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If you have a Bible near you, go ahead and grab it.
We have a long section of Scripture to get through tonight but it’s also a truly remarkable section.
Acts 6 is where we are going to be and while we are not going to read every verse, we will stop around verse 1 of Acts 8, so about 2 chapters in 30 minutes so we’ll see how this goes.
Let me begin with this question: What do you get when faithful, Gospel witness comes face to face with hostile, ungodliness?
What are the earthly rewards for spiritual faithfulness?
You get persecution, you get hate, you may even get death and these are the rewards if we want to use that word that many within the Church don’t seem to acknowledge or recognize.
Far too many Christians seem oblivious to the idea of suffering for their faith.
Paul warns Timothy, and by extension all Christians in 2 Timothy 3:12 “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
The question of persecution is not if it will come, it is when will it come.
Understand if you are a Christian, you are always standing against the tide.
You are always someone that is going upstream or against the status quo.
You are someone who will be hated because they hate your Lord and Savior.
Christ tells us in John 15:18-20
I know you guys are young and when I was your age, death was never on my mind because I thought I was invincible.
Here is what I want to challenge you with right out of the gate: Are you prepared to die for the Lord Jesus Christ?
Are you prepared to have the armies of hell rush at you because of you allegiance to Christ?
Are you willing to go through persecutions, slanderings, and hardships for the One who left heaven to save you?
If you are a follower of Christ, this is the call.
This is the bar that we all must strive to meet.
Just because we live in a country with religious freedom does not mean that we are immune from persecution and as your pastor, I would be doing you a grave misservice if I did not make you aware of these things.
Here’s the thing I know this sounds heavy.
I know the thought of dying or suffering can shake you up, it shakes me up too sometimes.
I know that it would be great if we didn’t have to think about these things but I want you to be a people that are ready.
What we are going to see today is that even death leads to victory for the faithful servant of Jesus Christ and we are going to see this in the example of a man named Stephen.
Let’s pray and then we will dive into these chapters.
Who is Stephen?
Who is Stephen and why does Luke take 2 full chapters to speak about this man?
I’ll go ahead and spoil the ending, Stephen goes down in history as the first Christian martyr.
What is a martyr?
It is someone who is killed based off of their religious beliefs.
So, we know the end of the story, but how does Stephen get to that point?
It begins in Acts 6 where we see that the number of believers are just exploding and it gets to a point where the Apostles need some help handling some of the day to day operations of the church so they pick 7 men to help serve and one of those seven is Stephen and Stephen is described in Acts 6:5 as “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.”
Then in verse 8 Stephen is described as “full of grace and power” and “doing great wonders and signs among the people.”
Out of the 7, Stephen is the only one to be described like this, even though all of the men were Godly men.
Stephen is a remarkable individual.
I’d love to be described in the ways that he is described but not everyone is impressed with Stephen.
Stephen’s witness starts to rub people the wrong way and this leads to his eventual demise.
Let’s start reading in Acts 6:9-7:1
The Accusations Against Stephen
Stephen causes such a fuss that he is brought before what is basically the Supreme Court of the nation of Israel.
A crowd comes together and they force Stephen to appear before this court and they accuse him of 4 things and these 4 things are basically 4 of the worst things that one could be accused of in Israel.
Those that turn in Stephen accuse him of defiling and blaspheming the 4 things that the Jews held to be the most sacred and most holy.
What are those 4 things?
Moses, God, the Temple, and the Law.
These are serious accusations.
What was the cost for blasphemy in Israel?
What was to be done to the person that blasphemed God in Israel?
They were to be put to death and to have not just 1 but 4 accusations of this magnitude, that demands a swift execution.
To have this brought to the Supreme Court, one would think that Stephen would have been a state of absolute panic.
You would think that if you have this many people against you and you know what the punishment is for being convicted of these crimes, that he would do anything that he could to get out of it.
Any punishment that didn’t result in death, a normal guy probably would have strived to have gotten but Stephen doesn’t let the hysteria of the moment catch up to him.
What Stephen is about to do is prove to the crowd that each of the 4 accusations against him have no merit.
Stephen will show in his defense that he spoke of the things that Moses spoke of, he worshipped the God of Israel, he was faithful to the Law in his obedience to Christ and that they themselves were guilty, and that Scripture pointed ahead to the day where the temple would be destroyed and it wasn’t just that Jesus would destroy the temple and change the customs that Moses delivered.
Let’s quickly look at Stephen’s defense and this defense takes up the majority of Acts 7 so we will just look at some of the highlights.
Stephen’s Defense
Stephen’s Angelic Face
Before Stephen even begins his verbal defense, Acts 6:15 shows us that there is no truth behind these accusations.
Luke records that as everyone in the council looked at Stephen, they saw that his face was like the face of an angel and this is a reference to something very important from the book of Exodus and I will be preaching a little about this on Sunday if you want to come.
As Moses went up to receive the Law, as he stood before the presence of God, his face became radiant, it was glowing because he was in the presence of the glory of God.
Exodus 34:29-30 “When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.
Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, and behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him.”
Stephen is being accused of going against Moses and yet his face resembles the very thing that happened to Moses as he came down from the presence of God.
John Stott said, “Was it not God’s deliberate purpose to give the same radiant face to Stephen when he was accused of opposing the law as he had given to Moses when he received the law?
In this way God was showing that both Moses’ ministry of the law and Stephen’s interpretation of it had his approval.
Indeed God’s blessing on Stephen is evident throughout.
The grace and power of his ministry, his irresistible wisdom and his shining face were all tokens that the favour of God rested upon him.”
Before Stephen utters a word, he already has the approval of the God that the crowd claims that he had blasphemed.
How then does Stephen address the accusations?
He addresses them by appealing to Jewish history and Scripture.
Stephen’s Appeal to Jewish History and faithfulness
In chapter 7, Stephen takes the court basically through the books of Genesis and Exodus and briefly touches on the lives of David and Solomon and a reference to the book of Amos.
Some might wonder why focus on those first 2 books and I would say that he does that because he has been accused of blaspheming Moses, God, and the Law and it is in those first few books of the Bible where he needs to build his defense from because the Law and Moses are introduced in the book of Exodus and Genesis points ahead to the time of the Exodus.
Stephen begins his defense by pointing to Abraham and the great promise that the Lord had made to him.
God had promised Abraham that the Lord would bring from the line of Abraham a great nation but this nation would be enslaved for 400 years but God would judge the nation that they served.
Abraham would become the father of Isaac and Isaac became the Father of Jacob and Jacob the father of the twelve sons of Israel.
All of this is what Stephen says from Acts 7:2-50 so feel free to turn there and follow along.
Instead of starting with Moses, Stephen references the story of Joseph and how his brothers were jealous of him and sold him into slavery in Egypt.
Acts 7:9-10
Why does Stephen begin with this?
It is because he wants to show these Jews that from the very beginning they have rejected, despised, and hated the ones that God has sent to rescue them.
Joseph was hated by his brothers and yet he was the savior of his brothers!
Joseph’s life is key to understanding the providence of God.
God uses bad situations to bring forth tremendous good, even if we do not always see it.
Joseph’s family moves to Egypt and they thrive but the king of Egypt enslaves them, just as the Lord had already told Abraham.
The time comes where a baby named Moses is born and you know the story of how the Egyptians were killing the Jewish baby boys but how Moses had survived by being adopted by the king of Egypt’s daughter so Moses grows up as a prince of Egypt but he has some knowledge that he is Jewish.
Acts 7:23-29
For 40 years Moses lives in Midian and the time comes where the Lord appears to Moses and sends him back to Egypt to lead the people of Israel out of their slavery.
Acts 7:35-39 ““This Moses, whom they rejected, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’—this
man God sent as both ruler and redeemer by the hand of the angel who appeared to him in the bush.
This man led them out, performing wonders and signs in Egypt and at the Red Sea and in the wilderness for forty years.
This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers.’
This is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers.
He received living oracles to give to us.
Our fathers refused to obey him, but thrust him aside, and in their hearts they turned to Egypt,” As Moses is receiving the Law on Mount Sinai, the people of Israel rebel against him and against the Lord by worshipping a golden calf and in response to the people’s wickedness, the Lord puts 3,000 of them to death.
Throughout Stephen’s defense, he is telling the courts exactly what Scripture testifies to.
It’s as if he is saying, “look at your own history, look at your own Scriptures and tell me where I’m wrong.
I’m teaching exactly what Moses said, I’m saying nothing against the Law itself, I worship the very God you claim to worship but here is the thing, you are no better than your fathers because you are making the same mistakes that they did, you are rejecting the one that God has sent to you and you are not being faithful to the Lord.”
Stephen says to the crowd in Acts 7:51-53
Christian Blood is the Seed of the Church
Stephen’s Martyrdom
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