Acts chapter 7, Acts chapter 7. Now, just looking at it, you get the picture. It is a long chapter, but we’re not going to be literally ragging our way through this chapter. That’s not necessary because it is not intended to be studied in the minutia of every detail. It’s the big picture that we’re after here, and so we’ll go through it in just a couple of weeks or so. To begin with, and I’m not going to pre-read this chapter. We’ll take it kind of as it comes. I think that’s kind of an exciting way to take it and see how it unfolds.
One of the things that Christians are responsible to do, and we see it in what Stephen is doing here is what Peter said. “Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asks a reason for the hope that is in you with meekness and fear,” right? 1 Peter 3:15. We always need to be able to give an answer to the people who ask us for a reason why we believe what we believe. We need to be able to defend the faith. We need to be able to articulate it. The effective Christian, the effective Christian is one who can articulate the truth and defend what he believes biblically and reasonably.
We call this apologetics. Why do we call it apologetics? Are we apologizing? No. It comes from the Greek apologia. It means to speak in defense of, to give a defense, to speak on behalf of. It’s a preposition and logo or logos or speech. Apologetics is a speech in defense, and we as believers, this is why it is so absolutely critical that we not sentimentalize Christianity. We have to give a reasonable, biblical defense for our faith; not some kind of pie in the sky emotional romanticized idea that has nothing to do with truth. That reason has to rise out of divine revelation. In this chapter, Stephen gives a defense of the faith, and it rises in total from his Bible. By the way, the only Bible Stephen had was the Old Testament. Like the other disciples, he had come to understand how the entire Old Testament led to Jesus Christ.
You remember, I’ve told you this before, the disciples didn’t understand the Old Testament. In the four gospels, they don’t refer to the Old Testament. They don’t preach, but boy when the book of Acts opens, now that Christ has taught them the Old Testament, they just explode with quotes from the Old Testament. And here is Stephen; everything he says is taken from his Bible, from the Old Testament. He is defending himself to Jews, and he starts with the Old Testament. Later on, the apostle Paul will defend himself to pagans who don’t have the Old Testament, so he starts his defense of God from reason, from Creation, and moves to the revelation in Scripture.
But for Stephen, who is talking to Jews, his defense and his proclamation — and it is both a defense and a proclamation — is from the Old Testament. This is necessary for all of us, but especially for those in spiritual leadership. In Titus 1:9 we have principles, standards, characteristics, requirements for those who lead in the church, for elders. They must “hold fast the faithful word, which is in accordance with the doctrine.” They have to be doctrinally sound and doctrinally faithful, “So that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.”
You have to be able to report, proclaim, declare sound doctrine, and you have to be able to refute error to be an elder. Why? Verse 10, “For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers, and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision who must be silenced.” How do you silence a deceiver? By overwhelming him in an argument. You silence a deceiver with the truth. They must be silenced. Why? “Because their deceptions are upsetting whole families teaching things they should not teach for the sake of - ” what? Money. We expect that from false teachers, but how is it that people responsible for the truth do things like propagate error for the sake of money?
That’s why elders, all elders and all pastors have to be able both to proclaim sound doctrine and refute error. We have to give a defense, an apologia. In Acts 25:16, Paul stands before Agrippa, and he has to defend himself and his gospel. He starts by saying, “I have the right essentially to give an apologia. I have a right to give a speech in my defense.” In Acts 22 earlier, he’s before a mob in Jerusalem and he gives – the word is used again – another apologia, a defense speech in the face of a mob in Jerusalem.
This is what Paul did everywhere he went. On the one hand, he proclaimed the truth. On the other hand, he defended the truth against error by unmasking error. Philippians 1:7, “For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense,” the apologia, “and confirmation of the gospel, you are all partakers of grace with me.” That’s what he did. Positively, confirmed the gospel. Negatively, he defended the gospel. Jude put it this way, “Earnestly contend for the faith.”
Well, there was a defender of the faith before Paul. Paul is the great defender of the faith in the New Testament, but there was a defender of the faith before Paul. There was one who gave a speech in defense and also a confirmation of the gospel, and that is none other than Stephen. Now, what launched this? Well, you remember Stephen was a foreign Jew, a Jew living in a foreign land. He was selected along with six other men because some of the Jews from other lands outside Israel, some of them were widows, and they weren’t getting a fair share of food. The food that was given to widows was maybe inordinately going to the Jerusalem/Judea widows, and not to the Hellenist widows. So the twelve, the disciples, the eleven plus now Matthias were concerned that it equally be distributed. So they chose seven Hellenistic Jews who would be over that ministry.
These seven were really unique. Verse 3 says, “They need to be of good reputation,” chapter 6. “Good reputation, full of the Spirit, full of wisdom,” and so they chose them. Verse 5 gives their names, the two that we know because we meet them immediately, Stephen and Philip. Stephen in chapter 7 and Philip in chapter 8 are familiar to us. The rest of the names never appear again. But Stephen, in verse 5, is a man full of faith, full of the Holy Spirit. Twice it designates full of the Spirit. Then full of faith. Then full of wisdom.
Now, as we saw last time, Stephen is not classically a deacon. He is more than a deacon, but he serves like one caring for widows. Heis less than an apostle, but the Lord extended apostolic miracle power to him and to Philip. He is not a prophet, technically, but he is a great preacher. Through the apostles and people like Philip and Stephen and the rest, verse 7 of 6 says, “The Word of God kept on spreading. The number of disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem.” Then in verse 8 it says, “Stephen was full of grace and power.” Full of the Spirit, full of wisdom, good reputation, full of faith, full of grace, full of power. What an amazing guy! And he is having an impact. Well, the impact is felt, so in verse 9, “Some men from what was called the Synagogue of the Freedmen including both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and argued with Stephen.”
Now, remember, he’s a foreign Jew. He’s a Hellenistic Jew. He’s part of the Greek world outside Israel, so his gospel ministry, he’s going back to people from his part of the world. So he’s going to these synagogues of the non-Israeli Jews, those who have come from other countries. Maybe they are there on a pilgrimage. Maybe they’ve relocated there and they’re there permanently, but they speak a different language. So they set up a synagogue, I told you last time. Almost 500 synagogues existed at this time in Jerusalem.
Verse 10 says, “They were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.” He won the argument. He won the debate. He won the discussion. When it says, “They argued with Stephen,” it doesn’t really mean haranguing argument. It means a reasonable discussion, and he outdid them. They were unable to cope with him. So they couldn’t cope with him. It’s an old deal in debate if you can’t win the argument, what do you do? You attack the person, right? This is called ad hominem, the old Latin term. We’ve all experienced it when we’ve been in some kind of conflict.
So, “They secretly induced men to say, ‘We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses sand against God.’” Well, he didn’t speak blasphemous words against Moses. He didn’t speak blasphemous words against God. This is lies, false accusation. They then, “Stirred up the people, the elders and the scribes, and they came up to him and dragged him away, and brought him before the Sanhedrin Council.” Then, “They put forward false witnesses who said, ‘This man incessantly speaks against this holy place,’” the temple, “‘and the Law.’”
Okay, four accusations. He speaks against God. He speaks against Moses. He speaks against the law, and he speaks against the temple. There’s nothing left to blaspheme. That’s it. If you’ve blasphemed God, Moses, the law, and the temple, you’ve done it all. “For we have heard him,” because he says, “this Nazarene, Jesus, will destroy this place and alter the customs which Moses handed down to us.” And, of course, they came from God. “And fixing their gaze on him,” and I love this, “all who were sitting in the Sanhedrin saw his face like the face of an angel.” Tranquil, calm, peaceful, transcendent.
But he is now in the Sanhedrin. He’s only been a Christian for weeks or months at the most, and what he unpacks here in these opening verses is a stunning understanding of the Old Testament. He didn’t acquire that in the few weeks since he was saved. He’s a Jew and he knows his Old Testament. The accusation, of course, is that he has blasphemed all that is sacred to Judaism: God, Moses, the law, and the temple. So, he is now going to have to defend himself.
The high priest, who is Caiaphas says to him, “Are these things true? Have you blasphemed God, Moses, the law, and the temple? Have you done that?” They don’t know what they’ve got on their hands. Maybe they expected some kind of withering plea for mercy. They didn’t get it. They should have gathered some insight from the fact that he completely overwhelmed the people in the synagogue, according to verse 10. They couldn’t cope with his wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking, but they think they’re going to put him on trial before the most elite literate biblically acute people in the land.
They are angry; so angry, that they call him a blasphemer and blasphemers are to be what? Executed. So chapter 7 is Stephen’s apologia speech in defense of. Drawn out of his Bible, the Old Testament, it is more than a defense. It becomes a powerful offensive sermon leading to Christ. It is a masterpiece. By the way, again, it validates the Old Testament. He doesn’t use philosophical arguments. He doesn’t use rational arguments. He just marches through the text of Scripture. And everything Stephen refers to is a New Testament validation of the Old Testament.
Now, he has several objectives in mind. Objective number one is to get them to listen to him. That’s always the objective, to get them to listen to him. So how do you do that? You hook them on something they’re highly interested in. He does that by going immediately into their history. He’s familiar with them, and he finds places where they see he agrees with the way they understand Scripture. He finds points of agreement with them. He starts with Scripture, and he makes clear that the things that are precious in Scripture to them are precious in Scripture to him. He is not a blasphemer because he believes Scripture. So he gains the interest of his hearers by talking about what’s important to them and agreeing with them.
The second thing he does is answer the charge of blasphemy. He answers the charge of blasphemy. He makes direct positive reference to every particular accusation they drew. The first part is the defense against the blasphemy of God. The second part is a defense against the blasphemy of Moses. The third part is the defense against the blasphemy of the law. Finally, a defense against the blasphemy of the temple. Just plucks them off one at a time.
Now that he has gotten their attention by talking about what’s interesting to them, now that he has found points of agreement, now that he has answered the charges against him of blasphemy by showing he is not a blasphemer; the next thing he needs to do, very important, is turn the table on them and indict them, indict them for blasphemy. How’s he going to do that? By declaring to them that they have committed the ultimate blasphemy of rejecting God and God’s Messiah. It’s powerful, and he turns it on their own heads. He ends up in this incredible thing by saying in verse 51, we’ll jump to the end, “You men 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.”
He indicts the Sanhedrin of Israel for murdering the Messiah. “You, who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it.” You blaspheme God and God’s Son. You blaspheme Moses, the law-giver. You blaspheme the law by rejecting it. You are guilty of bringing your blasphemy into this temple. This is a powerful, powerful sermon. These things are specifically the themes that go through this sermon.
Now, let’s begin by at least looking for a few minutes anyway at how he defends himself against the idea that he blasphemed God. That is exactly what they accused him of in verse 11, blaspheming God. He starts at that point, the highest point. He takes the severest accusation first. Let me start at the highest level. To begin with, Stephen must establish in their minds that he and all Christians he’s speaking on behalf of, are not anti-God. We are not anti-God. The new covenant is not anti-God. The gospel that they had been literally filling Jerusalem with and turning it on its head is not anti-God. If he is not anti-God, then he must be pro-Israel. The new covenant is not anti-God.
Stephen needs to state his belief in God. God the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God, the God of Israel. This is basic. He has to establish that God is who He is revealed in Scripture as the Jews believe, that He is the God who called Israel into existence. He believes in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of Israel. This is capturing their attention at the point of what interests them and what is sacred to them.
So, “Are these things so?” verse 1. Let’s pick up his answer. “And he said, ‘Hear me, brethren and fathers!’” Brethren, probably the majority of the audience would be Jews who had followed into this. It would have been probably a lot of folks from the synagogue and maybe other synagogues of Jews who were living in foreign lands or coming from foreign lands. So there was a majority there of just Jewish people. Then the fathers refers to the officials of the Sanhedrin, the officials of the Sanhedrin. He begins to talk about God and mentions God in the opening 19 times, so we know what the subject is.
He gives God His most exalted title, “The God of glory, the God of glory.” Do you know how many times that title appears in the Old Testament? Well, I’ll tell you. Once. But they all knew where it was. They all knew exactly where it was. Listen, Psalm 29, which they all knew, “Ascribe to the Lord, O sons of the mighty. Ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory due to His name; worship the Lord in holy array. The voice of the Lord is upon the waters;” here it comes, “The God of glory thunders. The Lord is over many waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful. The voice of the Lord is majestic. The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars. Yes, the Lord breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon. He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox. The voice of the Lord hews out flames of fire. The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. The voice of the Lord makes the deer to calve and strips the forest bare; and in His temple everything says, ‘Gory!’ The Lord sat as King at the flood; Yes, the Lord sits as King forever. The Lord will give strength to His people.”
What an amazing declaration of the glory of God. They all knew it. So, I’m talking to you, he says, affirming my belief in the God of glory. Psalm 29 pulls together so many of the components that make up the glory of God, all of the parts that come together to make His majestic glory. In the Old Testament, God is known by many names. He is Jehovah-Nissi, which means the Lord who heals. He is Jehovah-Jireh, the Lord who provides. He is Jehovah-Rapha, the Lord who heals. He is Jehovah-Shalom, the Lord our peace. Jehovah-Raah, the Lord who shepherds. Jehovah-Tsidkenu, the Righteous One. Jehovah-Sabaoth, the Lord of hosts. Jehovah-Shammah, the Lord omnipresent. Jehovah-Elyon, the Lord most high. Jehovah-Mekaddishkem, the Lord who makes holy.
He’s all of that, all those names. But all of those are the parts that make up the God of all glory. The God who is El Hakkavod, the God of glory. Stephen says, “Look, I believe in the God of glory, the God whose attributes are expounded in Psalm 29. That’s the God I believe in. That’s my God.” He ascribes full supremacy, full sovereignty, full glory to the God of the psalmist, David. He picks a psalm from David because David is obviously among the noble heroes of Israel’s history.
He actually died seeing something of that glory, verse 55. Before they stoned him to death it says, “Being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God.” He saw the God of glory that he has just spoken about. The God of glory, the God of glory. “Hear me, brethren and fathers! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran.” The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham. Notice the personal pronoun, our father. I’m one of you. He’s my father too, Abraham is. I’m not anti-Israel. Abraham is my father, and he is our father. I am neither a blasphemer of God, nor am I a traitor to Israel, the people of God. I’m not guilty of blaspheming the God of glory.
It is that God who, “Appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran.” Mesopotamia is the Greek term for Chaldea. The city that Abraham came from in Mesopotamia is the city of Ur, a city that was between the Tigris and Euphrates River. Joshua 24 tells us Abraham actually came out of a family of idol-worshipers. He was then a convert to the worship of the true and living God. So God manifested Himself to Abraham. He manifested Himself, by the way, to Abraham prior to the manifestation in Haran, but Stephen refers to the fact that the God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia before he lived in Haran. But He also appeared to him later in Haran.
Haran, another place besides Ur, about 500 miles northwest of Ur, also in Mesopotamia. It was when God appeared to Abraham in Haran that He gave him the covenant in Genesis 12. You might want to look at that for just a moment, and we’re not going to stop all the way along, or this would become interminable. But just to get you started a little bit. Terah dies in Haran at the end of chapter 11. “Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your country, and from your relatives, and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.’”
That’s known as the Abrahamic Covenant, unilateral covenant. God is going to do that. He is going to bless Abram, change his name to Abraham. That particular call in Genesis 12 is in Haran. God had called Abraham before that and made promises to him before that, but the one in Genesis occurred in Haran.
Stephen ever refers to that. He said to him at that time, and Stephen quotes what I just read in Genesis 12:1, “Leave your country and your relatives, and come into the land that I will show you.” Abraham obeyed God, came to Canaan, which became Israel. “Then he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran,” settled in Haran. “From there, after his father died, God had him move to this country in which you are now living.”
Just an interesting little insight here, he left the land of the Chaldeans. Abraham, that’s his side. 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.” Abraham went to Haran. God moved him to the land of promise. God literally, if you were to take the Hebrew, God migrated him sovereignly. So Stephen is saying, “Look, I acknowledge the God of glory. I acknowledge the call of the God of glory on the life of Abraham. I acknowledge the Abrahamic Covenant, which is the founding of the nation of Israel. I am neither anti-God nor am I anti-Israel.”
By the way, he knows his Jewish history. He knows his Old Testament. He knows the facts. He knows even more. He knows that when Abraham arrived in the Promised Land, he did not receive any permanent possession, but wandered in the land that was never really his. The land was a promise to Abraham, but not a possession. Look at verse 5, “But He,” being God, “gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot of ground.” He didn’t even give him a foot of ground, not so much as a foot, nothing. So he is there living, listen, not on a possession, but living on a what? A promise. Living on a promise because God said, “I’ll give you a land. I’ll give you a land. I’ll give you an extensive land.”
He shows him it’ll be massive land, moving all the way into Asia from the Mediterranean, north and south, massive land, far, far beyond what Israel occupies today. But he didn’t have any of it to show for, not even a foot. And he was told, “I’m going to have you be the father of a massive population of people who will number like the sands of the sea and the stars of heaven.” And what does it say? He didn’t have even a child. He didn’t even have a child. How’s he going to be the father of a nation?
But, “He promised that He would give it to him as a possession, and to his descendants after him.” He promised that, listen, in Genesis 12, Genesis 13, Genesis 15, and Genesis 17. He kept saying it and saying it. “You’ll get a land. You’ll get a land. You’ll have a people. You’ll have a people.” He was living on promise, and he held on by faith.
That’s why Paul in the book of Romans says Abraham was justified by what? By faith. Abraham believed God. “Abraham staggered not at the promises of God,” but was strong in faith. He lived on a promise, didn’t have a possession, but God promised, verse 5, “Promised that He would give it to him as a possession, and to his descendants after him.” He promised him that.
“But,” verse 6, “God spoke to this effect,” before that promise comes true, “that his descendants would be aliens in a foreign land.” This also was told to Abraham in the fifteenth chapter of Genesis. They would become aliens in a foreign land. They would be enslaved and mistreated for 400 years. Where was that? It was in Egypt. He promised through the Abrahamic Covenant, but then He immediately followed the promise by saying, “You’re not going to have any prominent possession or any possession at all. Nothing is going to belong to you. In fact, your people, the people that come from your loins, are going to end up in captivity for 400 years.” It was actually 430 years.
Then in verse 7, he goes on, does Stephen, “Whatever nation,” God declares and this God made clear in the third chapter of Exodus. “‘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.’” God promises Abraham land and a people. It’s only a promise. Before that promise can be fulfilled, the people that come from his loins will be carried off by an alien nation into 400 years of captivity. That happened in Egypt. They will then be delivered from Egypt, and when the deliverance comes, the nation that has held them in bondage, verse 7, will be judged by God. My, my, were they ever judged by God.
How were they judged initially? In the ten what? Ten plagues. Then they were judged by the collapse of the waters of the Red Sea drowning Pharaoh and all of his army. Massive death. The final of the plagues was the death of all the firstborn in Egypt.
So what is Stephen doing here? He’s saying, “Look, I’m a full believer in the history of God’s dealings with this people. I believe in the God of glory. I believe in your God and Abraham’s God.” So by this opening, he has done a couple of things. He has captured their interest because he’s talking about what is most precious to them; that’s their history. He has, secondly, defended himself. He has defended himself. Now he needs to turn the tables on them.
I told you the third thing he does all through this is indict Israel, indict Israel for sin. That’s what he begins to do in verse 8 as he moves from the early period in Abraham to the patriarchal period of Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. This part of Israel’s history is an indictment. “He gave him,” that is, He gave Abraham “the covenant of circumcision.” He made the promise. He said the sign of the promise will be circumcision of the male child on the eighth day. “And so Abraham became the father of Isaac, and circumcised him on the eighth day; and Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob of the twelve patriarchs.” That’s all Jewish history. That’s all well-known, familiar to every single Jew. You can read the whole story in the book of Genesis.
All Jews are sons of Abraham. All Jews are sons of Isaac. All Jews are sons of Jacob, producing the twelve tribes from which they all come. So he’s continuing to identify with them. Yes, he knows about Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Zebulun, Issachar, Dan, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Joseph, and Benjamin. He identifies. He’s saying, “Look, I’m with you on this, all of it.” But then swiftly in verse 9 begins the indictment.
“The patriarchs,” as noble as you might think them to be, “became jealous of Joseph and sold him into Egypt.” Joseph really had been set apart by God for a special blessing. He had a special place in God’s plan. Reuben, you remember was the oldest of the twelve, but Reuben had forfeited his birthright by a crime. The blessing and the inheritance was then passed to Joseph. He was entitled to the most honored place. First Chronicles 5 says, “The birthright belonged to Joseph.” The birthright belonged to Joseph. You can read about it in Genesis 37.
God then had designed to set him above, to set him above. You remember in Genesis 37 he has a dream and he says, “I had a dream I’m going to rise above all of you. God has ordained that I have a prominent place.” Well, this activated the brothers in a horrible way, right? What did they do? Well, they fabricated the murder of Joseph to make Jacob think he had been slaughtered by an animal. Then they sold him into slavery.
They were blasphemers because Scripture said that the birthright belonged to Joseph. They went against God. They were sinful, fallible men. They were proud. They were rebellious. They blasphemed God by selling the chosen one into slavery. Stephen sees and wants them to see in the story of Joseph an illustration of that nation’s reaction to God’s plans. He’s not the blasphemer, Stephen isn’t. They have a history of blasphemy. Of course, it all culminates, as I read a minute ago, when in verse 52, he asks, “Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute?”
Whoever was the chosen voice of God, whoever was the chosen instrument of God, everybody else ganged up on. God declared Joseph sacred and set apart. The patriarchs wouldn’t have anything to do with that. The truth is, Israel as a people, has been set against the plan of God from the start. So you want to talk about who the real blasphemers are, who the real rebels are? Go back in your history and you’ll find it even among the twelve patriarchs. They resisted God even though God had clearly declared His will.
Then he goes on to talk about the life of Joseph. Why does he do that? “The patriarchs became jealous of Joseph and sold him into Egypt. Yet God was with him.” Why was God with him? Because he was the chosen one. “And rescued him from all his afflictions, and granted him favor and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and he made him governor over Egypt and all his household.”
God, you remember, overruled the evil designs of the brothers and first, of course, Joseph went as a slave, and then he ended up being falsely accused of something immoral with Potipher’s wife. He ends up in jail. He reads dreams, eventually gets out of jail, and he becomes the prime minister of Egypt. This is all the working of God. They all knew this history.
“And when a famine came,” in verse 11, “over all Egypt and Canaan, and great affliction with it,” the rest of the brothers, the rest of the family, and the rest of the patriarchs couldn’t find any food. “But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent our fathers there the first time. On the second visit, Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and Joseph’s family was disclosed to Pharaoh.”
Do you remember that whole story as it unfolds at the end of the book of Genesis? They were conniving, corrupt, evil. They had literally sold him into slavery out of their jealousy. According to verse 10, he had suffered afflictions, severe afflictions. He had been rescued. God had showed him favor and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh, and he ends up being the ruler over Egypt in Pharaoh’s house. He’s exalted. There’s so much like Christ in that. Christ, out of jealousy is sold by His Jewish brothers, sold into affliction for a cheap price, suffers, and then arises to be the deliverer of the very people that sold Him into slavery.
Joseph’s story is very parallel to that of Christ. What is Stephen saying? He’s saying, “Look, the history of the fathers is the history of rejection of God’s anointed, God’s chosen.” Finally, the second time they visit Joseph, down in verse 13 recorded in the forty-fifth chapter of Genesis, “He makes himself known to his brothers, and Joseph’s family was disclosed to Pharaoh. Then Joseph sent word,” verse 14, “invited Jacob his father and all his relatives to come to him, seventy-five persons in all.” Seventy-five persons.
If you go back into Genesis, go back into some of the references to that, it says seventy persons. In the Septuagint it says seventy-five. In the Hebrew it says seventy. The difference is because the seventy-five includes all of Joseph’s descendants who had been born in Egypt. So if you add the descendants born in Egypt to the ones that came down from the land of Canaan, seventy-five is a complete number.
Jacob himself, all his family, including Joseph and the children he had in Egypt all came to Egypt, and that’s how the Egyptian captivity began. They went down there and our fathers died there. All his family, bigger than just his own house; his sons, his son’s wives, children. They all came. So, all Israel, all Israel is rescued for the time. The prophecy of Abraham was true, right? The prophecy to Abraham was true that they would be taken off into captivity, they would end up there 400 years. That is exactly what happened. They were there in Egypt.
Then verse 16 says, “From there they were moved to Shechem and laid in the tomb which Abraham had purchased for a sum of money from the sons of Hamor in Shechem.” Kind of an interesting little note. What is it all about? Well, they were all buried in the Promised Land. They didn’t get to go there. They all died down in Egypt, all those patriarchs. Generations later, 400 years later, people returned. But they were buried in Shechem, a place inside the Promised Land.
How did that happen? Abraham purchased it. Abraham purchased it for a sum of money from the sons of Hamor in Shechem. Abraham never got his possession in the Promised Land. God never gave him anything, but he did buy a burial plot. That’s all he had. It was all promise. It says in this verse that Abraham purchased it. In Joshua 24:32, it says, “Jacob purchased it,” which is right. Did Stephen get his facts wrong? No. Pretty simple. Abraham purchased it originally, but they were gone down into Egypt for a long time. Jacob had to buy it again.
There’s some interesting discussions about the fact that it would have fallen back into the hands of local people and have to be re-purchased. All the details are as they should be. So what is Stephen doing? He’s saying, “I don’t deny God. I don’t blaspheme God.” He covers the history of Israel starting with the God of glory from Abraham to Joseph, from the call to the captivity, the first great era of Jewish history. In so doing, he accomplished his goal. He got their attention. He answered their charges that he was not a blasphemer of the true and living God. He indicts them by a historic look at the blasphemy of their forefathers in rejecting God’s chosen one Joseph. That sets them up for an indictment of what they’ve done to Christ for they’ve done it again. They’ve rejected God’s chosen One again.
What are the lessons we can learn from Stephen? Be bold in your evangelism, right? Be biblical in your evangelism. Declare God’s person, power, sovereignty in framing history, declare God’s faithfulness in His promises to fulfill them. Show that the Scriptures move inexorably toward Christ, and demonstrate the deep, deep blind unbelief and hostility toward the truth that has marked history, even religious history.
So many lessons, and that’s just his first point. He’s got three more. We’ll look at Moses and how Stephen defended himself against the blasphemy of Moses next time.
Lord, it’s just wonderful to be able to look at your Word and see its beauty, its magnificence, its consistency. And while it tells the story of redemption, it also tells the story of sin and rebellion. It’s all there, and the truth about sin and rebellion makes the gospel all the more glorious. Truly, you are the God of glory and you find your glory not only in creation, not only in power, not only in wisdom; but you find your glory manifest to your own satisfaction in mercy, grace, compassion, forgiveness, and redemption of rebel sinners.
May we be so bold as Stephen was, so biblical as Stephen was, so clear about sin and rebellion as Stephen was, and may we follow the path, the scarlet thread all the way to Christ. Use us, we pray, to proclaim your truth. In our Savior’s name we pray, amen.
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