Acts 7:1-36 (NLT)
Stephen Addresses the Council
1 Then the high priest asked Stephen, “Are these accusations true?”
2 This was Stephen’s reply: “Brothers and fathers, listen to me.
Remember the charges brought against Stephen in Acts 6:11 and 13-14: First, that he spoke blasphemous words against Moses, he spoke against the law, and spoke to change Jewish customs. Second, that he spoke blasphemous words against God and God’s dwelling place, the temple.
In this sermon, Stephen gives a panorama of Old Testament history. We shouldn’t think Stephen instructed the Sanhedrin on points of Jewish history they were ignorant of. Instead, Stephen wants to emphasize some things revealed in Jewish history they may not have considered: That God has never confined Himself to one place (like the temple), and that the Jewish people have a habit of rejecting those God sends to them!
Our glorious God appeared to our ancestor Abraham in Mesopotamia before he settled in Haran. 3 God told him, ‘Leave your native land and your relatives, and come into the land that I will show you.’
Genesis 12:1 — “The LORD had said to Abram, ‘Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.'”
4 So Abraham left the land of the Chaldeans and lived in Haran until his father died. Then God brought him here to the land where you now live.
5 “BUT! God gave him no inheritance here, not even one square foot of land. God did promise, however, that eventually the whole land would belong to Abraham and his descendants—even though he had no children yet. 6 God also told him that his descendants would live in a foreign land, where they would be oppressed as slaves for 400 years. 7 ‘But I will punish the nation that enslaves them,’ God said, ‘and in the end they will come out and worship me here in this place.’
Stephen wants to make it clear that God appeared to Abraham, and guided Abraham, and blessed Abraham when there was no temple. Abraham didn’t need the temple to be close to God.
8 “God also gave Abraham the covenant of circumcision at that time. So when Abraham became the father of Isaac, he circumcised him on the eighth day. And the practice was continued when Isaac became the father of Jacob, and when Jacob became the father of the twelve patriarchs of the Israelite nation.
Genesis 37:3-4 — “Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age: and he made him a coat of many colours. And when his brethren saw that their father loved him more than all his brethren, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him.”
9 “These patriarchs were jealous of their brother Joseph, and they sold him to be a slave in Egypt. BUT! God was with him 10 and rescued him from all his troubles.
Again, Stephen is emphasizing the spiritual presence of God with Joseph all the time.
And God gave him favor before Pharaoh, king of Egypt. God also gave Joseph unusual wisdom, so that Pharaoh appointed him governor over all of Egypt and put him in charge of the palace.
11 “But a famine came upon Egypt and Canaan. There was great misery, and our ancestors ran out of food. 12 Jacob heard that there was still grain in Egypt, so he sent his sons—our ancestors—to buy some. 13 The second time they went, Joseph revealed his identity to his brothers, and they were introduced to Pharaoh. 14 Then Joseph sent for his father, Jacob, and all his relatives to come to Egypt, seventy-five persons in all. 15 So Jacob went to Egypt. He died there, as did our ancestors. 16 Their bodies were taken to Shechem and buried in the tomb Abraham had bought for a certain price from Hamor’s sons in Shechem.
17 “As the time drew near when God would fulfill his promise to Abraham, the number of our people in Egypt greatly increased. 18 But then a new king came to the throne of Egypt who knew nothing about Joseph. 19 This king exploited our people and oppressed them, forcing parents to abandon their newborn babies so they would die.
20 “At that time Moses was born—a beautiful child in God’s eyes. His parents cared for him at home for three months. 21 When they had to abandon him, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him and raised him as her own son. 22 Moses was taught all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was powerful in both speech and action.
23 “One day when Moses was forty years old, he decided to visit his relatives, the people of Israel. 24 He saw an Egyptian mistreating an Israelite. So Moses came to the man’s defense and avenged him, killing the Egyptian. 25 Moses assumed his fellow Israelites would realize that God had sent him to rescue them, BUT! they didn’t.
26 “The next day he visited them again and saw two men of Israel fighting. He tried to be a peacemaker. ‘Men,’ he said, ‘you are brothers. Why are you fighting each other?’
27 “But the man in the wrong pushed Moses aside. ‘Who made you a ruler and judge over us?’ he asked. 28 ‘Are you going to kill me as you killed that Egyptian yesterday?’ 29 When Moses heard that, he fled the country and lived as a foreigner in the land of Midian. There his two sons were born.
Exodus 3:2-3 — “There an angel of the LORD appeared to him from a burning bush. Moses saw that the bush was on fire, but it was not burning up. ‘This is strange!’ he said to himself. ‘I’ll go over and see why the bush isn’t burning up.'”
30 “Forty years later, in the desert near Mount Sinai, an angel appeared to Moses in the flame of a burning bush. 31 When Moses saw it, he was amazed at the sight. As he went to take a closer look, the voice of the Lord called out to him, 32 ‘I am the God of your ancestors—the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.’ Moses shook with terror and did not dare to look.
God’s appearance to Moses at the burning bush is important to Stephen, because it shows that God’s presence is not limited to the temple. God is bigger than the temple, and Moses did not need the temple to be close to God.
33 “Then the Lord said to him, ‘Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground. 34 I have certainly seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their groans and have come down to rescue them. Now go, for I am sending you back to Egypt.’
35 “So God sent back the same man his people had previously rejected when they demanded, ‘Who made you a ruler and judge over us?’ Through the angel who appeared to him in the burning bush, God sent Moses to be their ruler and savior. 36 And by means of many wonders and miraculous signs, he led them out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, and through the wilderness for forty years.
How brightly Stephen’s light is shining as he witnesses to the truth of God! Or, to use a different metaphor, how sweetly his life song is singing for the Lord! HERE is Casting Crowns and “Life Song.”