Today’s selected reading continues in the New Testament account of the spiritual body of Jesus Christ, which is the body of Christ as it was written and recorded by the beloved physician Luke. More specifically, today’s passage is found in the first seventeen verses of the seventh chapter. When you come to this particular portion of Scripture you will find Stephen speaking with full faith, full confidence and full boldness before the Sanhedrin and the religious council of that day. In order to understand that which is found in the seventh chapter of the book of Acts, however, it is first necessary and imperative to turn and direct your attention back to that which is written and recorded within the sixth chapter. If you seek to read the seventh chapter of the New Testament book of Acts in and of itself without and apart from the sixth chapter it might simply seem like a history of the children of Israel beginning with the patriarchs dating back as far as Abraham. The seventh chapter, however, cannot and must not be understand without and apart from that which is written and found within the sixth chapter, for the words and language found in the sixth chapter serve as the backdrop and foundation of that which is found in the seventh chapter. In order to understand the history which Stephen provided unto the Sanhedrin it is first necessary to consider what actually brought Stephen before the Sanhedrin in the first place. One thing we must think about and consider is that Stephen didn’t deliberately and intentionally choose to confront the Sanhedrin and the religious council of that time, but was essentially forced to stand before them and speak unto them concerning the history of the children of Israel—the people who coincidentally were the same for both Stephen and the religious council. In fact, as I sit here this morning I can’t help but think about the tremendous fact that even before we get into the testimony and witness of Stephen we must turn and direct our attention—first to the New Testament gospel of John, and then to the fourth and fifth chapters of the New Testament book of Acts. If you read the account of Stephen’s witness and testimony before the Sanhedrin in and of itself without also understanding the position Jesus continually found Himself in before the religious leaders of His day and generation—undoubtedly the same religious council which was still present during the days of Stephen and the apostles. Before we even get into the testimony and witness of Stephen before the Sanhedrin we must recognize and come to terms with the fact that Stephen wasn’t the first to stand before such a council and speak unto them a witness concerning the Father, a witness concerning the kingdom, and even a witness concerning the history of the children of Israel. What’s more, is that if you read the fourth and fifth chapters of the New Testament book of Acts—even before you get into that which is found in the seventh chapter, you will find the apostles themselves standing before the Sanhedrin giving their own testimony and witness as they stood opposed by religion during there day.
If we are going to understand the witness and testimony of Stephen as he stood before the Sanhedrin and religious council of his generation we must look back to the fifth, sixth, seventh, and even eighth chapters of the New Testament gospel of John which wonderfully and powerfully describe the testimony and witness which Jesus gave—not only before the Jews, but also the religious leaders who were present during that day. We cannot read and understand the testimony and witness of Stephen before the Sanhedrin without first understanding that what we see and witness with Stephen first began with Jesus as He regularly stood before the Jews and religious council accused, tempted, tested, tried and opposed. If you begin reading with and from the sixteenth verse of the fifth chapter of the New Testament gospel of John you will find Jesus being persecuted and opposed by the Jews because He healed a man and did so on the Sabbath day. What you find beginning with the sixteenth verse of the fifth chapter of the gospel of John is actually the words which Jesus spoke before the Jews in the face of their tremendous affliction and opposition against Him. What’s more, is that when you think about and consider the witness and testimony which Jesus spoke before the Jews you must understand that it was simply because He chose to heal and make a man whole on the sabbath day. With that being said, consider if you will the words which are found within this passage beginning with the sixteenth verse:
“And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay Him, because He had done these things on the sabbath day. But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work. Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill Him, because He not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God. Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He seeth the Father do: for what things soever He doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise. For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth Him all things that Himself doeth: and He will shew Him greater works than these, that ye may marvel. For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom He will. For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son: that all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Father which hath sent Him. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live. For as the Father hath life in Himself; so hath He given to the Son to have life in Himself; and hath given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of man. Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation. I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me. If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true. There is another that heareth witness of me; and I know that the witness which he witnesseth of me is true. Ye sent unto John, and he bare witness unto the truth. But I receive no testimony from men: but these things I say, that ye might be saved. He was a burning and a shining light: and ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light. But I have greater witness than that of John: for the works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me. And the Father Himself, which hath sent me, hath born witness of me. Ye have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen his shape. And ye have not His word abiding in you: for whom He hath sent, Him ye believe not. Search the Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life. I receive not honour from men. But I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you. I am come in my Father’s name, and ye receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive. How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only? Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuse the you, even Moses, in whom ye trust. For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not His writings, how shall ye believe my words?” (John 5:16-46).
If you continue reading the New Testament gospel of John—and specifically the very next chapter—you will find Jesus again in what would seem like another quarrel with the Jews and those unto whom He was sent. When you read and study the life and ministry of Jesus the Christ—particularly and especially the gospel of John—you will find Jesus continually having to give witness and testimony before the Jews and the religious leaders and council of that day. In the sixth chapter specifically you will find Jesus once more giving witness and testimony before the Jews, but not because of healing on the sabbath, but actually because of words which He spoke unto them when they sought for Him after partaking of the multiplied loaves of bread and fish. Beginning with the twenty-second verse of the sixth chapter you will find the people on the other side of the sea seemingly confused by the fact that when the disciples departed from the other side of the sea they were alone, and yet here they are with Jesus actually with them as they proceeded forth out of the ship. Upon hearing those who sought for Him on the other side of the sea Jesus declared unto them how they sought for Him, not because they saw the miracles, but because they did eat of the loaves, and were filled. By the time you come to the twenty-eighth verse of the sixth chapter you will find Jesus once more speaking unto the Jews concerning the works which He did, as well as concerning the Father, and ultimately and eventually upsetting and offending them. The entire rest of the sixth chapter not only touches on the reality of Jesus speaking concerning the bread of life, but also speaking unto them of His body and blood. The words which He would speak, however, would offend many who walked with and followed Him—and so much so that many turned back and no more walked with Him. Consider if you will the words which are found in the sixth chapter beginning with the twenty-eighth verse of the chapter:
“Then said they unto Him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent. They said therefore unto Him, What sign shewest though then, that we may see, and believe thee? What dost thou work? Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat. Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world. Then said they unto Him, Lord, evermore give us this bread. And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. But I said unto you, That ye also have seen me, and believe not. All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath sent me, that of all which He hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. And this is the will of Him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on Him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise Him up at the last day. The Jews then murmured at Him, because He said, I am the bread which came down from heaven. And they said, Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it then that He saith, I came down from heaven? Jesus therefore answered and said unto them, Murmur not among yourselves. NO man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me. Not that any man hath seen the Father, save he which is of God, he hath seen the Father. Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life. I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us His flesh to eat? Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinkers my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live forever. These things said He in the synagogue, as he taught in Capernaum. Many therefore of His disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an heard saying; who can hear it? When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples murmured at it, He said unto them, Doth this offend you? What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before? It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life. But there are some of you that believe not. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed no, and who should betray Him. And He said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father. From that time many of His disciples went back, and walked no more with Him” (John 6:28-66).
Within the fifth and sixth chapters of the New Testament gospel of John you will find Jesus giving testimony and witness before the Jews—first because He healed on the sabbath day and spoke of Himself as the Son of God, and second because He declared Himself to be the bread come down from heaven and declared that unless men eat of His flesh and drink of His blood they will neither have any part in Him, nor have eternal life. If you continue reading in the seventh, eighth, ninth, and even tenth chapters of the gospel of John you will find Jesus continually at odds with the Jews—and not only the Jews, but also the religious leaders and council of that day. When we read chapters five through ten of the New Testament gospel of John you will come face to face with Jesus being continually at odds with both the Jews, as well as the religious leaders of His day. We dare not and cannot read the New Testament gospel of John without understanding that within the book there are countless instances when Jesus found Himself at odds with the Jews and religious leaders of His day, and had to stand before both countrymen and kinsmen alike, as well as religion and religious leaders providing witness and testimony of Himself, of His works, and even of the Father. I began this writing by speaking of the reality that we cannot truly understand the witness and testimony of Stephen without first turning our attention back to the New Testament gospel of John, for we cannot understand the witness and testimony of Stephen without also understanding the witness of Jesus. It was Jesus Himself who originally stood accused, opposed, tempted and tried by the Jews and by religion, and who hand to continually give a defense of the works which He did, of the words which He spoke, and even of the Father in heaven. In all reality, I would dare say that Stephen’s witness and testimony means absolutely nothing without and apart from the witness and testimony of Jesus the Christ as He stood before Jews and religion alike. The gospel of John is not only a book intended on bringing us into the place where we believe in Jesus the Christ and on His name, but it also brings us face to face with a Jesus who was regularly opposed and afflicted by those who could not handle His works, nor the words which He spoke. With this being said, we must also understand that the trial which the apostles Peter and John, and later the apostles together before the Sanhedrin and religious council meant absolutely nothing without and apart from the trial which Jesus stood—not only before the Jews, not only before the religious leaders of His day, but also the trial He would stand before Caiaphas, before Herod, and ultimately before Pilate who would ultimately condemn Him to death. The fourth and fifth chapters of the New Testament book of Acts present us with two distinct accounts of the apostles standing trial before the Sanhedrin and religious council of that day—first with the apostles Peter and John, and later with the all the apostles. Consider if you will the words which are found in the fourth chapter as the apostles Peter and John stood trial before the Sanhedrin, and secondly the words which are found in the fifth chapter of the book of Acts when all the apostles told before the religious leaders of that day:
“And as they spake unto the people, the priests, and the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees, came upon them, being grieved that they taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they laid hands on them, and put them in hold unto the next day: for it was now even tide. Howbeit many of them which heard the word believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand. And it came to pass on the morrow, that their rulers, and elders, and scribes, and Annas the high priest, and Caiaphas, and John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the kindred of the high priest, were gathered together at Jerusalem. And when they had set them in the midst, they asked, By what power, or by what name, have ye done this? Then Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost, said unto them, Ye rulers of the people, and elders of Israel, If we this day be examined of the good deed done to the impotent man, by what means he is made whole; but it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by Him doth this man stand here before you whole. This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner. Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved. Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marveled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus. And beholding the man which was healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it. But when they had commanded them to go aside of the council, they conferred among themselves, saying, What shall we do to these men? For that indeed a notable miracle hath been done by them is manifest to all them that dwell in Jerusalem; and we cannot deny it. But that is spread no further among the people, let us straitly threaten them, that they speak henceforth to no man in this name. And they called them, and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether is be right in the sight of God to hearten unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard. So when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding nothing how they might punish them, because of the people: for all men glorified God for that which was done. For the man was above forty years old, on whom this miracle of healing was shewed” (Acts 4:1-22).
When you come to the fifth chapter of the same book of Acts you will find that by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people, and how they were all with one accord in Solomon’s porch, and how the people magnified them. What’s more, is that Luke writes and records how believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women, and how they brought forth the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and couches, that at the least the shadow of Peter passing by might overshadow some of them. What’s more, is that there came also a multitude out of the cities round about unto Jerusalem bringing sick folks, and them which were vexed with unclean spirits and were healed every one. Beginning with the seventeenth verse of the fifth chapter you find the high priest rising up, and all those who were with him (which was of the sect of the Sadducees), and being filled with indignation, laid their hands on the apostles, and put them in the common prison. In the fifth chapter we find the angel of the Lord coming by night and not only opening the prison doors of the apostles, but also leading them out and commanding them to stand in the Temple and proclaim the word concerning the kingdom of heaven. The whole rest of the fifth chapter of the book of Acts is centered upon a council which convened in response to the apostles and because of the word and message they were propagating among the people within the city of Jerusalem. Consider if you will that which is written and recorded beginning with the second half of the twenty-first verse onward:
“…But the high priest came, and they that were with him, and called the council together, and all the senate of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought. But when the officers came, and found them not in the prison, they returned, and told, saying, The prison truly found we shut with all safety, and the keepers standing without before the doors: but when we had opened, we found no man within. Now when the big priest and the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these things, they doubted of them whereunto this world grow. Then came one and told them, saying, Behold, the men whom ye put in prison are standing in the temple, and teaching the people. Then went the captain with the officers, and brought them without violence: for they feared the people, lest they should have been stoned. And when they had brought them, they set them before the council: and the high priests asked them, saying, Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? And, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us. Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raise up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. Him hath God exalted with His right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. And we are His witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey Him. When they heard that, they were cut to the heart, and took counsel to slay them. Then stood there up one in the council, a Pharisee named Gamailiel, a doctor of the law, had in reputation among the people, and commanded to put the apostles forth a little space…and to him they agreed: and when they had called the apostles, and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. And daily in the Temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ” (Acts 5:21-42).
That which we find in these two passages of Scripture—together with what we find and read in chapters five through ten of the gospel of John—not only bring us face to face with Jesus standing with witness and testimony before the Jews and religious council of His day, but also the apostles themselves standing trial before the religious leaders. When speaking of the apostles, however, we must understand that what initially began with the apostles Peter and John and merely being threatened by the religious leaders and council would eventually and ultimately reach the point and place where all the apostles would stand before the assembled Sanhedrin in order that they might give a defense concerning their preaching and teaching in the name of Jesus. What the religious leaders took offense while Jesus was still present upon the earth would eventually reach a turning point after Jesus departed, for not only did the disciples teach and preach resurrection in the name of Jesus, but they also taught and preached that Jesus was handed over by the hands of men in order that He might be crucified. When you come to the sixth chapter of the book of Acts you will find Stephen—one of the seven deacons which were appointed by the apostles and early church—being full of faith and power, and doing great wonders and miracles among the people. What we find, however, is certain of the synagogue, which is called the synagogue of the Libertines, and Cyrenian, and Alexandrians, and of them of Cilicia and of Asia, disputing with Stephen. What’s actually quite astounding and remarkable to think about and consider is that although they sought to dispute and reason with Stephen, they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spoke. Highly offended, and perhaps even with egos and pride bruised because they were unable to stand before the wisdom given unto Stephen, those in the Sanhedrin sequestered and raised up men which would falsely accuse Stephen of crimes and atrocities which he had not committed. If you begin reading with and from the eleventh verse of the sixth chapter you will come to the following words which Luke wrote concerning the false witnesses which were raised up against Stephen because of the bruised pride and egos of men. Consider if you will the following words which are written and found within this chapter beginning with the eleventh verse of the sixth chapter:
“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 six hall change the customs which Moses delivered us. And all that sat in the council, looking steadfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel” (Acts 6:11-15).
When the sixth chapter comes to and draws to a close it does so with Stephen being falsely accused by vile men who were raised up to accuse him of words which he had neither spoken, nor even thought in his mind. What I find to be so incredibly interesting about that which was committed against Stephen is that we would eventually find and discover him to be the first martyr of the church after the likeness of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, but he would be the first who was falsely accused by vile and arrogant men. When Stephen stood trial before the Sanhedrin he did so because he had been falsely accused by those of the synagogue of the Libertines who were highly offended because they could not resist the wisdom by which he spoke, nor even the spirit which was upon him. If we are to understand the words which we find in the seventh chapter of the New Testament book of Acts we must understand that Stephen had been falsely accused by vile men who accused him of words which he had never spoken. The words which we do find Stephen speaking in the seventh chapter of the book of Acts are words which call and draw the attention of the Sanhedrin, the entire religious council—and even the false witnesses which were raised up against him—to consider the history of the Jewish people going all the way back to Abraham. It’s actually quite interesting and astounding to think about and consider the fact that when Stephen heard the false accusations which were spoken against him he did not immediately defend himself, but rather took that time to speak to them concerning the history of their own people—a history which would begin all the way back with Abraham. Even more than this—not only do we find Stephen speaking of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob and even of Joseph, but we find him speaking of promise and persecution. It is worth noting within the defense of Stephen that not only did he speak of promise, but he also spoke of persecution—two realities which I might dare say are intrinsically linked and connected together. If you read the words which Stephen spoke unto the Sanhedrin you will find that although he spoke unto them concerning promise and inheritance, he would speak of it in terms of famine, in terms of slavery, bondage and oppression, and even of the persecution of Joseph. In all reality, that which Stephen was seeking to do when speaking before those whom he stood trial was a wonderful and powerful declaration concerning promise and inheritance, but how promise and inheritance was intermingled and linked to persecution, to affliction, to bondage, to slavery, and even to famine. Oh I would dare say that on the one hand Stephen was speaking unto them concerning the intrinsic link and connection between promise and persecution, but also using the history of the Jewish people to indict them concerning that which they did unto Jesus, and that which they were doing unto him. Stephen would proceed to give them a history lesson of their own people and patriarchs in order that he might speak unto them concerning the persecution of Joseph, as well as the slavery, bondage and oppression of the children of Israel in a strange and foreign land before God would judge those who afflicted them.
As you read the words which are written in the seventh chapter of the New Testament book of Acts you must understand them as being a witness and testimony in the face of false accusations which were raised up against him. What is so absolutely incredible to think about and consider if the tremendous boldness and courage Stephen had when standing before those who would accuse him, as well as those who would place him on trial in the midst of the council. The seventh chapter of the New Testament book of Acts is most certainly a history lesson of the Jewish people, but it is a wonderful and powerful witness and testimony of Stephen before those who would falsely accuse him, and those who would seek to find fault with him. If we are to read these words we must read them in terms of persecution and inheritance in direct connection with affliction, with oppression, with persecution, and even with famine. Essentially that which Stephen spoke was a wonderful and powerful witness that promise and inheritance are not without persecution, affliction, and even opposition. When Stephen stood trial before the Sanhedrin he didn’t seek to immediately defend his actions, nor even plead his case before them, but spoke the words which the Spirit Himself provided unto him. Thus far within the fourth, fifth and seventh chapters we find the fulfillment of the words which Jesus spoke unto the disciples while He was still them and told them in that moment and in that hour when they would stand trial they ought not to give any thought to what they would say and speak, for the Spirit would give them wisdom and words to speak. In this particular moment and on this occasion the Spirit anointed Stephen to speak unto the Sanhedrin concerning the patriarchs and how although there was the promise of inheritance, that promise would be mixed with slavery and bondage in the land of Egypt, the persecution of Joseph by his brothers, and even by famine which drove Jacob and his household down unto the land of Egypt . In all reality, it might very well be said that the life of Joseph is an Old Testament example of that which we would find in the New Testament as not only would Jesus be persecuted by His brethren, but so also would the apostles and early church be persecuted by their brethren during those days. Oh that we would read the words which are found in the seventh chapter and recognize the tremendous courage and boldness which Stephen spoke in the face of false witness and accusation against him, and that we would wholly commit ourselves to trusting completely and solely on the wisdom of the Spirit at all times within our lives, and to not rely on our own wisdom and intellect. The words which Stephen spoke before and unto the Sanhedrin were not words from his own inspiration and imagination, but were words which were spoken according to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in that moment. OH that we would wholeheartedly commit ourselves to fully trusting and relying upon the Holy Spirit and the wisdom and words which He desires to speak and that we would not seek to defend ourselves instead of, before and beyond allowing the Holy Spirit to speak through us.