Today’s selected reading continues in the New Testament account of the spiritual body of Jesus Christ—the early church—which was birthed on the day of Pentecost as it was written and recorded by the beloved physician Luke in the book of Acts. More specifically, today’s passage is found in verses seventeen through thirty-eight of the seventh chapter. “Let me tell you a story. It’s a story you wouldn’t expect. It’s one you wouldn’t even think has any relevance to what is before you right now. It’s not even a story that has anything to do with me, nor even what I’m going through. It’s a story that isn’t even about me, nor has me at center stage as the main character—or even the main villain for that matter. In all reality it’s not even a single story, but a compilation of stories that come together to form one larger story. What I present to you is several stories that come together to form one larger story and one greater picture. Through these stories you will encounter the reality that there is something much greater that is at work here than you or I are even aware of. Do you really think that what is presently before us right here and right now is the only thing that matters? There is a story that is far beyond what you or I can even think of and fathom, and we must come face to face with and encounter such a reality within our hearts and lives. It’s important for you to note that I am not the main character of this story, nor does anything revolve around me. I am not the central character of this story, nor and I the center character within any of the stories I am about to tell you. What you must understand is that the stories I am about to tell you aren’t even stories you aren’t already familiar with and don’t already know. Furthermore, the stories I present you with on this day are stories you might be well acquainted and well versed in, and might even have known from the time you were a young child until now. It’s important for you to note and understand that the stories I present to you are stories that are about you and about me—and not just about you and me, but about how through these stories are lives are interconnected and intertwined with each other. As you listen to and hear the stories I am about to tell you you must allow yourself to be immersed within the history which you might already now. Even more is that when you think about the history I am about to tell you on this day you must understand that it’s not simply history, but rather His story. HISTORY IS ULTIMATELY JUST THE TELLING OF HIS STORY—A STORY THAT IS NOT ABOUT US, BUT ABOUT THAT WHICH HE DESIRES TO TELL THROUGH US! If we are to truly understand history we must understand it as the telling of a story which He Himself has been telling and writing since the beginning of time. History is not merely about you and I Independent of the true Maker and Creator, but rather is about that which He desires to draw on the canvas of time, and what He desires to write through your life, through my life, and through our lives as they are interconnected with each other.”
The words I just presented you with might not seem like they have any significance to what is written and found within the seventh chapter of the New Testament book of Acts, however, I would strongly suggest that the words which you have before you help fully convey that which Stephen sought to do when he stood before the Sanhedrin and religious council. As you read the words which are written and found within the seventh chapter of the New Testament book of Acts you must understand them as essentially a history lesson which Stephen presented to the religious council before whom He stood trial as false witnesses were raised up against him to wrongly and falsely accuse him of words which he never spoke, nor even intended to speak. Upon reading the words which are found in this particular chapter within the seventh chapter of the New Testament book of Acts you must understand that the words Stephen presented unto the Sanhedrin weren’t words that attempted to place him at the center of what was taking place, nor did they seek to make Stephen the main character. Despite the fact that Stephen stood before the Sanhedrin and religious council because false witnesses were raised up against him accusing him of words and crimes he did not commit, there was not a single time when Stephen sought to defend himself, nor even to clear his name. Reading that which is written and that which is found in the seventh chapter of this New Testament book should bring you face to face with the reality that not once did Stephen ever make it about himself, nor did he even seem to be moved by the fact that he was standing trial before the religious council of that generation. What’s more, is that Stephen wasn’t the first to stand trial before the religious council of that day, for if you study the gospels, as well as the opening chapters of the New Testament book of Acts you will not only find Jesus the Christ standing trial before the Sanhedrin, before the high priest, and ultimately before Pilate, but you will find the apostles Peter and John, and even the apostles themselves standing trial before the Sanhedrin and religious leaders after Jesus departed from this world and ascended unto the right hand of His Father in heaven. By the time we come to the seventh chapter of the book of Acts we have already found the apostles Peter and John, and ultimately all the apostles standing trial before the Sanhedrin. Here in the seventh chapter we find Stephen yet another one of the followers of Jesus the Christ who would find themselves standing trial before the religious council of that generation.
The more I think about and the more I consider the words which Stephen spoke unto and before the Sanhedrin, the more I can’t help but be gripped with and by the fact that it almost seems as though he was not at all concerned with himself, nor even the accusations which were being raised up against him. When you read the words which are found within this chapter you get the overwhelming sense that Stephen seemed to be completely and utterly unmoved by those things which were before him—even though he was being wrongly and falsely accused by men who were raised up against him. What I so love and appreciate about the seventh chapter of the book of Acts is that Stephen was absolutely and completely unaffected by the circumstances which were before him, and did not consider his life to be dear unto himself. There is a part of me that can’t help but wonder what went through the heart and mind of Stephen at that time and if he even thought about and considered the fact that he was standing before the Sanhedrin—the same religious council which threatened Peter and John, and which had beaten the apostles for teaching and preaching in the name of Jesus, and for preaching the resurrection of Jesus the Christ. If you turn and direct your attention back to the sixth chapter of the New Testament book of Acts you will quickly encounter the incredible reality that Stephen was a man full of faith and full of the power of the Holy Spirit, and Jesus the Christ used him mightily to perform great signs and miracles among the people within the city of Jerusalem. What’s more, is that even when those of the synagogue of the Libertines sought to dispute with him, they were unable to refute and withstand the wisdom which the Spirit of the living God had given unto him. The second half of the sixth chapter of the book of Acts is essentially an account of the Spirit of the Lord and Jesus the Christ using Stephen mightily to perform great wonders and miracles, as well as to speak with the wisdom of Christ, and how that which the Lord was doing in and through Stephen was offensive to those of the synagogue of the Libertines. I can’t help but wonder if those of this synagogue intended to somehow discredit Stephen and the signs and wonders he was working, and even the words and wisdom he spoke, and when they realized they were unable to do so, they grew highly offended and envious. In all reality, that which we find within the life and account of Stephen is a tremendous picture of those who can allow themselves to become envious of the work which the Spirit of the living God is doing within one’s life, and seeking to rise up against them in order to discredit them. In the case of Stephen—when they realized they could neither discredit, nor dispute the wisdom which he spoke, they sought to raise up false accusations against him. It is unclear from that which we find in the sixth chapter of the book of Acts if they sought for the end and ultimate outcome of their accusations to be the death of Stephen, or if they simply wanted to make an example of him. It’s interesting and worth noting that when the apostles Peter and John stood before the religious council the first time they were merely threatened and commanded not to speak and teach in the name of Jesus. When the whole group of the apostles stood before the religious council after being cast into prison, released from prison, and then brought once more before the Sanhedrin, they weren’t merely threatened, but were in fact beaten before ultimately being released.
When you read the sixth chapter of the New Testament book of Acts you will find false witnesses being raised up against Stephen accusing him of words and things which he did not do in order that they might silence his witness, his words and his testimony. What I so absolutely love about the words which we find within the seventh chapter of the New Testament book of Acts is that when Stephen began to open his mouth in the company and presence of the religious leaders he didn’t seek to defend himself, nor even present his case for innocence. Undoubtedly Stephen knew that he was wrongly and falsely accused, and knew the words which were spoken against him were false and had not merit, and yet when he actually began opening his mouth in response to the question of the high priest, he did not even think about himself. How absolutely incredible it is to think about and consider the fact when Stephen opened his mouth when the high priest asked if the accusations against him were correct he didn’t even begin with, nor did he even think about himself. As you read the words which are found within the seventh chapter of the New Testament book of Acts you will quickly discover that Stephen did not seem at all concerned with the accusations which were being raised against him, and in all reality, I would dare say that what he was more concerned with was the glory and honor of Jesus Christ of Nazareth and of His Father who was in heaven. The words found within the seventh chapter of the book of Acts aren’t a defense Stephen made for himself, but in all reality would be an indictment against and before the Sanhedrin—one that would find its roots in the history of the children of Israel and Jewish people. The seventh chapter of the New Testament book of Acts is actually quite remarkable and astounding when you take the time to think about and consider it, for nowhere will you find Stephen ever mentioning himself in terms of defending himself, nor even professing and proclaiming his innocence. When you read the words written and found within the seventh chapter of the book of Acts you will find Stephen’s words beginning as far back as Abraham and moving forward from Abraham to Jesus the Christ. Essentially what Stephen sought to do was bring the Sanhedrin face to face with a history which they were undoubtedly aware of and were even well-versed in. We dare not miss and lose sight of the fact that the words which Stephen spoke before the Sanhedrin were not at all about himself, but were designed to confront the Sanhedrin with a history of their own people. This is actually quite interesting when you think about and consider it, for the history of the children of Israel was not merely a history of Stephen as a son of Abraham, but also of the Sanhedrin as they themselves were children of Abraham. I find it absolutely wonderful and incredible that when Stephen stood before the Sanhedrin to speak in the face of the accusations against him he chose to look back to where it all started for the Jewish people and the children of Israel—namely, Abraham who was the father of the Jewish people and patriarch of both the Christian faith, as well as the father of the Jewish people. For Stephen, it wasn’t at all important, nor even necessary for him to speak of himself, but rather to speak unto the Sanhedrin concerning the history of their people—a history which we must undoubtedly recognize and understand was something the Sanhedrin was well-versed and well acquainted with.
The seventh chapter of the book of Acts begins and opens with the high priest asking Stephen if the words which were spoken against him were true, and in response to the high priest’s question Stephen called for men, brethren and fathers to hearken unto him and that which he would speak in their hearing. What I absolutely love about the words which Stephen spoke before the Sanhedrin, as well as before the high priest was that he assumed a posture of humility and submissiveness. As you read the words which first came out of the mouth of Stephen you will notice that even though he was standing falsely accused of things he did not commit, he maintained a posture and attitude of humility and submissiveness before the Sanhedrin. This is quite remarkable, for nowhere in the words which Stephen spoke will you find him getting defensive before the Sanhedrin and speaking disrespectfully or out of turn with and before them. There is not a single place within the words which Stephen spoke before and unto the Sanhedrin when he spoke disrespectfully or attempted to demean or belittle those before whom he was standing. As Stephen stood before the Sanhedrin as he was falsely accused he could have very easily chosen to defend himself, chosen to get defensive, and even chosen to lash out against the religious council, yet there is not a single place where you will read of Stephen doing so. As Stephen stood before the religious council and stood before the Sanhedrin he not only sought not to defend himself, not only chose not to become defensive, but also chose to remain in an attitude and posture of humility and submissiveness. I sit here this morning and think about and consider Stephen standing before the Sanhedrin accused and questioned, I can’t help but think how many of us when facing a similar situation and a similar position would not only choose not to get defensive, but would choose to remain in a place of humility and surrender. Can I be brutally honest with you who are reading these words and declare how incredibly hard it is to remain humble and submissive before those who would question and accuse you? If I am speaking from personal experience I must state that one of the hardest things to do is to remain humble and submissive when you are being questioned, or even when you are being falsely accused. I know for myself personally that I find it incredibly difficult to choose such a high posture and such a low stance of humility when I feel as though my back is being put against the well. I must emphatically state that one of the things I have always had the greatest difficulty with is feeling as though my back is being put up against the wall and like I am being falsely accused or attacked. Let me ask you a question, and if you’re willing to be brutally honest with yourself and with the living God, I encourage you to answer. How do you respond when you feel as though you are being attacked and/or accused? How do you respond when you feel as though your back is against the wall and you are listening as others might demean and belittle you? There is not a doubt in my mind that Stephen was not very much aware of the accusations which were raised up against him, and even heard the accusations which were spoken. With that being said, it’s quite interesting to think about and note that Stephen didn’t proceed, nor did he even attempt to speak up when hearing the accusations raised against him.
REMAINING SILENT IN THE FACE OF ACCUSATION! REMAINING SILENCE IN THE FACE OF BEING ATTACKED! The account of Stephen before the Sanhedrin—and not just before the Sanhedrin, but also before his accusers—is quite remarkable and astounding, for there is not a single mention of Stephen opening his mouth in response to the accusations which were being raised against him. Oh please don’t miss and please don’t lose sight of this incredible reality, for there is a great temptation to feel the need to open our mouths when we find ourselves in a similar place and situation. If you are truly wiling to be honest with yourself and with God you must admit that if and should you find yourself in a similar place—perhaps not standing before a religious council, but before those who would accuse and/or attack you—the hardest thing to do is to remain silent and to choose not to open your mouth. What’s more, is that even if and you do open your mouth, how incredibly hard is it to not even make it about yourself, to not get defensive, and to not defend yourself. If you read and study the account of Stephen before the Sanhedrin you will find that not only did he not open his mouth before his accusers, but when he finally did open his mouth he only did so when he was questioned by the high priest. It’s interesting to think about and consider the fact that even though Stephen was accused by vile men, their accusations did not warrant him opening his mouth and/or speaking at all. Essentially, that which Stephen chose to do was remain silent in the face of words spoken about him, and chose to open his mouth only when he was spoken to and questioned by the high priest. It’s quite astonishing and remarkable to think about and consider the fact that when Stephen finally did open his mouth he only did so when the high priest questioned him based on the accusations which were being raised against him. Please don’t lose sight of this and miss out on this absolutely incredible reality, for to do so would be to miss out on the incredible reality of the posture of humility and submission that is needed to remain silent—even in the face of accusation and attacks. I must emphatically admit and declare that this is something I have a great deal of difficulty with, for I am and have always been very quick to defend myself and to open my mouth. This is particularly and especially true when I feel as though I am being attacked and/or even accused by others—even if it is merely perceived within my own heart and mind. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that one of the greatest things I have difficult with is when I feel as though I am being attacked by others, for I naturally want to open my mouth and either get defensive, or lash out against those who I feel are attacking me. As Stephen stood before the Sanhedrin, as well as his accusers he did not and would not open his mouth in the face of accusations, but would only open his mouth when he was spoken to. Oh there is a vast difference between opening our mouth when we are being spoken about versus when we are being spoken to. Oh that we would learn the difference between being spoken about and being spoken to, and that we would learn how to remain silent in the face of words spoken about us rather than words which are spoken to us.
As Stephen stood before the high priest and before the Sanhedrin, he first addressed them as men, brethren and as fathers, thus committing himself to a posture of humility and submissiveness. After speaking to and addressing them as such, and after being in a posture of humility and submissiveness he immediately began speaking unto them concerning the history of the children of Israel—a history which as I stated earlier would be one they would be well acquainted and well versed with. When Stephen began speaking he actually began with an incredibly remarkable and astonishing phrase, for right after he called for all those assembled in the council to hearken unto him, he immediately spoke of “the God of glory.” It would be very easy to quickly bypass and move past that phrase and not allow the incredible meaning of it to captivate you, however, I feel that before we even get into the history of the children of Israel we must first come face to face—not only with God, but also the God of glory. In all reality, when Stephen began opening his mouth before the Sanhedrin and in the religious council he chose to begin with God and chose to begin with the glory of God. Pause for a moment and think about and consider that, for even in the face of accusation, and even in the face of false witnesses being set up against him, Stephen chose to begin by speaking of the glory of God and/or the God of glory. How absolutely remarkable it is to think about and consider the awesome and incredible fact that even in the face of accusation before the religious council of that day Stephen chose not only to not speak about and consider himself, but he chose to be focused on the God of glory, as well as the God of glory. This is actually quite astonishing and remarkable when you think about and consider it, for how many of us when standing in the presence of accusers and/or attackers are focused on the glory of God, as well as the God of glory? How many of us in that moment choose to focus on the glory of God as the highest and greatest point of emphasis within our hearts and lives? There was Stephen standing before the Sanhedrin falsely accused by vile and evil men, and yet he chose to hide behind the glory of God, and to allow the God of glory to be manifested among them in their midst. Stephen was not focused on his own situation, nor was he focused on his own circumstances, but chose to focus on the glory of God, for oftentimes the glory of God is most clearly evident and visible during those moments when we are tested, when we are tried, when we are afflicted, when we are attacked, when we are accused, and when we face opposition. In all reality, I would dare say that this was perhaps one of the main and underlying themes of Stephen’s words spoken in the company of the religious leaders and before the Sanhedrin, for through the words which he spoke we find him speaking of the glory of God being manifested and evidenced in the midst of persecution, in the midst of affliction, and in the midst of opposition.
Please make note of how Stephen began speaking to the Sanhedrin, for he began with the God of glory and then went on to describe how the God of glory appeared unto their father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, and instructed him to get out of his country, and from his kindred, and to journey into the land which He would show unto him. Stephen would go on to describe how Abraham listened to and obeyed the voice of God, and ultimately came into the land which the Lord showed him, and which his descendants would be given as an inheritance and promise. Stephen would go on to speak of the reality of how even though Abraham entered into the land which would be given as an inheritance to his descendants, he was given none inheritance in it—not even as much to set his food on. The land in which Abraham journeyed and sojourned would be experienced by Abraham, however, it would be given as a possession, as a promise and as an inheritance to the children of Israel which would be his descendants—all this when he was without a child. While it was true that the living God would give the land into which Abraham was brought as an inheritance and possession, his descendants would sojourn in a strange land, and within that land would be brought into bondage, and would be entreated harshly by the Egyptians before the Lord would judge those who subjected and oppressed the children of Israel. It’s actually quite interesting to think about and consider the fact that Stephen began with promise and inheritance and then shifted gears to speaking of bondage and oppression before the Lord would judge the nation that oppressed His people. What followed after Stephen speaking concerning the Lord judging the nation and people that oppressed His people would be the rite of circumcision which was given unto Abraham as the sign and seal of covenant. Each and every male which broke the womb from Isaac on throughout history would bear this rite of circumcision within and upon their bodies as a sign of covenant before and covenant with the living God. What began with promise and inheritance would eventually transition to slavery, bondage and oppression, and would then transition to the rite of circumcision which was a sign of covenant. Thus far within Stephen’s defense we not only find promise and inheritance, but we also find covenant and promise, however, in between these two realities would be suffering, bondage, oppression and affliction. Stephen would speak to and allude to the children of Israel not only sojourning in a strange land, and would then go on to speak about Joseph and the persecution and affliction he experienced at the hands of his brethren who were moved to envy with and because of him. In fact, Stephen even declares that it was envy which was found within the hearts of Joseph’s brethren that caused him to be sold into slavery, but not only how God was with him, but also as God delivered him out of all his afflictions. Essentially, Joseph was a wonderful and powerful witness for the children of Israel that although they would experience suffering, affliction, bondage and oppression, the Lord would not only be with them, but would also deliver them out of all their afflictions.
What I so love about the words which we find and read concerning Stephen and his defense was that there seems to be this intrinsic link and connection between Joseph and the affliction he experienced—first being cast into a cistern and next being sold into slavery. If you know and study the history of the children of Joseph you will discover that after being sold into slavery he would experience yet further affliction as he was falsely accused by Potihar’s wife and would eventually not only be cast into prison, but would also be forgotten there in prison. It would take Pharaoh having a dream and Joseph correctly interpreting the dream that would not only bring Joseph out of prison, but also into the palace where he would be second in command under Pharaoh. Stephen made it very clear that the Lord delivered Joseph out of all his afflictions, and this reality would be one which the children of Israel would experience as the living would deliver them out of their slavery, their bondage, their oppression and affliction. It’s worth noting that before the famine would ever strike the earth Joseph would already be positioned in a place where he could minister and help his brethren and family, and how after the second time of appearing before his brethren he finally revealed and manifested himself unto them. This would ultimately result in Jacob and his entire household of seventy members leaving the land of Canaan and entering into the land of Egypt where they would be looked after and cared for by Joseph. What’s more, is that when you read this passage in the book of Acts you will find Stephen declaring that when the time came for the promise to draw nigh—the promise of the children of Israel being delivered from their affliction and suffering—they would multiply in Egypt till another king arose, which did not know Joseph. It would be this king that would ultimately oppress the children of Israel and dealt with them harshly so as to subject them to bondage and prevent them from bondage. It’s actually quite interesting to think about and consider that the more they were afflicted and the more they were persecuted the more they multiplied and grew—a reality which would be manifested in the midst of the early church. With the children of Israel living in subjection to bondage and oppression in the land of Egypt, the Lord would raise up Moses who himself would be spared from Pharaoh’s attempt to kill and destroy all the infant boys under the age of two by having them cast into the Nile. It would be the love of Moses’ mother Jochebed that would allow Moses to be spared in order that he might be used of the Lord to deliver the children of Israel out of their slavery bondage and oppression.
The particular passage before us not only concludes with Moses, but concludes with Moses finding himself sojourning in a strange land before finally returning to Egypt to be used of God to deliver the children of Israel out of their slavery, bondage and oppression. It’s worth noting that Moses initially attempted to play advocate and deliverer for the children of Israel before being appointed by the living God assuming that they would know that he was raised up and appointed by God to bring them deliverance. Stephen recounts how Moses slew an Egyptian who was persecuting and afflicting one of his brethren, and would eventually flee from the land of Egypt when he realized that it was known what he had done. Moses would then spend forty years sojourning in the land of Midian where he would tend to his father in law Jethro’s sheep. It would be while leading these sheep that he would eventually lead them into the wilderness and to the mountain of God where the living God would speak unto and appear unto him calling him to return to the land of Egypt to confront Pharaoh and to deliver the children of Israel out of their slavery bondage and oppression. Thus, what we not only find within Stephen’s defense is the Lord appearing unto Abraham calling him to leave his country and kindred and journeying into a land which He would show him, but we also find the Lord appearing unto Moses and calling him to return unto the land of Egypt where he would be used of the Lord to deliver the children of Israel from their slavery, their bondage and oppression. What’s more, is that Stephen would go on to speak of Moses and how it was he that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel of the Lord which spoke unto him in the mount Sinai, and with their fathers. Thus, not only do we find within Stephen’s words the reality of the Lord appearing, but we also find it mentioned the Lord speaking, and even the Lord delivering His people out of affliction, distress, oppression, bondage and oppression. Oh that we would read the words which Stephen spoke before the Sanhedrin in order that we might come face to face—not merely with a history lesson before the Sanhedrin, but also a statement of the Lord speaking unto them, and perhaps even of the Lord delivering him from their grip and from their hands. The defense which Stephen mounted before the Sanhedrin would be more than a history lesson, but would be a direct demonstration and manifestation of the glory and presence of the living God unto their fathers and ancestors—a reality which they would find themselves being confronted with as Stephen stood before them speaking unto them.