Good Monday afternoon to all you out there! Our church had a really interesting sermon yesterday. It was about Acts 7 when Stephen is before the Council. Stephen was a deacon (Acts 6) and had been speaking about Christ. He was arrested. Why? Because “they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake.” (Acts 6:10).
They couldn’t find anything wrong with this guy. All he was doing was preaching about salvation from sins through Jesus. In fact, his whole arrest and trial sound a lot like the ones that Jesus experienced. We’ll get to that in a little bit. Anyway, he wasn’t doing anything wrong so they had to bribe people to make up charges against him (Acts 6:11-14):
“Then they suborned men, which said, ‘We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses, and against God.’ And they stirred up the people, and the elders, and the scribes, and came upon him, and caught him, and brought him to the council, And set up false witnesses, which said, ‘This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words against this holy place and the law: For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered to us.’”
Verse 15 says that as he was before the council, about to speak, his face had the appearance of the face of an angel. There is real irony in this. Way back in the Old Testament, when Moses came down from the mountain after being with God, his face had to be covered because it was so bright (Exodus 34:35). And here is Stephen, being accused of speaking against Moses, with his face bright like Moses’ was. The symbolism is so cool here.
Anyway, he launches into a long background of the Jews and used that to show that the Jews had rejected Moses and had now rejected Jesus, the Savior. He tells them that they have crucified the Messiah that had been promised from long ago. And then comes my favorite verse in this passage:
“You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit: as your fathers did, so do you.” –Acts 7:51
This was kinda a big slam in the face because they regarded themselves as the best law keepers around. Being called uncircumcised in heart and ears was a big ouch because the physical circumcision was what set them apart. And now, Stephen is essentially telling them that they have missed the forest for the trees. They have been so caught up in the laws and regulations that they have missed the overall picture. Jesus was the Messiah, but the best law-abiding Jews around were too legalistic to see it.
So, as you can imagine, the council wasn’t too impressed with these words. Interestingly enough, Acts 7:54 says “they were cut to the heart.” They were convicted by these words that God had spoken through Stephen. Yet, they did not heed them. After Stephen saw Jesus at the right hand of God, they had heard enough. They stopped their ears, ran at him with one accord, cast him out of the city, and stoned him.
The similarities between Jesus and Stephen are remarkable. Both were arrested for speaking against Moses. Both were arrested by the same group of people. Both were speaking the truth of Christ. And in both cases, pride played a huge role in people’s response to the message. Stephen was killed. Jesus was killed. Stephen was a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit (Acts 6:5). Jesus was (and is) God.
And here’s the greatest similarity of all: as both of them were dying, they asked forgiveness for those who were killing them (Jesus- Luke 23:34, Stephen- Acts 7:60). Not only did they forgive those who were needlessly murdering them, they were asking that the murderers not be held with that sin against them. That is truly amazing. That is something we all can pray for. The next time you’re having a hard time forgiving someone for something they did wrong, remember Stephen. And remember Jesus, Surely we can be more like Christ, especially when it comes to forgiveness.