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Acts #24 (chapter 7:18-53, pt 2)
The Book of Acts
Stephen’s Defense of Christ, Part 2
Acts 7:18–53
We are right in the middle of Stephens' defense/sermon before the Sanhedrin in chapter 7 of the book of Acts.  He has been accused of blaspheming God, Moses and the temple.  Now, having been given the opportunity to offer his defense, he not only defends himself as a Jew who believes in and worships the same God as they do, he actually turns the tables and levels charges against them as the blasphemers. Before these proceedings are over, he will indict the supreme court of Israel.  And, it will cost him his life.
In fact, his defense of himself is really nothing more than a step by step look at 
1.  Israel's History of Rejection
In the first 53 verses of the chapter, his purpose is to demonstrate to them how time and time again, God had not only demonstrated His love to them, but that He had provided deliverers and prophets, all of whom they had rejected.
They're accusing him of blaspheming God and Moses and the Law and the temple, but in reality, they are the ones who are guilty of the blasphemy.
And as we saw last time, he begins with Abraham and the covenant promise God gave to him.  It was a promise of land and lineage.  God promised Abraham The Land of Israel.  He also promised to multiply his seed as the sand of the sea. 
Finally, He promised Abraham that through his seed, all the nations of the world would be blessed (Genesis 12).
Stephen had come to realize what we know from the Bible that this blessing was a reference to Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world.  It was from the loins of Abraham that Jesus would come forth.  The blessing is the blessing of salvation--the forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life.  
But, as Stephen pointed out, the Jews have a history of rejecting God and His plan.  It is first illustrated through Joseph.  We all remember the story of the betrayal of Joseph by his brothers.  Joseph was a type of Christ, in that he would later become the deliverer of his people. 
And just as the brothers of Joseph rejected God's chosen Son, so had they rejected God's Chosen Son also. 
Then he turns their attention to Moses.  Verses 17 through 43 are all about Moses and Stephen's poing regarding him is found in
verses 35-36
Stephen is pointing out that not only did the Jews reject God's Son in Joseph, they also rejected God's Redeemer in Moses. 
By the way, I mentioned last time the similarities between Joseph and Jesus, think about the similarities between Moses and Jesus:
- In the infancy of both, their lives were threatened by evil pagan rulers. 
- In childhood, they both spent their early years in Egypt.
verses 20-22
- In their relationship to Israel, notice what Stephen says in
verses 23-24
So, too, Christ was filled with pity toward His enslaved people, and love brought Him here to deliver them.
- They both spent time in the wilderness prior to their public ministry, Moses, 40 years and Jesus, 40 days.
verse 29
Who would have ever dreamed that Moses fleeing to the desert in fear would point forward to the time Messiah would spend in the wilderness after His baptism? 
Then notice, in verse 30 and 31, an angel appeared and spoke to Moses about his ministry, causing him to marvel.  That's not unlike the angel appearing to Mary to announce the birth of Jesus and she marveled as well.
Stephen goes on to mention
- the deliverance of Israel from Egypt.
Acts 7:35
Moses, like Jesus was sent by God to be a ruler and a deliverer.
And as we saw a moment ago, just as Moses was rejected, so was Jesus.
Moses himself pointed out that a prophet was coming who was like him.
verse 37
All they had to do was listen and obey, and yet, as Stephen spells out in verses 38-43, they rejected him and refused to obey and then suffered the consequences of rejecting their redeemer.
So Stephen just recites these huge chunks of Jewish history with cold, hard facts to prove he's not the one who is guilty of blasphemy.  Not with God and not with Moses.  But their whole history is a history of blasphemy and rebellion and they are just like their fathers.
And finally, he points out they are rejecting God's presence through the temple.
verse 44
A tabernacle of witness.  In other words, the tabernacle was God's witness. It was God’s testimony.  God spoke in that tent. 
All of the elements of that tent were somehow earthly symbols of God’s glory, God’s majesty, God’s character, God’s nature, God’s covenants, God’s redemption.  And it was designed to give testimony in the wilderness.  It was the center of attention.  It was the focal point of Jewish community life. 
Then the tent gave way to a tabernacle and the tabernacle to a temple.  Stephen knows all about all of that and understands its purpose and function. 
But notice what he says in
verse 48
They had missed the point of the structures.  They were just earthly witnesses to something more significant and that was the God Who cannot be contained to an earthly building wanted to be with them and near them.  God wanted to be their God and King and provider and Savior. 
But, by the time Stephen was facing the council, they worshipped the building and not God. Their religion was all about ritual and ceremony and going through the motions. 
And they needed to remember the temples and the tabernacles and the tents were always intended to be temporary.  God didn't want to be confined to a building.  His temple would be the hearts of those who loved Him and followed and obeyed Him.
And by the way, they had just witnessed a very vivid reminder of that fact a few days earlier when Jesus died and the curtain in the temple came crashing down!
And Stephen is simply saying, "I understand that God ordained a tent and a temple.  I get that.  But what you need to remember is thaty our God is bigger than your building, and you are blaspheming God by perverting the temple as if the temple itself is holy, and you have turned the temple, our Lord Jesus said, into a den of thieves.
By the way, this is an important transition.  I think until Stephen’s sermon, believers may not have been sure just what place the temple played.  But it was coming down, for sure.
Stephen challenges the church to go forward, beyond the temple where they were regularly meeting, beyond the traditional paths.  Follow the path of the church forward.  The new covenant is not an addendum or revision of Judaism. 
It is new. It is fresh. God is to be worshipped in spirit and in truth, anywhere, everywhere, by anyone and everyone.  God is bigger than a building.  And if you think all you need to do is worship a building, you blaspheme God!
So even as he defends himself against their charges, Stephen pulls back the curtain to expose these Jewish leaders for what they really are. Just as their forefathers had done in the past, they are now doing the same things by rejecting God's Son, Redeemer and presence. 
And finally, Stephen deals with their rejection of God's Word through the prophets
verses 51-52
Over the centuries, time and time again, Israel had turned to idol worship and the worship of heathen Gods.  Time and time again, God sent his messengers to rebuke them and to turn them back to himself, but they would not listen. 
In 2 Chron. 36:16, the Bible says, "But they mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, and misused his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against his people, till there was no remedy." 
It is a serious matter when God speaks and people refuse to listen. 
And the ultimate insult and the final rejection was the rejection of Christ.
verses 52-53
Remember what happened back in chapter 5 when Peter accused them of crucifying Christ?  Their immediate response was to kill him. The same rejection given to the prophets in centuries past is seen with Peter and it will now become evident with Stephen as they take him outside of town and stone him to death. 
We'll look at that in detail next time.
Let's pray
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