Read: Acts 6:8-8:1
The Stoning of Stephen was a tragic event for the early Christian church movement. Stephen was one of the finest examples of a strong Christ follower. Luke includes a list of attributes to set the scene: full of God’s grace and power, face like that of an angel, one they could not argue with because of the power of the Holy Spirit. Falsely accused, Stephen is brought before the Sanhedrin to be tried, drug into the streets, and stoned under the supervision of Saul of Tarsus.
Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen…For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us. Acts 6:9, 14
When I’ve read this passage in the past, I thought the main point of Stephen’s review of Israel’s history was to demonstrate his knowledge and defend his character as one who knew the customs and the Patriarchs. But this time, thanks to some insight from the NIVAC, I’m seeing something different.
The accusations against Stephen relate to the Temple, it’s location and prominence, and for the ritualistic rules created by man in support of the Law. He further explains how Israel has a deep history of rejecting God’s prophets, even killing those who served the Lord. Stephen’s speech addressed these issues by pointing out irrefutable facts about Abraham and Moses.
Of the many arguments, the tight grip on the Holy location of the Temple was akin to idolatry. Stephen includes a reference to the Golden Calf and dispenses with the notion that there is one Holy location.
- God spoke to Abraham in a land far from Jerusalem. Acts 7:2
- The burning bush was called Holy Ground, not anywhere near the Temple. Acts 7:30-33
The Bible is full of stories that demonstrate how God’s chosen were rejected. Stephen knows his time is short, so I believe he attempted to speak to as many people as possible before they shut him up for good.
- Jealous brothers rejected Joseph and sold him into slavery. Acts 7:9
- Moses, once rejected by the people, was sent to lead them. Acts 7:35-36
- Our ancestors refused to obey him and they made an idol from gold. Acts 7:39-41
On this basis, Stephen draws his convicting, concluding arguments:
“You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Acts 7:51
It’s true that Stephen demonstrated his thorough knowledge of scripture. Perhaps this is why it was too painful for the Sanhedrin to hear.
They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him—-you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it. Acts 7:52-53
Completely unafraid, Stephen points out that these religious elite are guilty of rejecting the One who was sent to save them all…just like it was foretold.
Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God. Acts 7:55-56
This was the final straw, too much for them to handle.
yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Acts 7:57-59
We are introduced to Saul at the very end, but that’s for another day. The end of this story is simply that Saul approved (Acts 8:1).
Let there be no doubt: Christianity is different than Judaism. This is something very different. The foundation is laid by our ancestors, but the stories we read in Acts let us know without a doubt that following Jesus is not only different but might even cost your earthly life.
It is important to appreciate that Stephen was not looking for a fight. He did not go about speaking badly about Jews or even the Sanhedrin. He was, in fact, speaking good about Jesus. It was the Sanhedrin that concluded he was denouncing their faith, their heritage, and their God. They were wrong. That wasn’t the basis for Stephen’s daily ministry.
My point here is that we should preach Jesus, that we should spread the Gospel. Our energy should be focused on that which builds the body of believers while letting God, through His infinite wisdom, deal with those whose hearts are hardened, whose ears and eyes no longer work. Our job is not to tear down, our job is to build up. Without fear.
Remember the Great Commission:
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. Matthew 28:19-20
Nowhere in those words do we read anything about destroying others. Go. Make disciples.