Acts 7:1 – 8:1a
7 Then the high priest questioned Stephen. “Is what these people are saying true?” he asked. 2 “Brothers and fathers, listen to me!” Stephen replied. “The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham. At that time Abraham was still in Mesopotamia. He had not yet begun living in Harran. 3 ‘Leave your country and your people,’ God said. ‘Go to the land I will show you.’ (Genesis 12:1) 4 “So Abraham left the land of Babylonia. He settled in Harran. After his father died, God sent Abraham to this land where you are now living. 5 God didn’t give him any property here. He didn’t even give him enough land to set his foot on. But God made a promise to him and to all his family after him. He said they would possess the land. The promise was made even though at that time Abraham had no child. 6 Here is what God said to him. ‘For 400 years your family after you will be strangers in a country not their own. They will be slaves and will be treated badly. 7 But I will punish the nation that makes them slaves,’ God said. ‘After that, they will leave that country and worship me here.’ (Genesis 15:13,14) 8 Then God made a covenant with Abraham. God told him that circumcision would show who the members of the covenant were. Abraham became Isaac’s father. He circumcised Isaac eight days after he was born. Later, Isaac became Jacob’s father. Jacob had 12 sons. They became the founders of the 12 tribes of Israel. 9 “Jacob’s sons were jealous of their brother Joseph. So they sold him as a slave. He was taken to Egypt. But God was with him. 10 He saved Joseph from all his troubles. God made Joseph wise. He helped him to become the friend of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. So Pharaoh made Joseph ruler over Egypt and his whole palace. 11 “There was not enough food for all Egypt and Canaan. This brought great suffering. Jacob and his sons couldn’t find food. 12 But Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt. So he sent his sons on their first visit. 13 On their second visit, Joseph told his brothers who he was. Pharaoh learned about Joseph’s family. 14 After this, Joseph sent for his father Jacob and his whole family. The total number of people was 75. 15 Then Jacob went down to Egypt. There he and his family died. 16 Some of their bodies were brought back to Shechem. They were placed in a tomb Abraham had bought. He had purchased it from Hamor’s sons at Shechem. He had purchased it for a certain amount of money. 17 “In Egypt the number of our people grew and grew. It was nearly time for God to make his promise to Abraham come true. 18 Then ‘a new king came to power in Egypt. Joseph didn’t mean anything to him.’ (Exodus 1:8) 19 The king was very evil and dishonest with our people. He treated them badly. He forced them to throw out their newborn babies to die. 20 “At that time Moses was born. He was not an ordinary child. For three months he was taken care of by his family. 21 Then he was placed outside. But Pharaoh’s daughter took him home. She brought him up as her own son. 22 Moses was taught all the knowledge of the people of Egypt. He became a powerful speaker and a man of action. 23 “When Moses was 40 years old, he decided to visit the people of Israel. They were his own people. 24 He saw one of them being treated badly by an Egyptian. So he went to help him. He got even by killing the man. 25 Moses thought his own people would realize that God was using him to save them. But they didn’t. 26 The next day Moses saw two Israelites fighting. He tried to make peace between them. ‘Men, you are both Israelites,’ he said. ‘Why do you want to hurt each other?’ 27 “But the man who was treating the other one badly pushed Moses to one side. He said, ‘Who made you ruler and judge over us? 28 Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?’ (Exodus 2:14) 29 When Moses heard this, he escaped to Midian. He lived there as an outsider. He became the father of two sons there. 30 “Forty years passed. Then an angel appeared to Moses in the flames of a burning bush. This happened in the desert near Mount Sinai. 31 When Moses saw the bush, he was amazed. He went over for a closer look. There he heard the Lord say, 32 ‘I am the God of your fathers. I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.’ (Exodus 3:6) Moses shook with fear. He didn’t dare to look. 33 “Then the Lord said to him, ‘Take off your sandals. You must do this because the place where you are standing is holy ground. 34 I have seen my people beaten down in Egypt. I have heard their groans. I have come down to set them free. Now come. I will send you back to Egypt.’ (Exodus 3:5,7,8,10) 35 “This is the same Moses the two men of Israel would not accept. They had said, ‘Who made you ruler and judge?’ But God himself sent Moses to rule the people of Israel and set them free. He spoke to Moses through an angel. The angel had appeared to him in the bush. 36 So Moses led them out of Egypt. He did wonders and signs in Egypt, at the Red Sea, and for 40 years in the desert. 37 “This is the same Moses who spoke to the Israelites. ‘God will send you a prophet,’ he said. ‘He will be like me. He will come from your own people.’ (Deuteronomy 18:15) 38 Moses was with the Israelites in the desert. He was with the angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai. Moses was with our people of long ago. He received living words to pass on to us. 39 “But our people refused to obey Moses. They would not accept him. In their hearts, they wished they were back in Egypt. 40 They told Aaron, ‘Make us a god who will lead us. This fellow Moses brought us up out of Egypt. But we don’t know what has happened to him!’ (Exodus 32:1) 41 That was the time they made a statue to be their god. It was shaped like a calf. They brought sacrifices to it. They even enjoyed what they had made with their own hands. 42 But God turned away from them. He let them go on worshiping the sun, moon and stars. This agrees with what is written in the book of the prophets. There it says, “ ‘People of Israel, did you bring me sacrifices and offerings for 40 years in the desert? 43 You have taken with you the shrine of your false god Molek. You have taken with you the star of your false god Rephan. You made statues of those gods to worship. So I will send you away from your country.’ (Amos 5:25–27) God sent them to Babylon and even farther. 44 “Long ago our people were in the desert. They had with them the holy tent. The tent was where the tablets of the covenant law were kept. Moses had made the holy tent as God had commanded him. Moses made it like the pattern he had seen. 45 Our people received the tent from God. Then they brought it with them when they took the land of Canaan. God drove out the nations that were in their way. At that time Joshua was Israel’s leader. The tent remained in the land until David’s time. 46 David was blessed by God. So David asked if he could build a house for the God of Jacob. 47 But it was Solomon who built the temple for God. 48 “But the Most High God does not live in houses made by human hands. As God says through the prophet, 49 “ ‘Heaven is my throne. The earth is under my control. What kind of house will you build for me? says the Lord. Where will my resting place be? 50 Didn’t my hand make all these things?’ (Isaiah 66:1,2) 51 “You stubborn people! You won’t obey! You won’t listen! You are just like your people of long ago! You always oppose the Holy Spirit! 52 Was there ever a prophet your people didn’t try to hurt? They even killed those who told about the coming of the Blameless One. And now you have handed him over to his enemies. You have murdered him. 53 The law you received was given by angels. But you haven’t obeyed it.” 54 When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they became very angry. They were so angry they ground their teeth at Stephen. 55 But he was full of the Holy Spirit. He looked up to heaven and saw God’s glory. He saw Jesus standing at God’s right hand. 56 “Look!” he said. “I see heaven open. The Son of Man is standing at God’s right hand.” 57 When the Sanhedrin heard this, they covered their ears. They yelled at the top of their voices. They all rushed at him. 58 They dragged him out of the city. They began to throw stones at him to kill him. The people who had brought false charges against Stephen took off their coats. They placed them at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 While the members of the Sanhedrin were throwing stones at Stephen, he prayed. “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,” he said. 60 Then he fell on his knees. He cried out, “Lord! Don’t hold this sin against them!” When he had said this, he died. 8 And Saul had agreed with the Sanhedrin that Stephen should die. On that day the church in Jerusalem began to be attacked and treated badly. All except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.
The apostles got more than they expected when they appointed Stephen to oversee distribution of food. There’s no mention of food, but a huge impact from the Holy Spirit speaking powerfully through him in miracles and signs and wisdom and a message that could not be refuted.
The council got more than they expected too. I’m sure they anticipated “Sorry, sir. Didn’t mean to say that, sir. Won’t happen again, sir.” What they got was a brilliant summation of Israel’s journey with God. (Their accusations are starting to look pretty foolish now.) And a challenge: You accused me of opposing Moses, but you killed Jesus, the Messiah Moses and the prophets foretold.
Stephen’s message is similar to Peter’s at Pentecost. It can only have one of two responses: either repentance (as it did at Pentecost), or rejection. His vision of the risen Son of Man made that choice starker: Here he is now. How are you going to respond?
Am I a Stephen? I suspect I might have wimped out and gone for a more conciliatory defence. It looks like things turned out badly for Stephen. Was the bold approach the right one?
An immediate consequence was that the disciples and the gospel spread out from Jerusalem. The consequences for the young Saul take a little longer. But when the risen Jesus appears to him too, he already knows who it is and what choice he needs to make. Saul (becoming Paul) picks up where Stephen left off: arguing the case in the synagogue and speaking the truth boldly.
Father, I’m so grateful the gospel did come to the Gentiles (like me). I’m so grateful for Stephen and Paul’s boldness in telling the truth. Give me the wisdom and courage and power of your Spirit to be a Stephen (except maybe for the stoning).
Written by David Cornell