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Acts #22 (chapter 7:1-17)
The Book of Acts
Stephen’s Defense of Christ, Part 1
Acts 7:1–17
As we come to the seventh chapter of Acts, we are in the continuing story of Stephen.  As you probably know, Stephen is defending the faith before the Jewish leaders of Jerusalem.  He has been very visible and vocal in the city with his faith, including the performing of great wonders and signs, and it comes to a head when he is brought before the council, accused of blaspheming Moses and God.
As chapter 7 opens, Stephen has been asked to respond to the accusations.   And what he does is quite remarkable as he not only defends the faith, but proclaims the gospel by using the Old Testament.
It appears he has several objectives in mind.  Obviously, objective number one is to just get them to listen to him.  And he does that by using something they were interested in, something that was special to them.  He uses their history and he begins with points of agreement. 
After all, he's a Jew as were they.  They both hold in high regard the Word of God so he starts with Scripture and makes sure they understand that the things in Scripture that are precious to them are precious to him also.  The point he's making is that he's not a blasphemer because he believes Scripture.  So he gains the interest of his hearers by talking about what’s important to them and agreeing with them.
The second thing he does is answer the charges of blasphemy by responding directly to each and every accusation.  The first part is the defense against the blasphemy of God.  The second part is a defense against the blasphemy of Moses.  The third part is the defense against the blasphemy of the law.  Finally, a defense against the blasphemy of the temple. 
Now those two things are pretty straightforward.  It's not hard to figure out the defense strategy so far.  But the next thing he needs to do is turn the table on them and indict them for blasphemy and he does that by declaring to them that they have committed the ultimate blasphemy of rejecting God and that is rejecting God’s Messiah.   And that rejection of God's Son actually causes them to be guilty of the very things about which they have accused him.
And in an amazing legal maneuver,  he winds up indicting the most religious crowd in the country of murdering the Messiah, and thus blaspheming not only the Son of God, but God Himself, Moses, the law and the temple. 
So let's begin by looking for a few minutes at how he defends himself against
1. The Charge of Blaspheming God
verse 2
To begin with, Stephen must establish in their minds that he and all the Christians for whom he speaks are not anti-God.  Neither the gospel that has now filled Jerusalem anti-God. 
Now there is a critical companion truth in that assertion and it's still true today.  If he is not anti-God, then he must be pro-Israel.  It's impossible to rightly divide Scripture and understand the Bible and be pro-God and not be pro-Israel. So the very first things Stephen sets forward is his belief in God and that God is the God of Abraham.
And notice, he addresses the crowd as "brethren and fathers".  He speaks as a Jew to Jews. He recognizes not only their relationship, but their God-given authority and he initiates his comments by talking about their and his God.  In fact, no less than 19 times does he mention God in these opening verses.
And his very first reference to God is with His most exalted title.  He is “The God of glory". By the way, do you know how many times that title appears in the Old Testament?  Well, I’ll tell you.  Only once.  But they all knew where it was.  It is found in Psalm 29 which gives an amazing declaration of the glory of God.  And Stephen is simply saying, " That’s the God I believe in.  That’s my God.”  I’m one of you.  He’s my God too.  Abraham is my father too.  I’m not guilty of blaspheming the God of glory.
He goes on to say, "I know about our past.  I know the story of Abraham. 
verses 3-4
I know about Ur and Haran and the Abrahamic Covenant.  I know about God's promises to bless and keep and preserve and guide and lead.  And that is Stephen simply reminding them he is not anti-God and he's not anti-Israel. 
He knows his Jewish history.  He knows his Old Testament.  He knows the facts.  He knows even more.  He knows that when Abraham arrived in the Promised Land, he did not receive any permanent possession, but wandered in the land that was never really his.  The land was a promise to Abraham, but not a possession. 
verse 5
He knows about God's promises and provisions. 
verse 6
He knows about the slavery and Egyptian captivity and how they would be enslaved for 430 years. 
Then in verse 7, he talks about how Egypt was judged by God and Israel was delivered through Moses.  And step by step, Stephen walks them through their shared history as he says to them, 
"I know about God!  I know about us! I believe in the God of glory.  I believe in your God and Abraham’s God.”  And in so doing, he captures their attention and earns the right to be heard as he defends himself. 
verse 8
Verse 8 is simply Stephen's way of saying, "All of us are sons of Abraham.  All Jews are sons of Isaac.  All Jews are sons of Jacob, producing the twelve tribes from which they all come.  So he’s continuing to identify with them.  He’s saying, “Look, I’m with you on this. But then in verse 9, he begins the indictment.
“The patriarchs,” as noble as you might think them to be, “became jealous of Joseph and sold him into Egypt.”  It's as if Stephen says, "By the way, while we're talking about the patriarchs, think about this!"
Joseph had been set apart by God for a special blessing.  He had a special place in God’s plan.  Reuben, you remember was the oldest of the twelve, but Reuben had forfeited his birthright by a crime.  The blessing and the inheritance was then passed to Joseph.  He was entitled to the most honored place.  First Chronicles 5 says, “The birthright belonged to Joseph” and we read the details of how that happened in Genesis 37.
Joseph has a dream and sees himself being elevated above his brothers and he makes the mistake of telling them about it.  They fabricate a story leading their father to believe he had been killed by a wild animal and then they sell him into slavery.
They went against God.  They were sinful, fallible men.  They were proud.  They were rebellious.  And they blasphemed God by selling the chosen one into slavery. 
And Stephen brings that up because he wants them to see themselves in their ancestors.  Just as the brothers of Joseph rejected him, so they have rejected the Messiah.  That means Stephen isn't the one guilty of blasphemy.  It is them! They have a history of blasphemy. 
Then he really goes into detail regarding the life of Joseph, and in particular, verse 9, that "God was with him".  He's reminding them that God was with him because he was God's chosen one.
verses 9-10
They knew the story.  Joseph comes to town as a slave, gets falsely accused by Potipher’s wife, gets thrown in jail, and eventually becomes the prime minister of Egypt. 
Then a famine came and their great-grand pappies couldn't find any food for their families.  Jacob hears about food being available in Egypt and sent his sons, their fathers in Judaism, to find food.  ANd their they find their brother. 
Detail after detail, Stephen tells their story and at every twist and turn in the story there is a reminder of Christ.  Joseph is one of the closest parallels to Christ in all the Old Testament. 
In like manner, Christ, out of jealousy is rejected by His Jewish brothers, sold into affliction for a cheap price, suffers, and then arises to be the deliverer of the very people that sold Him into slavery.
And Stephen is simply saying, “Just look at our own history!  it is the story of rejecting God’s anointed One!"
And I love how the story of Joseph ends!
verses 11-14
 Joseph reveals his identity to his brothers, he assures them he holds no ill will, God's hand has been at work in all of it. And eventually all of Israel is saved by the grace of Joseph. 
Now the bad news is that's how the Egyptian captivity began, but that's how the prophecy of Abraham came true.
verses 15-16
I wonder why Stephen felt compelled to include this little fact about the burial place of Joseph and his brothers and their families?  Well, the short answer is they were all buried in the Promised Land.  They may have died in Egypt, but they were buried in the Promised Land!
Notice, he points out that Abraham purchased it for a sum of money from the sons of Hamor in Shechem.  Abraham never got his possession in the Promised Land.  God never gave him anything, but he did buy a burial plot.  That’s all he had.  Beyond that, it was all promise.  Eventually that land would fall out of their possession and have to be repurchased by Jacob, but it was the land of promise.
And Stephen, far from blasphemy, is simply lifting up the power and majesty and faithfulness of God 
through the history of Israel starting with the God of glory from Abraham to Joseph, from the call to the captivity, the first great era of Jewish history. 
Well, he now has their attention.  He answered their charges that he was not a blasphemer of the true and living God.  He indicts them by a historic look at the blasphemy of their forefathers in rejecting God’s chosen one Joseph and now the hammer is about to fail as he sets them up for the indictment of what they’ve done to Christ.  We'll see that next time.  
Let's pray.
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