Stephen’s Sermon: Israel’s Rebellion

Posted: September 2, 2018 in Acts, Uncategorized

Acts 7:37-53, “Stephen’s Sermon: Israel’s Rebellion”

It’s one of the most famous courtroom scenes in movie history: Jack Nicholson in “A Few Good Men,” sitting as a witness in a pristine Marine uniform, shouting back at Tom Cruise: “You want the truth?! You can’t handle the truth!” In the movie, this was part of a plan to goad Nicholson’s character into giving a confession of a crime without knowing he was confessing. (It worked!) 

In the Bible, Stephen might have said something similar (without all the cursing!), but with the guilt reversed. He was innocent of all charges against him, but his prosecutors & judges couldn’t handle the truth of what he was accused of. Crimes had indeed been committed against God, but they were to blame; not him.

This is Part 2 of Stephen’s self-defense during his trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin. Remember that Stephen was one of seven Spirit-filled men chosen by the church to be servants (deacons) assisting the apostles in the benevolence ministry. The Greek-speaking widows in the church had been inadvertently neglected in the daily distribution of funds and/or food, and Stephen was part of the ministry team assigned to help them. His personal ministry service did not end there, as he engaged in powerful & passionate evangelism among Greek-speaking Jews in their own synagogue in Jerusalem. Stephen was so effective at it that it caused a disturbance among the synagogue rulers, and they found false witnesses willing to testify that Stephen had blasphemed Moses (via changing the customs and traditions of Moses), and blasphemed the temple. As a result, Stephen was made to stand trial.

Stephen had much to say, and the way he did it, he reviewed a great deal of Hebrew history as he made his case. He defended himself to an extent, but what he was really doing was making the case that it was the Jews who had been unfaithful to God in the past and in the present. They had rejected Him. For His part, God had always been faithful. He made promises to the patriarchs, and kept them. Whether the promise was for land or for freedom from Egyptian slavery, God was faithful to His word every single time. It was the people who weren’t always faithful. Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery – the Hebrew slaves initially rejected Moses. Even after Moses led the people out of slavery, they still grumbled against him in the wilderness.

No matter how many promises God kept for His people – no matter what authenticating signs He worked through His prophets – the Hebrews had a history of rebellion. That was true in the days of Moses, and it was true in the days of Jesus. Ultimately, that was the point Stephen made to the Sanhedrin. What the Jews were doing at the time was the same thing they had always done: reject God and God’s messengers (in this case, the apostles & the rest of the church).

All of this comes to a head in the second part of Stephen’s sermon. Moses was soundly rejected, God was flatly refused, and God’s temple was profoundly misunderstood. Although Stephen had been put on trial for blaspheming Moses & the temple, the true blasphemy had taken place long before, and was upheld by the current generation of Jewish leaders. They engaged in the same sin as their fathers: they rejected God and His prophets.

Be careful not to make the same mistake! Don’t reject God – receive Jesus and respond to Him as you receive the word of His apostolic messengers contained in the New Testament. When you respond to the gospel, you respond to Jesus! The key is to be humble enough to know you need to respond!

Acts 7:37–53

  • Rejecting Moses (37-39a) / rejecting the messenger of God

37 “This is that Moses who said to the children of Israel, ‘The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear.’

  1. Contextually, Stephen had been speaking about Moses. Moses had experienced a miraculous birth and upbringing, and rightly believed God would use him to deliver Israel out of slavery. Yet when Moses first attempted to do so, he was soundly rejected by the Hebrews around him, who viewed him more as an entitled rich interloper than the national deliverer given by God. At age 40 he fled Egypt and spent the next 40 years in Midian learning humility and the finer points of shepherding. (Both of which would be necessary qualities when leading God’s people through the wilderness!) Of course God did call Moses, and personally commissioned him to return to Egypt as the deliverer, empowering him to work incredible signs and wonders not only in Egypt, but beyond.
  2. That Moses was foundational in the life of the Hebrew people. That Moses was a prototype of the prophets, judges, and rulers to come. But even that Moses did not believe himself to be the end-all of Hebrew leaders. There was another, a better-than-Moses still to come in the future. Moses prophesied of Messiah. Stephen quotes Deuteronomy 18:15, just as Peter did in Solomon’s Portico after healing the man born lame in his feet (Acts 3:22). God had a wonderful plan for Moses, but God’s plan did not end with Moses. Even Moses pointed to Someone else: a Prophet who would not be him, but would be like That future Prophet would be raised up by God, given the words of God, and perform miracles by the power of God. No other prophet in the past could check all the boxes. Some would be given God’s words (ex: Isaiah & Jeremiah) – others would be entrusted with God’s power (ex: Elijah, Elisha) – some might even have incredible callings and commissions (ex: Jonah, Ezekiel, John the Baptist). Few (if any) would have it all…except Jesus. Jesus of Nazareth had a miraculous birth & calling – He spoke the words of God with authority – He performed countless miracles on a scale unseen since the days of Moses (if not since the days of Creation!). And more than that, He had the right to rule. Other prophets of the past spoke on God’s behalf, but they did not rule as God’s representative like Moses. This new Prophet, would! Jesus was given all authority in heaven and on earth, and is coming back not only to reign over the restored nation of Israel, but every single kingdom of the world. This new Prophet is not only like Moses, but He surpasses Moses in every way!
  3. To the point at hand: How could Stephen have spoken ill of Moses (blasphemed him), when (1) Moses wasn’t to be worshipped, and (2) Moses spoke of another Prophet yet to come (i.e. the Messiah)? All Stephen did was speak of the same Prophet of which Moses spoke. Stephen was the one taking the words of Moses seriously; not the synagogue leaders. If the synagogue leaders (and the Sanhedrin, for that matter!) listened to Moses, they would have listened to Jesus. To write of Jesus as the Messiah was to write off everything that all the previous prophets had written about Him, including Moses.
    1. This is what happens when a person is hard-hearted against God. It’s one thing for a person to have questions about Jesus and want to know the truth; it’s another to start off on the offensive and be stubborn in one’s will against God. Many people who claim to be “skeptics” regarding Christianity aren’t really “skeptical” at all; they’re stubborn. They made up their minds in advance and are unwilling to believe, despite the vast amount of evidence in front of them. It was true for the Jewish synagogue leaders & Sanhedrin, and it’s just as true today.
    2. What is the solution to stubbornness? Hard hearts are made soft through humility. Be willing to admit what you don’t know, and come to Jesus based on who He is, and who He has proven Himself to be, in light of the cross and His resurrection from the dead. Will it take a step of faith? Without question. But as the Bible says: Hebrews 11:6, “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” Humble yourself, and believe!
  4. Besides prophesying of the future Messiah, what else did Moses do with Jesus? He spoke with Him! 

38 “This is he who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the Angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our fathers, the one who received the living oracles to give to us, 39 whom our fathers would not obey, but rejected. …

  1. When Stephen says that Moses spoke “with the Angel” on Mount Sinai, what Stephen is saying is that Moses spoke with God. The “Angel” is the Angel of YHWH, which was the visual representation of God Himself. Properly speaking, God is Spirit (Jn 4:24) and thus, God cannot be seen. John wrote that no one has seen God at any time (Jn 1:18), because, by definition, spirit is invisible (like the wind). Besides the physical quality of God (for lack of a better word), there is His moral quality. He is so pure and holy and righteous that no one can look at Him and live (Exo 33:20). Yet we know that people have seen God. Isaiah saw the throne room of God (Isa 6), Jacob wrestled with God on the night he was named Israel (Gen 32:30), and Moses saw the glory of God on Mount Sinai (Exo 19-20). If these men could not see the invisible God, then who/what did they see? They saw the Angel of the Lord (YHWH), God’s own self-revelation of Himself, who was none other than the pre-incarnate Lord Jesus! Paul wrote of Jesus, that “He is the image of the invisible God,” (Col 1:15), and thus every instance in which God is made visible in the Old Testament was an instance when the Lord Jesus appeared to men. When Moses spoke with God as a friend, speaking to Him face-to-face (Exo 33:11), Moses spoke with the Messiah Jesus.
    1. When we know Jesus, we know God. It’s that plain & simple. Jesus told the disciples that if they had seen Jesus, they had seen the Father (Jn 14:9). It’s no different with us, in faith. The way to know God is to know Jesus. In fact, it is the only Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one goes to the Father except through Him! (Jn 14:6)
  2. So Moses spoke with Jesus, the Angel of YHWH, and received “living oracles” from Him. All of the traditions of the Jews, which they accused Stephen of blaspheming, were (supposedly) derived from the laws of Moses. Those laws were given him by God (the Angel of YHWH) on Mount Sinai. Those laws were good, because they came from God. Those laws were more than just words; they were alive. They were “living oracles” passed down through the generations, preserved in the pages of the Bible. Unlike the rabbinical tradition, the living oracles of God had the authority of God because they came from God. (Yet the Jews of the day often subordinated the word of God to the preferences of men…not unlike people of this day!)
    1. The Bible says of itself that God’s word is living, powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword (Heb 4:12). It is powerful because it is breathed out by God – it is alive, and it gives life to those who believe. Don’t reject the living words of God!
  3. Stephen points out that their forefathers not only rejected the living oracles of God, but messenger who gave them those oracles. As much as the ancient Hebrews depended upon Moses, they despised him, grumbling & complaining against him at every turn. Even while Moses was actively on Mt. Sinai receiving the commands of God from God Himself with the visible glory of God resting on the mountain, the Hebrews still rebelled!
  • Rejecting God (39b-43)

… And in their hearts they turned back to Egypt, 40 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.’ 41 And they made a calf in those days, offered sacrifices to the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their own hands.

  1. By rejecting Moses, Israel rejected both Moses and The event Stephen mentions is one of the greatest disgraces in the history of the Hebrews. Again, Moses is actively on the mountain, and God’s glory is actively visible to all. The Israelites were so afraid of God after He spoke to all the people, giving them the Ten Commandments, that they begged Moses to speak to God by himself on their behalf (Exo 20:19). God made Himself available to all, but they trembled in His presence and begged for a mediator (we have a far better one in Jesus!). But even though God and Moses gave them what they requested, they still rebelled. Moses had been on the mountaintop 40 days, and the people pretended he was dead. Stephen quotes Exodus 31:1, with the Hebrews pulling Moses’ brother Aaron aside, demanding that he forge for them an idol to worship. They claimed not to know what became of Moses…as if God’s glory wasn’t still visible! This was not an act born out of ignorance and desperation; it was an act of rebellion. They knew exactly where Moses was, and they also knew that the true God who brought them out of Egypt was nothing like the gods of Egypt. They simply decided they didn’t want that God.
  2. What did Israel want? They wanted to worship something they could see – something that they could wrap their minds around – something that was familiar to them from the things they had previously known. IOW, they wanted something that they could control. If their “god” came from the gold that was among them, forged from the fires they formed, then that was a god they could make into whatever image they desired.
    1. This is what all idolatry is. It’s what we do as well, even though our idols rarely take the form of golden statues of animals. We take whatever idea of god we have in our own minds, forming this god to be exactly what we want him to be, picking & choosing from our own personal preferences. We may even quote Bible verses in support. “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8), so our version of “God” fits whatever our definition of love might be, while ignoring the many other verses that speak of God’s holiness. Our god wouldn’t actually judge anyone or allow someone to go to hell & perdition, so we just write that out of our minds. (Or pick the attribute of your preference…) Hear this clearly: that is idolatry. When we invent an image of god that is something other than the God of the Bible, then we have become idolaters.
    2. The saddest part of all is that God has given us an image: the Lord Jesus Christ, yet it is that image that is so often ignored: Colossians 1:15, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” “Image” = icon (εἰκών), the representation/revelation of God given by God Himself. When God showed us Himself, He showed us Jesus. We don’t make an image; God gave us one. But people say, “That’s too restrictive, too exclusive. You shouldn’t have to believe in Jesus in order to go to heaven.” Why not? God wants us to go to heaven – why wouldn’t He? He created us, having formed us in our mothers’ wombs. He loves us, and wants to see us with Him forever. He’s even told us very clearly how it can be done: go through Jesus. Sometimes we need to be able to visualize what God might be like, so God showed us: it’s Jesus. Jesus is loving & He’s holy. He’s powerful & He’s compassionate. He powerfully conquers His enemies, and He is victorious over sin & death. Jesus shows us everything we need to know about God. Look to Him, and be saved!
  3. The worst part? Aaron gave into the Hebrews’ idolatrous demands and agreed to do it! Whether he feared for his life, or he thought he could redirect the Hebrews into worshipping the true God through false means, we don’t know. The Scripture says nothing about his motive, but it does describe his failure. He took their gold that God had graciously given them as 400 years’ worth of back-wages from Egyptian slavery, put it into the fire, and formed the golden calf. (And when later confronted by Moses, he gave the lamest excuse in history. “I cast it into the fire, and this calf came out.” – Exo 32:24) Of all people at the base of the mountain, Aaron was the one person who should have stood firm for God. He had been Moses’ mouthpiece when confronting Pharaoh. He too saw the revelation of God, personally witnessing the miracles of God. Yet Aaron failed miserably, and made the golden calf.
    1. Amazingly, God still specifically chose Aaron to serve as high priest. What is that? That is grace! God had a plan for Aaron that went beyond his failure. If God did that for Aaron, think what He has in mind for us! (It is never too late to be used by the Lord for His glory. Bask in His grace!)
  4. Since the people had rejected God & God’s messenger, what would be God’s response? They would be rejected as well. 

42 Then God turned and gave them up to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the Prophets: ‘Did you offer Me slaughtered animals and sacrifices during forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel? 43 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.’

  1. Did God give up Israel? Not immediately, but yes. He threatened to do it right there at Mount Sinai, with Moses pleading and interceding on their behalf (Exo 32:31-32). Even so, it was a sign of things to come. The event with the golden calf was perhaps the worst failure of the Hebrews (apart from their rejection of Jesus as Messiah), but it was not their only failure. They rebelled against God’s command at the border of the Promised Land, and spent the next forty years wandering in the wilderness. They repeatedly grumbled against Moses in the desert. Once in the Promised Land, they refused to cast out the Canaanites as they were originally commanded. During the time of the judges, they entered a terrible cycle of idolatry, invasion, oppression, repentance, and deliverance. During the time of the kings, they followed the whims of whatever man held the office – sometimes worshipping the Lord, but mostly walking in the footsteps of their pagan Gentile neighbors. So yes, God “gave them up.” He allowed the northern kingdom of Israel to be conquered by the Assyrians, and the southern kingdom of Judah to be conquered by the Babylonians. Both kingdoms were severely disciplined by God, with only a remnant of people remaining who actually worshipped Him.
  2. Stephen quoted Amos 5:25-27, from LXX, and interestingly replaced “Damascus” with “Babylon.” Amos wrote during the days of King Uzziah of Judah, predating the ministry of Isaiah, meaning that he wrote just prior to Israel’s fall to Assyria & long before Judah’s fall to Babylon. In the original prophecy (both the Hebrew and Greek versions), God said through Amos that the northern kingdom of Israel would be sent into captivity “beyond Damascus,” a chief city of Syria, fitting the Assyrian conquest well. Stephen seems to have taken a bit of liberty with the text, being that he spoke to the descendants of the southern kingdom of Judah who went into Babylonian captivity. The prophecy may have originally been spoken to Israel/Samaria, but it applied just as well to Judah. 
  3. The point? The Hebrews never worshipped God rightly. No matter what later kingdom into which they fell, they were always idolaters. Sure, they went through the motions of religion during their years in the wilderness – at least sometimes. But whatever little they did in worship, they did insincerely. Most of what they offered in worship, they offered to pagan gods. They sacrificed children to the Canaanite god of Molech. They worshipped “the host of heaven,” as they did with “Remphan,” a name for the deified planet Saturn. They made “images,” towers, and high places, all designed to worship something other than the Living God. God had graciously revealed Himself to them, and they responded with scorn. They chose to worship the false gods of their imaginations rather than the true God who loved them and delivered them out of Egypt to be His own people.
    1. How accurate this is to our own culture! Even for Christians born out of the Protestant Reformation and the revivals of the Great Awakening, we are little better than the ancient Israelites. People go to church services and go through the motions of religion, but rarely engage in true worship. They might be members of a church congregation, even faithfully giving their finances & time, but they worship a god they made up in their minds. They dictate to God the things that they want, caring little to nothing for the things God wants. They want Jesus as a butler, but not as a king. How is that any different than ancient Israel? Why would God treat a people like that any differently?
    2. The good news is that this isn’t how we have to be! We don’t have to fit the stereotype of the religious hypocrite, or the well-meaning idolater. Jesus has invited us to worship Him in spirit & truth (Jn 4:24), and we can! Come to Jesus as He is – receive Him for who He has revealed Himself to be, and respond in humble faith.

So that was Moses, but remember there were two basic charges against Stephen. Not only was he accused of blaspheming Moses and desiring to change the Jewish customs from Moses’ law, but Stephen was also accused of blaspheming the temple, claiming that Jesus would come to destroy it (Acts 6:14). That’s where Stephen transitions next…

  • Misunderstanding the Temple (44-50) / making more of the building than the Builder

44 “Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness, as He appointed, instructing Moses to make it according to the pattern that he had seen,

  1. The children of Israel did not have to invent an image for themselves to try to worship God; God Himself showed them how He wanted to be worshipped. Exodus chapters 25-30 are filled with very specific instructions given by God to Moses of how the tabernacle was to be built, including the specific designs of what it was to look like. God gave Moses a vision of how the lampstand was supposed to look (Exo 25:40), how the tents and boards were to be put together (Exo 26:30), and even filled the appointed craftsmen with the Holy Spirit and wisdom to make the items exactly according to God’s specifications (Exo 31:1).
  2. And it wasn’t just the place of worship; God was specific about the manner of worship. Not only did God instruct Moses about the tabernacle, but God instructed him how to use it. There were the initial instructions given to Moses during the forty days he was on Mount Sinai, but then there was the entire book of Leviticus – in essence, an instruction manual for the priests, and a clear-cut document on the holiness of God.
  3. Bottom line: idolatry was totally unnecessary. Israel never had to guess at how God desired them to worship Him; He told them how to do it. Question: Does God tell us? Yes! Not only does God give us His image in Jesus Christ – not only does He tell us in general terms that God is to be worshipped in spirit and truth – He gives us specific example of how it should be done in the pages of the New Testament. Like the early church, we are to continue “steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers,” (Acts 2:42) – we are to use our different spiritual gifts “according to the grace that is given us,” (Rom 12:6) – we are to let all things in worship “be done decently and in order,” (1 Cor 14:40) – we are warned against quenching the Spirit & despising prophecies while being sure to test all things (1 Ths 5:19-21) – we are to pray in all things, feeling free to lift up holy hands (1 Tim 2:8), and more. A wonderful description is given in the book of Ephesians: Ephesians 5:17–21, “(17) Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. (18) And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, (19) speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, (20) giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, (21) submitting to one another in the fear of God.” Does all of this look different from congregation to congregation? The Scripture nowhere tells us we have to begin worship at 10am with prayer, sing five songs, give announcements, then the message – nor that people have to dress in suit & tie, with the pastors wearing certain distinct garments – nor that buildings have to have stained glass, nor specify what musical instruments may or may not be used, etc. But whatever individual practices we have among our congregations, they must be ruled by Scripture. God has shown us how it is He is to be worshipped, so we worship Him in that way. We approach God on His terms; not our own.
    1. Individuals go wrong on this when they engage in idolatry (i.e., not going through Jesus). Congregations go wrong on this when they go beyond the Scripture. This can be done through ritualistic religion (elevating the role of priests to personally convey the grace of God through baptism, communion, etc.), or through wild, unguarded practice (barking like dogs, looking for gold dust from the ceilings, making wild untested prophecies). Both extremes are unbiblical worship…be careful!
  4. As for Stephen, it was clear that God did give clear instruction on how to be worshipped. That was what the tabernacle was. And it wasn’t just the tabernacle…

45 which our 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, 46 who found favor before God and asked to find a dwelling for the God of Jacob. 47 But Solomon built Him a house.

  1. Both the tabernacle and the temple were made God’s way. The tabernacle was made under the direction of Moses according to the instructions given by God, and it was used for generations. Its successor was the same. The temple was also made according to the instructions received from God as God gave them to David, although it wasn’t David who built it, but his son Solomon (1 Chr 28).
  2. Question: Was there anything wrong with building the temple to replace the tabernacle? Some have noted that Stephen is so brief, that he almost seems dismissive about it. No – at least, not when it was built God’s way according to God’s instruction (which it was). David almost jumped the gun on this (and the prophet Nathan initially gave him approval & a false-start! – 2 Sam 7:3), but although David was a man after God’s own heart, David was a man of war & blood. God’s desire was for Solomon to build it, and that was the effort God blessed.
  3. But the key was to see the temple for what it was: a place to worship God, but not a place to be worshipped. This was perhaps easier to do with the tabernacle, being that the Levites had to physically assemble it at every campsite in the wilderness. It was harder to see the tabernacle as being anything more than a tent where people came to worship God, because it was reinforced every time the Israelites moved. The temple, on the other hand, was far more permanent. A building has a potential to become an idol in itself, as people attach far too much importance to it. (Which was what they did with Stephen, and that was exactly what Stephen was pointing out.)

48 “However, the Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands, as the prophet says: 49 ‘Heaven is My throne, And earth is My footstool. What house will you build for Me? says the LORD, Or what is the place of My rest? 50 Has My hand not made all these things?’

  1. The temple was God’s chosen place to be worshipped, but it was not God’s house. God is bigger than the universe; He’s far bigger than the temple! Stephen quotes Isaiah 66:1-2 describing the infinite expanse of God. Remember that God is Spirit, so part of this means that He is not confined to any one particular place. Theologically speaking, one of God’s attributes is His omnipresence: He is everywhere. Note: this is different than the Eastern idea of pantheism, which is the belief that God is in everything (in that leaf, in that rock, in the air, etc. – there is god in him and god in her, and all humans are part of the oneness of god). Pantheism is unbiblical, because the Bible clearly teaches that God is other than us. He is Creator; we are the created – He is holy; we need to be made holy – He is Father; we are His enemies until Jesus makes us His children, etc. The Biblical doctrine of omnipresence teaches that God’s presence is everywhere, basically stating that there is no place where God is not. David asked in the psalms, “Where can I go from Your Spirit, or where can I flee from Your presence?” (Ps 139:7) David was never anyplace where God could not reach him. (Neither are we!) That’s the point with Isaiah as well. How can God be contained in a house, when God cannot be contained by the entire universe? He is the Almighty Creator God, far bigger than these things!
  2. If that’s the case, then how is it possible that Stephen could “blaspheme” the temple? A physical building can be a place of worship, but it isn’t the object of worship. Only God can be blasphemed; a building is just a building. The Jewish leaders accusing Stephen of blaspheming the temple had obviously lost sight of what was most important. It’s not the building that counts; it is what takes place in the building.
  3. And what was it that had recently taken place in the building in question? The blood money paid to Judas in order to betray Jesus had been thrown there. It wasn’t the temple that was blasphemed; it was the Messiah who was. That’s when Stephen brings it home…
  • Accusation: Murderers! (51-53)

51 “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you.

  1. The turn is so sudden and so forceful that some have wondered if perhaps Stephen was interrupted by the Sanhedrin, or perhaps he just lost his patience with them. Whatever was the mood in the room prior to this point, it no doubt changed in an instant! Stephen drastically turns the tables on the Sanhedrin and synagogue leaders, going from defendant to prosecuting attorney in nothing-flat.
  2. Stephen couldn’t have gotten more pointed, if he tried. He flatly accused the Jews of acting as if they were Gentiles. Just like God had said to Moses on Mount Sinai at the time of the golden calf that the Hebrews were a “stiff-necked” people, so were their descendants centuries later. They were stubborn in their sin, and they were hard-hearted against God. They acted as if they didn’t have any covenant with God at all. They might have gone through the ritual of circumcision in the flesh, and they had all of the outward pretense of being religious people, but they were pagan in their hearts & as Gentile as they came. That was their history as a people, and that was how the current leadership continued.
  3. How did the Jews “resist the Holy Spirit”? They resisted everything about Him: they resisted His messengers, they resisted the Messiah, they resisted His message…

52 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 murderers, 53 who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it.”

  1. They killed the prophets. This wasn’t new with Stephen; Jesus accused them of exactly the same thing. (Lk 11:47-51) They may have built the tombs of the prophets, but they were also the ones who killed the prophets. They were guilty of the deaths from the first (Abel, killed by his brother Cain in Genesis) to the last (Zechariah, killed at the altar in 2 Chronicles, the last prophet written in the Hebrew canon).
  2. They killed the Messiah. Not only had the Jews of ancient Jerusalem persecuted the prophets of God, but they also persecuted the One of whom they prophesied. They foretold the arrival of the ultimate Righteous Man of God, the Messiah, and the Jewish leadership opposed Him from the very beginning. No matter how many signs and wonders Jesus had done, authenticating His ministry, the leadership wanted nothing to do with Him, and they actively sought out a way they could get rid of Him. As Peter said on the day of Pentecost, they took Jesus with “lawless hands” (Acts 2:23), and they became His “betrayers and murderers.”
  3. They “killed” the law. The Hebrews received divine revelation and despised it. Be it the instructions on pure & holy worship, the prophecies regarding the Messiah, or the doctrine of God Himself, they may have preserved the holy word of God (for which we can be grateful!), but they did not obey it. They ignored it from the time it was initially given all the way to the present day.
  4. Sadly, the Jewish people still do the same thing as their forefathers. Their eyes are blinded to the truth of Jesus as Messiah, and thus they still do not keep the law that was given to them. Pray for them! Pray for their eyes to be opened, for their stubbornness to be broken, and for them to be saved by the grace of Jesus.
    1. Guess what? It isn’t just them; it’s us! Our own culture is guilty of much of the same. We have also resisted the Holy Spirit, despised the message and messengers of the gospel, and turned away from Jesus. Who in our own southern Bible-belt culture has never heard the news that Jesus died for our sins? Who on the street cannot at least state the claim of the Bible that Jesus is God? People are aware of Jesus, but they have despised Him. Pray! Pray for eyes to be opened around us – pray for people to humble stubborn hearts – pray for people to be saved!

Conclusion:

Who truly committed blasphemy? It wasn’t Stephen! The whole history of the Hebrew people was filled with their continued rejection of God and His merciful outreach. God gave them prophets & prophecies – God gave His self-revelation – God gave them instructions how they could worship Him…and they rebelled. Although there were brief times of revival and Spirit-led worship among the Israelites, they were short-lived. The bulk of their history was one of stubborn stiff-necked rebellion against God, and it continued right to their rejection of Jesus and Jesus’ followers.

That was the ancient Jews, but it wasn’t just the ancient Jews. The same thing continues today among Israel and the entire world. Think of your own life. Before you became a Christian, how hard-hearted were you against God? How often did you resist the Holy Spirit, and His leading you to Jesus? Oh, the grace of God, that He continued to reach out to us! What love and compassion, that He would pursue us to the point of salvation!

Sadly, we often still rebel even after we are saved! We have Jesus and the teaching of the Bible to tell us who God is, what He is like, and how to worship Him…and yet we reject it to follow our own personal preferences. “My God would never do ­­­____.” “Maybe what the Bible says is true for you, but not for me.” “Surely God wouldn’t mind _____.” Know this: that’s nothing less than idolatry and rebellion…no different than the sin of ancient Israel.

Beloved, God has so much better in mind for us than that! God loves us, and He wants us to worship Him. He wants us to know Him rightly. He wants us to daily experience His mercy & grace, full unfettered relationship with Him through Jesus. But we must go to Him on His terms; not ours. We must submit ourselves to His word; not force our own mind upon Him.

Where there is rebellion in your life, cease. Listen to the conviction of the Holy Spirit, stop resisting Him, and submit to Him. We have the opportunity to follow through where ancient Israel failed…don’t waste it!

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