When Stephen appeared before the Sanhedrin to answer for what he was teaching, he gave the highest Jewish court a history lesson. Stephen’s speech is often referred to as his “defense” but it really wasn’t defending what he had been teaching; he was convicting the Jewish leaders of following in the steps of their forefathers.
He began by talking about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Acts 7:1-8), and then centered in on Joseph (Acts 7:9-16). With Joseph, he introduced his theme: the one God who was with Joseph was the one who was rejected by his brothers.
He spent most of his time talking about Moses (Acts 7:17-43). He included information we don’t normally consider. “At this time Moses was born, and he was beautiful in God’s sight. He was cared for in his father’s home for three months” (Acts 7:20 CSB). We may have heard of “beautiful babies” but apparently Moses was even beautiful to God [although this word may be indicating that “he was no ordinary child” (Acts 7:20 NIV)].
We also learn a little more about his interaction with the children of Israel who were enslaved. “When he saw one of them being mistreated, he came to his rescue and avenged the oppressed man by striking down the Egyptian. He assumed his people would understand that God would give them deliverance through him, but they did not understand” (Acts 7:24-25 CSB). It would seem that Moses was aware that God would use him to deliver the Israelites from Egyptian slavery – and this was forty years before this actually happened. The people did not understand and rejected the one that God had selected – and Moses fled from Egypt.
“This Moses, whom they rejected when they said, ‘Who appointed you a ruler and a judge?’ — this one God sent as a ruler and a deliverer through the angel who appeared to him in the bush. This man led them out and performed wonders and signs in the land of Egypt, at the Red Sea, and in the wilderness for forty years” (Acts 7:35-36). We again see Stephen’s theme: the one they rejected was the one God sent to deliver them.
The Israelites continued to rebel against Moses during their forty years in the wilderness. In reality, they were rejecting God, as we can easily see when they made the golden calf at Mount Sinai. But Moses told them about one who was to come. “This is the Moses who said to the Israelites: ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your brothers’” (Acts 7:37).
Stephen then began talking about the worship of God. Originally they had built a “tabernacle of the testimony” (Acts 7:44). This tent was taken into the Promised Land with Joshua and remained until the days of David. David wanted to build a “dwelling place for the God of Jacob” (Acts 7:46), although it was his son, Solomon, who was the one who built the temple. But how could the God who created the heavens and the earth be contained in a building that man made?
Stephen then made his point: “You stiff-necked people with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are always resisting the Holy Spirit. As your ancestors did, you do also” (Acts 7:51). You see, this wasn’t just a history lesson. This was what they were still doing. Their ancestors had persecuted the prophets – they had killed the Righteous One, the prophet Moses had written about. By doing this they had rejected God and his word (Acts 7:53).
And isn’t this the lesson for us, as well? So often we look around us at what everyone else who claims to be following Jesus is doing and not listening to what God has said. We don’t want to be different, so we end up rejecting God’s word.
God has called us to be different. We must obey him.
Readings for next week:
23 April – Acts 6
24 April – Acts 7:1-29
25 April – Acts 7:30-60
26 April – Acts 8
27 April – Acts 9