The God of glory, that's what Stephen will refer to God as, and it closes with the glory of God.
I look at this as a principle. When your life is surrendered to, and you live for, the God of glory, you will see the glory of God. You'll experience the glory of God. Some don't experience that, perhaps it's because that singular focus on the God of glory is not where it should be in your life. Well, we're going to read about Stephen but, before the chapter is ended, you're also going to read about another young man named, Saul.
I haven't even gotten to verse one yet, but you know that's my style. I'm setting it all up. It should be read as a unit. It is meant to be read as a solid unit. That's why, by the grace of God, in the next two hours, I mean in the next hour. We're going to make it to the chapter, and read it, and just make certain comments. The chapter presents, two young men. The young man of Stephen, and the young man of Saul of Tarsus. We know he's a young man because, it says as they were about to kill Stephen and stone him, they laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. So you have two young men in this chapter. Both remarkable young men. Both used of God, eventually. Both remarkable in their gifting, but both of them are enemies at this point.
Stephen is in the Synagogue of the Freedman giving his speech, his message, his apologetic, and Saul of Tarsus happens to be going to that Synagogue in Jerusalem, and is hearing this. He is listening to this, and it will make an impact on him. You couldn't have two more opposite men at this stage. The young man Stephen and the young man Saul of Tarsus. What is dividing them is, the cross. It's like the two thieves, one on either side of the cross of Jesus. One died as a believer, one died as an unbeliever. You couldn't have more opposites. It's the same with Steven and Saul of Tarsus. They're divided by the cross. By chapter 9, that all changes.
He is introduced here, Saul of Tarsus, and from this chapter onward becomes the dominant figure in the book of Acts. Because of his conversion, and how he takes the gospel to the Gentiles. I smile when I say all that. I mentioned young man and young man, because I am convinced, that I always have been even as an older person now, funny to hear myself say that
But Christianity has, for the large part, always been a youth movement. Jesus died at age 33. Between 30 and 33, he was doing his ministry. He attracted young men as disciples around him who could be on the move. They're walking all over that land. There was an excitement, in part, because of the energy of youth. i say that, and I also have to say that, when God does a work, and usually churches are planted by a young men or young couples who go out and they start church. They have the energy and the vision. They go out and do it.
It's also known that over time, if left alone, if left unchanged, that churches historically age out. That is they, they get grayer and unless you intentionally infuse it with youths, younger people, young men like Saul of Tarsus who become Paul the Apostle, and Stephen on fire, filled with the Holy Spirit. It just sort of ages out, and grows old with time, and dies out. Any movement, if you want to follow a biblical pattern, is always on the lookout for those young men and women who are on fire for the Lord. I love when I can see it. I can detect the spark in the eyes. It's like, man, I want to serve the Lord. And there is always a question, and there's always a desire, and there's always a hope, and there's always an expectation. I love seeing that fire in the belly, so to speak, and it's in Stephen, no question.
The sad part, and the part that might make you question the wisdom of God, though you shouldn't, is that, so young with such potential, so powerful, he dies at the end of the chapter. His life is taken. He's the first martyr recorded in history in the book of Acts. And yet, before you say, such a waste, keep in mind it was that seed of that young man's death, that I believe were the goads that Jesus referred to. When he said, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It's hard for you to kick against the goads. I think the goads of conviction at seeing a young man, filled with such conviction, willing to die for his convictions, who indeed did die, and call out and cry out on the Lord Jesus, is what took Saul over the edge, at that moment of his conversion.
Enough said with the introduction. "Then the high priest said, 'are these things so?'" He had just given a few words in the Synagogue. He had powerfully preached a message in part. He's going to do another one. He has taken now before The Sanhedrin, the high priest, probably Caiaphas. Because charges have been leveled against him, he says, are these things so, in other words, how do you plead? Guilty or not guilty?
I'll refresh your memory, Stephen has been accused of four counts of blasphemy in the previous chapter. We don't have to read back, you remember, four counts. They said he blasphemed against God. He blasphemed against Moses. He blasphemed against the law of Moses. And he blasphemed against the temple in Jerusalem. You can't blaspheme more than that. You blasphemed against everything blasphemable. He did it. Now it was a lie, because they couldn't withstand his wisdom. He was so articulate, and so gifted, and so wise, that nobody could out-argue him. He was just brilliant, and filled with the spirit.
When you can't win an argument the old attack is an ad hominem attack, you attack the person. You make up lies. You start a slanderous report, so four counts of blasphemy. The high priest, Caiaphas, says, how do you plead? Are these things so? Here's what I like about Stephen, I like a lot of things about him. Stephen doesn't need much of an opener, or much of an opening, to see that that door is an open door.
The question is, are these things so? He could have said, yes they are. Or no they're not, I'm not blaspheming, and just stopped. But he doesn't. Some people would hear this question, and say, that's not an open door for me. I'm not going to preach here. The Lord has to reveal to me that he wants me to share a strong, powerful witness. Somebody has to say, what must I do to be saved? That is an open door. Stephen didn't need that. He just needs a little question like, is this right? Bam, he's off and running in the races.
For 53 verses he starts going back over the history of Israel from Abraham's call, the giving of the law, the patriarchal period, the temple building. You might wonder, if you're familiar with his chapter, what on earth is he doing? Why is he talking about these things? Here's why. It seems odd to give an apologia, a defense, when your life is on the line. It could cost you your life. The reason is, because he has been accused of those four things, he's going to go over those four things.
In verses 2-16, he's going to talk about God, showing that he's not blaspheming God. In verse 17 on-onward, around verse 42, he's going to address the law of Moses and Moses the law-giver. Then he's going to talk about the temple period and how, they are in this great temple but, God doesn't require a temple. He's covering all of the bases for which he has been accused. Again, we've only covered one verse, I'm sorry, but I am so, can you tell impressed by this young man, and his delivery. So the high priest said, "are these things so?" And he said, "brethren, and fathers," notice how respectful, listen, "The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran. "
He was accused of blaspheming God so, he calls God, the first person he mentions is God. You say I'm blaspheming God, listen to this fathers, brothers, the God of glory appeared. That would set their minds at ease, you would think. That little description of God, the God of glory, is found nowhere in the Bible except one other place, and that Psalm 92. Let me read it to you. I'm sorry Psalm 29, that's a little bit of dyslexia.
Psalm 29, "Give unto the Lord, O you mighty ones, give unto the Lord glory and strength. Give unto the Lord the glory to His name; worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness. The voice of the Lord is over the waters; The God of glory thunders". It's a very famous Psalm of worship written by David. The only other usage of it, is Stephen's usage of it, showing his familiarity with that title in that Text. "The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran and said to him, 'Get out of your country and from your relatives, and come to a land that I will show you.'", quoting Genesis chapter 12.
"'Then he came out of the land of the Chaldeans and he dwelt in Haran'". And from there, when his father was dead, he moved him to this land in which you now dwell. And God gave him no inheritance in it, not even enough to set his foot on. But even when Abraham had no child, He promised to give it to him for a possession, and to his descendants after him.
He was a wanderer. He lived in tents. He didn't own any property. But God said, one, day this will be the home of your people. You're going to have a son. He was childless, remember Sarai, who became Sarah, was barren. He'll be a 100 years old before he has Isaac, but God promised him children, descendants after him. "But God spoke in this way, that his descendants would dwell in a foreign land, and that they would bring them into bondage and oppress them four hundred years. 'And the nation to whom they will be in bondage I will judge,' says God, 'and after that they shall come out and serve Me in this place.", now he's quoting Genesis 15. Just marching through their history, knows it off the top of his head.
"Then he gave them the covenant of circumcision; and so Abraham begot Isaac and circumcised him on the eighth day; Isaac begot Jacob, Jacob begot the twelve patriarchs. 'And the patriarchs, becoming envious, sold Joseph into Egypt. But God was with him, and delivered him out of all his troubles, and gave him favor and wisdom in the presence of Pharaoh, the King of Egypt; and made him governor over Egypt and all of his house'". I don't know if you've ever caught this or not, in reading this chapter, but here's what you need to catch. He's drawing some parallels, he's doing it first with Josef then with moses He's saying, you know, the very person God selected to deliver his people Israel, was the very one the patriarchal leaders rejected. The leaders of the nation of Israel, The Eleven Brothers, rejected Joseph. Joseph was one God selected.
So the one God selected, is the one the nation rejected. He was rejected by his brothers. Now what he's doing, is establishing a pattern. Your fathers did this, the patriarchs did this. They killed the prophets, they were against Moses, they were against Joseph. There is a pattern of the nation rejecting the one God sends to deliver them. "Now a famine and great trouble came over the land of Egypt and Canaan, and our fathers found no sustenance. But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent out our fathers first. So again, you're going to follow this, you're going to watch this, and I want you to look for some of this language. Because, as the patriarchal leaders, The Eleven Brothers, treated Joseph, so the nation of Israel treated Jesus. "He came into his own, and his own received him not." Same pattern of rejection.
Joseph heard that there was grain in Egypt verse 12, "he sent out our fathers first", now watch this, "And the second time Joseph was made known to his brothers, and Joseph's family became known to the Pharaoh. Then Joseph sent and called his Father Jacob and all his relatives to him, seventy-five people. So Jacob went down to Egypt; and he died, he and our fathers. And they were carried back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham bought for a sum of money from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem."
Do hear the language? They came first, but it was the second time that they understood. That's Joseph. They didn't recognize him until his second coming. They rejected him at the first coming. They received him and understood, this is our deliverer, at the second coming. Stephen obviously knows the prophet Zachariah, that they will weep and mourn for those whom they have rejected. And they'll mourn for him, as for an only son. You can see that parallel that he is drawing.
So verse 16, I mentioned, but I want to point something out, "they were carried back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham bought for a sum of money from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem," Here's what's a little confusing, Abraham isn't buried in Shechem, but Shechem was the place that Jacob bought a piece of land from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem, in that place. Joseph, his bones were brought back from Egypt, and placed in Shechem. Jacob's bones were also taken back, but he was placed down in the Cave of Machpelah.
Machpelah, you remember from Genesis, was the cave that Abraham bought to bury his wife Sarah. If you go to that area today called, Hebron, you will see the Tombs of the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are buried there. What he's doing is telescoping two burial events into one, because he's on trial. He could die, and he has a lot of pressure on him. And for brevity, just to shorten up his longest sermon in the book of Acts, just a little bit. He telescope's two burial events into one.
"'But when the time of the promise drew near'", verse 17, " 'which God had sworn to Abraham, the people grew and multiplied in Egypt till another king arose who did not know Joseph. This man dealt treacherously with our people, and oppressed our forefathers, making them expose their babies, so that they may not live.'" He's transitioned from the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, to Moses. Why? Because they accused him of blaspheming Moses, and blaspheming the law of Moses. He takes a little time in going through this period of The Giving of the Law with Moses, because of the accusation.
In effect, what he's saying is, not guilty. Not guilty for blaspheming God. He's the God of glory. Not guilty for blaspheming Moses, Moses received the law from God at Mount Sinai. Verse 20 though, takes us to the time of his childhood. "At that time Moses was born, and was well pleasing to God;". Now, if you were to read the account in the book of Genesis translated from Hebrew, He is quoting the Old Testament, but he's quoting the Septuagint version, the Greek version of the scriptures. Because he's a Greek-speaking Jew.
But in the Hebrew, translated into English, text of your Bible, it says that Moses was a beautiful baby, a beautiful baby boy. I've always liked that text, because just like the text in the Gospel of John, that John wrote, and John calls himself, the disciple Jesus loved. The Book of Exodus was written by Moses. Moses want you to know, that when he was a baby, he was a good-looking baby.
So here's Moses writing, and he was a very beautiful boy. Because of that text, there are traditions that have been passed down. One of the Jewish traditions says that, Moses as a child was so striking in his physical physique, his physical features, that as a child when he would walk down the street, people would stop and stare at him. Because he was just so well-formed and fashioned. That's just hearsay. We don't know if that's true.
The Bible says he was beautiful as a baby. I don't know what that means as an adult. He could've looked gnarly an adult, but he was a beautiful baby boy. Here in the Septuagint, and he's quoting that, he was, "'well pleasing to God; and he was brought up in his father's house for three months. But when he was set out, Pharaoh's daughter took him away and brought him up as her own son.'" Remember, the mom put the baby in that little ark of bullrushes, and put him out on the Nile River. And, pharaoh's daughter took him. "'Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians'", so he was raised in an Egyptian home. "'and was mighty in words and deeds.'"
Here's the thing about Moses and the period of history that Stephen is covering. There was a Pharaoh who did not know the story of Joseph, did not appreciate the background and the contribution of Joseph to Egyptian culture. He had a strategy to deal with the Jewish population of Egypt, much like Hitler's final solution. He thought, let's just kill these babies when they're born. Their babies, let's get rid of these baby boys, because they're populating so fast. Eventually they'll become slaves, but his final solution was to kill them at birth, or shortly after birth. That's a horrible period of history, but God was stirring up his people in Egypt, and raising up a deliverer to deliver them out of bondage.
Again, Stephen is drawing the parallel between Moses and Jesus. You'll see it unfold. "'Now when he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren, the children of Israel.'" Moses didn't hear the call, let me put pull that back, didn't feel called, until he was 40 years old. He wasn't 20-something, he was 40, before he said I've got to do something about this. Now he won't be used by God. He won't really receive God's calling, until he's 80.
You can take Moses's life, we've told you before, and divide up into sections of 40. For the first 40 years, trained in all the wisdom and schooling of Egypt. For 40 years, he was trying to make himself into something. For the next 40 years God takes him to the back side of the desert, and shows him that he's nothing. The last 40 years, God shows Moses that he can take nothing and do something with it. And he becomes the most powerful in his life, when he's just at the end of his rope, totally surrendered to God at an older age.
But when he was 40 it came into his heart to do something about it. When you think of Moses, you probably think of an old guy in a robe, with a kind of a tattered head scarf, an old staff, and a gray beard. But you have to picture him in his primary years as an Egyptian, that's what he looked like. He probably went to the famed Temple of the Sun, the finest institution in Egypt. There he would have learned Egyptian hieroglyphics, the art and science of language through pictures. Egyptian hieroglyphics, he would have learned all the various Canaanite dialects and languages, as well as Egyptian conversation. So
He was taught in that, now, being in the royal family, adopted by the daughter of Pharaoh, some think that it was this Pharaoh that had no son, and so that Moses would have been next in line to become the pharaoh of Egypt. What that means is, that Moses was used to dough rolling in, man. He had cash on hand. He had all the wealth of Egypt, the writer of Hebrews talks about the treasures of Egypt, at Moses's disposal.
If you want a more accurate picture of Moses in his younger years, you have to think of a young, a playboy type, with his own boat, his own chariot, with his personalized license plate, Pharaoh #2 maybe. You know, this guy is just like the coolest cat on the block, rolling in cash. He has it all, he has what people could dream of. Which makes this choice, at age 40, all the more dramatic. You don't have to turn there, unless you feel called to, I already have a pre-marked. You can see by these little yellow markers. I kind of cheat before I get here. But in the book of Hebrews, chapter 11, in the Hall of Faith, or the Hall of Fame of Faith, it tells us about Moses.
It says this, "by faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child, and they were not afraid of the King's commandment. By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter". Choosing. OK, stop right there. He gave up all of his education, all of his wealth, all of a status, next in line for the throne of Egypt perhaps. He gave it all up. We're dying to know, when you give that much up, what do you choose? What's better than that? Listen to what he chose, he chose rather, "to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin."
Why did he do that? I'm glad you asked. It says, esteeming, he figured, he esteemed. He thought about it. He esteemed, "the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward. By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the King; for he endured, as seeing Him who is in visible." From a worldly perspective, he gave up everything got nothing. From a spiritual perspective, he gave up nothing and got everything. Because his values are switched.
I'm part of the people of God. I want to be in the will of God. Does it matter if I'm in the Midianite desert? If I'm in the will of God, that's better than being in Hawaii on the beach. Being anywhere beautiful, or lovely, or enriched, outside of the will of God is always a step down. Being in the will of God, if it cost you and you suffer for it, is always a step up. That's the meaning of it. And that's how profound it is when Stephen says, when he came of age, or when he was 40 years, it came into his heart to visit his brother and the children of Israel.
And seeing one of them, verse 24, "'suffer wrong he defended, and avenged him who was oppressed, and struck down the Egyptian.'" We're going through Chapter 1, 2, and 3 of Exodus. "'And seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended and avenged him who was oppressed, and struck down the Egyptian. For he supposed that his brethren would have understood that God would deliver them by his hand, but they did not understand. And the next day he appeared to two of them as they were fighting, and tried to reconcile them, saying, "Men, you are brothers; why do you wrong one another?" But he who did his neighbor wrong pushed him away, saying, "Who made you a ruler and a judge over us?"'" Sounds a lot like what they said to Christ. "Who made you a ruler and a judge over us?"
"'"Do you want to kill me as you did the Egyptian yesterday?" Then, at this saying Moses fled.'" The next 40 years of his life, "'became a dweller in the land of Midian, where he had two sons.'" So he flees from Egypt to Northwestern Saudi Arabia, that's Midian, on the Western shore of the Eastern leg of the Red Sea, in that area. He was there for 40 years in obscurity. I just want to briefly touch on this. Moses thought he was ready. Man, I feel like I need to do this, and I'm the guy to deliver these people. I'm one of them. And so he set out to do it, in the energy of his flesh, because he figured, I've been to school, man. I've been to the Temple of the Sun. Hello? Best school in town, thank you. Graduated with honors. Son of Pharaoh's daughter, thank you very much. Number one or number two. Eventually number one.
He had all of the training physically, but God is calling him to his spiritual work, and if you try to do the work of God, of spiritual work, in the energy of your flesh. Though that can contribute to your gifting, if you try to do it alone in the energy the flesh, you'll be a failure. He was refined, but he was not ready. He had the BA degree, and the Bachelor of Science degree, and the Master of Arts degree, but God gives him the third degree.
And the third degree is the BD degree, the backside of the desert degree. God has taken him to school, old style. He's going to learn from the Lord what it means to be a leader. I wonder what the headlines of the Cairo Gazette read when Moses fled town. I mean he was so well-known, so renowned. Next in line for some government occupation, maybe the Pharaoh. Very wealthy, and he leaves, and he goes to the desert to become a shepherd. Maybe the headline said, boy born with silver spoon trades it in for wooden staff. Something like that, that's sort of a headline. He trades in the silver spoon status of wealth for the shepherd's staff, the shepherd's crook, on the back side of the desert.
"'And when the forty years had passed, an Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire in a bush, in the wilderness of Mount Sinai. When Moses saw it, he marveled at the sight;'" I would too. "'And as he drew near to observe, the voice of the Lord came to him, saying, "I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob." And Moses trembled and dared not look. And the Lord said to him, "take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground."'"
I can't tell you how that verse has spoken to me over the years. When I complain about my situation or my environment, maybe you woke up this morning and you've recently moved to Albuquerque, and think, I hate it here. Especially when it gets colder, and the brown becomes browner. And you start grumbling and complaining. Here's the principle, ordinary surroundings get lifted to extraordinary status when God is present. It's heaven on earth if God called you there. And I'll prove it to you, just try to go somewhere God hasn't. And you'll go, oh, man, where is that burning bush? Where is that Midianite desert, man? Nothing looked like heaven as much as that Midianite desert.
So he's out in the middle of nowhere but, hey you're on holy ground Bubba, take those sandals off. It was a time of worship. What's up with the burning bush? Why a burning bush? An acacia bush I'm guessing, because that was a desert shrub, a very thorny bush. There's an Acacia Bush, wispy kind of branches, thorns on it, and there's fire in it, but it's not consuming. And it's not turning black or brown, or dying out, it just burning, and burning, and burning. What's up with that?
It could be as simple as this, because I don't know. But, I'm guessing now. This is my guess. The burning bush was emblematic of the presence of God, because the voice said, you're on holy ground, take your shoes off. It was the Voice of the Angel of God. A burning fire was sometimes emblematic of the presence of God. Mount Sinai, there was fire, lightning, and thunder. That was all emblematic, symbolic, of the glory of God, the glory of the God of Glory. God was present in His pure light, in His Holiness, and so fire becomes a symbol.
Here is Moses, who has burned out trying to do God's work in the energy of his flesh. He has gone up in flames, so to speak, and God is here to say, I'm here to light your fire, dude. This burning bush represents your life, not just My presence, but your life in My presence. You're going to burn, and burn, and not burn out, because I'm going to infuse you, at an old age, and you're going to be called into your older years, and you're going to keep going to 120. You're going to burn, but not be consumed. You're going to burn, but not burn out. That's what I think it it's emblematic of. I love the symbolism, I'm going to rekindle your fire.
God continues, and he quotes that in verse 34, "'I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt; I have heard their groaning and I have come down to deliver them. And now, I will send you to Egypt.'" That is one of my favorite verses. That is such a sermon. I wish I could preach right now. It's so good. I think I preached one sermon on this text, years ago, but it preaches itself. The outlines are built into it. It's just so good how God put that.
But, who cares if I can preach a sermon or not, verse 35, "'This Moses whom they rejected'", now watch this again, he's drawing that parallel with Christ, "'This Moses whom they rejected,'", they rejected him the first time, they'll receive him and recognize him the second time, as, "'Moses whom they rejected, saying "Who made you a ruler and a judge?" is the one God sent to be a ruler and deliver by the hand of the Angel who appeared to him in the bush.'" See the pattern? The pattern is, this nation of Jewish people has always rejected its profits and deliverers from the patriarchal, through the time of Moses, throughout the Old Testament.
He's setting this up is a pattern, a pattern, a pattern. He's going through their history. Here's something I should have mentioned at the beginning and I didn't The Jews love talking about, their favorite subject to talk about, the Jewish people as a nation, themselves. Here's why. I don't mean that in an arrogant way. I mean sincerely, because they love tracing the work of God through the history of their nation. To a Jewish person, when you start talking about the history of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. That that's their identity. Plus, to many of them, that's their salvation. They believe they are saved by their hereditary status and their story.
And so, in going through this historical narrative, everybody in the synagogue would love it. They are all ears, because they love hearing this story. By the way, this is a pattern set up in, I'm trying to remember, Psalm 78 and Psalm 107. The Psalmist goes through the history, laboriously, of some of the same highlights. Telling the same story. Passing it down to the next generation.
Here's a thought, and I think it's a question I need to answer, because I've had you ask me this question. He says, they rejected Moses, they rejected Joseph, and he's going to say they rejected Christ. You rejected Christ. You're a bunch of stiff necked individuals, disobedient to God. He'll get pretty heavy before they kill him. A lot of people ask this question. If Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, you would think that the Jews would recognize him. If he's predicted in the Old Testament as much as you say he was, why didn't they recognize Him and receive Him? Now, some did. Most did not.
They say, I can't believe Jesus is the Messiah, because the nation of the Jews would have recognized Him. Really? Not if you understand their history. They never recognized deliverers. They always killed the prophet. That's what Jesus said. He said this, in Luke chapter 11, "you build the tombs of the prophets, and your fathers killed them." That's your history. What he's doing is, striking a death blow to traditionalism. The traditionalistic philosophy that says, we respect the teachings of our fathers, and our fathers believed this, and our fathers did that, and we're thankful that our fathers preserved this. Jesus comes along and says, your fathers killed all of God's prophets. Which one did they not kill?
Stephen is following that argument. Up until now, they're all ears. In a minute they'll be all hands on stones. "'He brought them out'", verse 36, "after he had shown them the wonders and signs in the land of Egypt, in the Red Sea, in the wilderness for forty years. This is that Moses, who said to the children of Israel, quoting now, he's pulling out another text. This time he is quoting Deuteronomy 18. "'The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear.'"
For some of you it's fresh enough that you remember our study in Deuteronomy 18. It wasn't too long ago. That was the prediction Moses made before his death. I'm going to die, but God's going to raise up a prophet like me. Now he, Stephen, is saying, that prophet that he spoke about is none other than Jesus Christ. That is why, when John the Baptist comes on the scene, they said, are you the Christ? No. Are you "that" prophet? That's the Deuteronomy 18 prophet predicted.
He's quoting it, "'Him you shall hear.'" in verse 37. Now watch this. You want to see how much Jesus and Moses are alike? Consider this. They tried to kill Moses as a baby. They tried to kill Jesus as a baby. Moses left the royal position of the royal court to be a deliverer among his people. Jesus left the royal position of the royal court of Heaven, making himself of no reputation, or pouring himself out to be among his people. Moses was rejected the first time. Received and accepted the second time. Jesus was rejected by his people the first time. According to Zachariah he will be received and accepted the second time.
Moses became a shepherd. Jesus is called the Good Shepherd. Moses was the mediator of the covenant, The Old Testament, the old covenant Jesus is the mediator of the new covenant. Incredible parallels. "'God will raise up a prophet like me, Him you shall hear.'" That's the prediction for the Jewish nation. Hey nation, hey Israelites. I, Moses, am kicking the bucket. I'm dying. I'm going to be dead here. I'm going to vapor-lock pretty soon. But one day, God's going to raise up a prophet like me. Him you shall hear.
Stephen understands that to be fulfilled in Christ. Verse 38, "'This is he who was in the congregation in the wilderness when the angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, with our fathers, the one who received the living oracles to give us, whom our fathers would not obey, but rejected. And in their hearts they turned back to Egypt,'" remember all of the complaining that Moses had to put up with? Why did you bring us out here, to die in the wilderness? We want to go back to Egypt. There's that pattern again, "'saying to Aaron, "Make us gods to go before us; as for this Moses who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him."'"
Do you see what Steven is doing? He is affirming his allegiance, not only to God, but to Moses and to the law that Moses gave. That God gave the law, it was mediated by angels, it was received by Moses, it was for the nation. "'And they made a calf in those days, and offered sacrifices to the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their hands. Then God turned and gave them up to worship the host of Heaven, as it is written in the book of the Prophets.'"
Now quoting another Old Testament prophet, a minor prophet, Amos. This guy is all over the place. He's good, "'"Did you offer Me slaughtered animals and sacrifices during the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel? You also took up the tabernacle of Moloch, And the star of your god Remphan, Images which you made to worship; And I will carry you away beyond Babylon."'"
The God Moloch, sometimes called Molek, sometimes called Milkom, goes by a number of names, is a name for a variety of different Canaanite gods. Let me sum it up by saying that. That makes it easier to remember. Many different gods of these cultures were called Malek or Moloch. It's similar to the Hebrew term, Me- lech. Me- lech is king. It means ruler. King or. Ruler Moloch or Milkom is said to refer to a specific number of gods. The most accurate translation is, that he is the ruler of shameful deeds.
Why is that? Part of the worship of Moloch was the sacrificing of babies alive. Live babies. Your infant would be placed on the red hot, or white hot arms of a cast iron "god", and it would be heated up to white hot. The baby, alive, was placed on the arms until it was consumed by fire and killed. Fried to death as a form of worship. He is the ruler of shameful acts, or shameful deed.
Remphan is said to be the God of Saturn. He was also worship as one of the many deities. God said, I'm going to give you up to these idols, and you'll go away to Babylon. "'Our fathers'", verse 44, "'had the tabernacle in the wilderness, as He appointed, instructing Moses to make it according to the pattern that he had seen'", God gave them the blueprints. "'Which your fathers, having received it in turn, also brought with Joshua into the land possessed by the Gentiles, whom God drove out before the face of our fathers until the days of David, who found favor before God and asked to find a dwelling for the God of Jacob. But Solomon built him a house.'"
Now he's talking about the temple. Do you see his little outline? Let me tell you about the God of glory, because you said, I am a blasphemer of God. I'm not. I love him. He's the God, your God, our God. You said, I blasphemed Moses and the law. Let me tell you about the law. Let's go through that. You said, that I blasphemed the temple. Now he's talking about the temple era.
Here's something interesting about the temple. God never commanded them to build it. I just want to throw that out and let it settle, and sizzle a little bit. He did command them to build one structure and that was the Tabernacle. Very humble, cloth structure. Very temporary. The temple was David's idea. God wouldn't let David build it. He said Solomon would build it, and he did. The temple was great. They worshiped God in the temple. It's wonderful to look at the Temple Mount today and consider it. But God never ordered them to build it. He was happy in a cloth tent. He was happy in the Tabernacle.
So, a temple was built, and sadly the Jews over-venerated the temple. I don't know if you've ever perused some of the ancient literature about what the Jews said about the temple. It's almost as if, we worship God, and the temple as much as God. For example the Mishnah said, he who has never seen Herod's temple, has never seen a beautiful building. They talked about all these superstitions about the temple. What's interesting about that, is the one who built the temple, Solomon. When he dedicated it second chronicles chapter 2 says, you made the Heavens and the Earth, what kind of a temple am I going to make for you? I can't make anything big enough or grand enough for the God who inhabits Heaven and Earth He brings that up.
"'Solomon built him a house.'", verse 48, "'However, the Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands'", That's a direct quote out of 2 Chronicles 2, spoken by Solomon. This guy knows his Bible. "'as the prophet says'", now he's quoting Isaiah. "'"Heaven is My throne, earth is My footstool. What house will you build for Me. says the Lord, And what is the place of My rest? Has My hand not made all these things?"'" His historical part is done. The application part of the sermon begins.
This is where the people listening to the sermon decide not to approach Stephen afterwards with a handshake, and say, great sermon Stephen. That was awesome! But instead, I'm going to kill you. You are not worthy to live on this earth. And here's why, " 'You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears!' " You don't win friends preaching like that. You won't get a high-five and a handshake after the service. We're not going to die in the service, dude, you are. That was their idea. "You stiff-necked", that sounds like Jesus. "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! " You're all about the outward, not about the inward. You know the woes of Matthew 23.
Now stiff-necked was a term Moses used to describe the people of Israel. Stephen's using the word that Moses, whom they rejected, but no, the law of Moses. Moses! Moses! Moses called y'all stiff-necked. Stiff-necked! He used stiff-necked in Exodus 33 and Deuteronomy 9. And, "uncircumcised". Ouch! Telling a Jewish person, who believes in the covenant of circumcision, you're uncircumcised where you should be circumcised, and that's on the inside. You're all about outward show. You are, "'uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you'", Would you say he's getting his point across?
I've shown you the pattern from patriarchal, through the mosaic period, the legal period, and through the temple period. You've always rejected God. Your fathers always rejected God. You are like your fathers. You always resist the Holy Spirit. "'as your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and the murderers, who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it.'" When they heard these things, they applauded and said good job preacher.
"When they heard these things they were cut to the heart," that's a phrase that speaks of conviction of heart, "and they gnashed at him with their teeth." You know what gnashing is? Grinding. Grr. You know it's that scowl, grumble. Your jaw is tense, that's gnashing. "They gnashed at him with their teeth." This is a preview of coming attractions. They are going to be gnashing their teeth forever. Jesus said, Hell was a place of eternal torment and gnashing of teeth. They're getting some practice. It's sad to think.
"But he, being full of the Holy Spirit." What a contrast. They're filled with hate, filled with rage. He's filled with truth. He's filled with conviction. And he's filled with the Holy Spirit. "Gazed into Heaven and saw," now watch this "the glory of God" Let me tell you about the God of Glory. Wow, I see the glory of God! "And Jesus standing at the right hand of God."
Is there a contradiction? Because, we know from several New Testament passages, Jesus ascended to Heaven and did what at the right hand of God? Sat down. A priest always sat down when the work was done. Work is finished. To tell us, die on the cross. Payment has been made. It's done. I'm done. I'm sitting down. It's over. It's done, finished work. But he saw Jesus stand up. Do you know why? Welcome. Jesus stands up to welcome the first martyr in Christian history into Heaven. It's beautiful. I see Jesus, "'the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!'"
Verse 57, "Then they cried with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord". Does that sound like a bunch of little kid? "And they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul." Saul was so close to the action, probably right up front, with a grin on his face as they took him out to stone him. He probably played a key role in the execution. When you go to Jerusalem with us, there is a gate outside the temple area called, Stephen's Gate, or Lion's Gate. It faces the Mount of Olives toward the East.
Stephen was in that court, speaking to the Sanhedrin. They took him out of the city, and that would probably have been the closest gate area. They stoned him. Jewish stoning, I'm going to make this really short, wasn't simply picking up a few rocks and throwing them at him. They would push him over a 10-foot precipice or higher, and try to have him be crushed or splat on the ground below. If he's still alive, then a large stone would be thrown at the heart to kill the victim. If that didn't work you keep piling stones on him till he's dead. That was the method of execution according to the Jewish Mishnah. "And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God". I get choked up. "Saying, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.' Then he knelt down and cried with a loud voice, 'Lord do not charge them with this sin'", Who does that remind you of?
Father forgive them, they do not know what they are doing. Lord, don't lay this sin to their charge. Praying, interceding for them. "And when he had said this, he fell asleep." What happens to the soul after death? Does it go to sleep? Is it immediately conscious and active? When it says, he fell asleep, what does that mean? That's the little teaser for next time. To be continued. As we get into chapter 8, we'll make mention of the "sleeping" of Stephen, and the Resurrection event of the spirit of Saul of Tarsus. Father thank you for the ability to cover this whole chapter. Thank you for that grace. Thank you, Lord, that we could, see this impressive young man who was a servant. He is known. One of the Seven, selected, appointed by the early church to give out food and supplies to widows, but so capable in the word. So filled with the spirit. So filled with conviction. They couldn't withstand his wisdom, as we see in chapter 6, and his face emanated the glory of the God of Glory while he spoke. Only to see it, as he was on his way to Heaven, as he was leaving this earth, Jesus standing up to welcome him. Father I pray for every single person. No matter what they have gone through, are going through, dealing with in their life. Whatever struggle, whatever hardship, whatever heartache, whatever anticipation. That their life would be lived for the God of Glory, and in so doing, they would be able to taste and experience the glory of God. In Jesus' name, Amen!