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Feb 25 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

February 21, 2016 – Acts Chapter 7

The Faith And Flaws of Our Fathers

The high priest said, “Are these things so?” And [Stephen] 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, and said to him, ‘Leave your country and your relatives, and come into the land that I will show you.’ Then he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran. From there, after his father died, God had him move to this country in which you are now living. But He gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot of ground, and yet, even when he had no child, He promised that He would give it to him as a possession, and to his descendants after him. But God spoke to this effect, that his descendants would be aliens in a foreign land, and that they would be enslaved and mistreated for four hundred years. And whatever nation to which they will be in bondage I Myself will judge,’ said God, ‘and after that they will come out and serve Me in this place.'”  Acts 7:1-3

Intro: This chapter is obviously a continuation of last week’s episode

When the high priest asks, “Are these things so?” what “things” is he referring to?
– the charges leveled against Stephen; namely, that he spoke against:
• Moses, God, the temple and the Law (6:11, 13)
• and that he said Jesus would

destroy this place [the temple] and alter customs which Moses handed down to us. (Acts 6:11-14)

◦ Stephen had not said these things
◦ but they are what the prejudiced ears of  his accusers heard
– now Stephen is given opportunity to defend himself
• rather than begin by correcting them regarding what he actually said,
◦ he took them back to their ancient roots
• he will make his defence by weaving into an account of biblical history

Verses 1-8, Abraham was the father of their race and faith

Stephen said it was “the God of glory” who appeared to Abraham
– although this is merely an introductory statement, it makes a point
• one of the accusations against Stephen is immediately contradicted
◦ i.e., that he spoke against God — his reverence for God is clear
– he reminds the Council that Abraham moved at God’s call
• as early as Abraham, God had a plan
◦ Stephen will trace that plan through the rest of his speech
• he moves quickly through Isaac, Jacob and Jacob’s sons (the twelve patriarchs)
◦ God’s plan was unfolding through their lives too

Verses 9-16, Stephen slows down when narrating Joseph’s story

Joseph suffered a lot at the hands of his brothers
– his first few years in Egypt were also difficult, Yet God was with him
– God carried his plan forward through his life

Verses 17-44, Moses takes up the longest section of Stephen’s speech

This is commensurate with the importance given to Moses
– in sheer volume, this biographical sketch disproves another accusation
• that he had spoken blasphemous words against Moses
– there are two critical points in this part of his speech we want to notice:

  1. First, in verses 35-40 it is remarkable how he accentuates Moses
    This Moses . . . is the one
    This man led them out
    This is the Moses who said God would raise up a prophet like himself
    (he slips this in without highlighting its implication as Peter did, 3:21-22)
    This is the one who was with the people and received the Law
    This Moses–quoting Israel when the abandoned him
    – his respect for Moses could not be more clear
    – also, another accusation is refuted
    ◦ his reference to the Law as living oracles delivered by an angel
    ◦ it was unlikely that he would ever speak against such a Law
  2. Second, in verse 44, God directed Moses to make a sacred tent
    ◦ this sets up the next section, which disproves another accusation

Verses 45-50, Move quickly through Joshua, David and Solomon

Joshua brought the sacred tent into the land
– David wanted to upgrade it to a building in a permanent location
• then, it was Solomon who actually built the (first) temple
• the accusation that Stephen spoke against the temple was patently false
– but then Stephen makes a biblical point regarding temple they forgot
• that from the start God’s presence in the temple provisional (2 Chr. 7:17-22)
◦ God, could abandon the temple as he had the sanctuary at Shiloh (Jer. 7:9-12)
◦ with or without a temple, God is not homeless
• God cannot be housed in one exclusive residence
◦ Solomon’s grasp of this truth is evident in his dedication prayer

But will God indeed dwell on earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You, how much less this house which I have built? (1 Ki. 7:28)

◦ It is Isaiah, however, that Stephen quotes:

Thus says the LORD,
“Heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool.
Where then is a house you could build for Me?
And where is a place that I may rest?
For My hand made all these things,
Thus all these things came into being,” declares the LORD.
“But to this one I will look,
To him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word.” 
(Is. 66:1-2)

– Stephen did not complete the entire quote, but we can see where it is going
• it is not praying in the temple that makes a person acceptable to God
◦ it is what is in the heart and devotion to his word
• at this point, Stephen’s defense makes a bold turn

Perhaps it is human nature to think we must cage God
– some believers assume they have God boxed within their theology
• they deny that he acts outside their doctrinal framework
◦ a framework that defines what God can and cannot do
• others think God works only in their church, its programs, or its rituals
– in scripture, God revealed himself to anyone he chose to reveal himself
• to people not even looking for him — including Moses, Gideon, and Paul
• we live in the universe God’s hand has made,
◦ but he’ll never be forced to reside in anything we make

Verses 51-53, Stephen turns the tables and incriminates them

You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did. Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it.

This reveals another strategy in his historical overview besides his own defense
– Stephen has peppered his speech with reverences to our fathers
• he repeatedly links them to their history
◦ the land Abraham was promised is the country in which you are now living
◦ the living oracles Moses received were passed on to you
• so it was our fathers who:

  • were jealous of Joseph (v. 9)
  • disowned Moses (vv. 27 & 35)
  • were unwilling to obey Moses and pushed him aside (v. 39)
  • who turned from God to idols (v. 41)

◦ their history reveals a pattern of resistance and rebellion
– Jesus had leveled this same charge against the Pharisees and scribes

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, “If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets. So you testify against yourselves, that you are the sons of those who murdered the prophets. (Mt. 23:29-31)

Did Stephen go too far? too direct & confrontational?
– or was his indictment prophetic?

Klyne Snodgrass observed that in the parable of the vineyard and its greedy tenants (Mt. 21:33-44), Jesus used “a typical prophetic method of operation. Israel’s past is the lens through which the parable announces a warning of urgency and judgment on those who oppose God.”

• it is in the lens of the past that Stephen brings charges against his accusers
• whether the prophetic word refers to events in the distant future or past,
◦ it always had a message that was directed at the immediate audience
◦ Stephen was pressing home the prophetic message for that moment

Verses 54-60, Through a rapid sequence of scenes, the story ends

The Council interrupted Stephen
– at the same time, his attention was turned for them to heaven
• the opening of the heavens was rare, but it did occur (Eze. 1:1; Lk. 3:21)
– when Stephen described his vision, it pushed them over edge
• if they had been a panel of judges, they now became a mob

Although Stephen’s message was prophetic, he parted from them in his death
– Zechariah (whom Jesus referenced in Mt. 23:34-36) with his last breath said,

May the LORD see and avenge! (2 Ch. 24:22)

• in Stephen’s last words, he followed Jesus’ example rather than Zechariah’s

“Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” Having said this, he fell asleep

Conc: How was it Stephen could set himself apart from the Council?

In verse 51, Stephen had made a distinct shift
– he no longer said our fathers, but you and your fathers
• he had taken up sides with God’s Son and the prophets
◦ and because he found a position outside his culture,
◦ he could see it more clearly than those trapped within it
• Stephen somehow overcame his history and the patterns of the past
– in Israel, history is memory and memory is identity
• to lose one’s memory, as in fugue state amnesia, is to lose one’s self
◦ in these states, people cannot remember their own names
• Stephen saw the failures in his shared history and turned  from it
◦ in doing so, he found his true self

For many years I was tortured by my own history and memory of it
– I hated the person I became whenever I fell back into it
• my perceived identity was not my true self
– Jesus debated with a hostile crowd regarding who was actually their father
• first they claimed that Abraham was their father and then God (Jn. 8:39, 41)
◦ but Jesus disproved both of those assertions (Jn. 8:33-45)
◦ it is as if he were telling them, “I know who you are, but do you know who you are?”
– merely remembering our history does not fix or change us
• we can hate our past and yet continue to repeat it
◦ breaking from our past requires some re-vision
◦ we need to look with new eyes, in a new light, for a new goal

Daniel Siegel, “. . . we know from science that how you focus your attention can change both how a brain becomes activated and now a brain changes its structure.”

• suggestions for refocusing our attention:

Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession . . . (Heb. 3:1)

. . . let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb. 12:1-2)

Any time, anywhere we can focus our awareness on this truth

Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it. (Gen. 28:16)

Did you catch what Stephen did at the beginning and end of his speech?
– he began with the God of glory and ended seeing the glory of God
– that is what this focused attention does — it takes us from glory to glory (2 Cor. 3:18)

Choose faith, and sight will come

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