Today’s selected reading continues in the New Testament account of the words and works of the spiritual body of Christ—the Church—as it was written and recorded by Luke in the book of Acts. More specifically, today’s passage is found in the seventh chapter of this New Testament book. “Then said the high priest, Are these things so? And he said, Men, brethren, and fathers, hearken; The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran, and said unto him, Get thee out thy chy country, and from thy. Kindred, and come into the land which I shall shew thee. Then came he out of the land of the Chaldeans, and dwelt in Charran: and from thence, when his father was dead, he removed him into this land, wherein ye now dwell. And he gave him none inheritance in it, no, not so much as to set his foot on: yet he promised that he would give it to him for a possession, and to his seed after him, when as yet he had not child. And God spake on this wise, That his seed should sojourn in a strange land; and that they should bring them into bondage, and entreat them evil four hundred years. And the nation to whom they shall be in bondage will I judge, said God: and after that shall they come forth, and serve me in this place. And he gave him the covenant of circumcision: and so Abraham begat Isaac, and circumcised him the eight day; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat the twelve patriarchs. And the patriarchs, moved with envy, sold Joseph into Egypt: but God was with him, and delivered him out of all his afflictions, and gave him favour and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh king of Egypt; and he made him governor over Egypt and all his house. Now there came a dearth over all the land of Egypt and Chanaan, and great affliction: and our fathers found no sustenance. But when Jacob heard that there was corn in Egypt, he sent out our fathers first. And at the second time Joseph was made known to his brethren; and Joseph’s kindred was made known unto Pharaoh. Then sent Joseph, and called his father Jacob to him, and all his kindred, threescore and fifteen souls. So Jacob went down into Egypt, and died, he, and our fathers, and were carried over into Sychem, and laid in the sepulchre that Abraham bought for a sum of money of the sons of Emmor the father of Sychem. But when the time of the promise drew nigh, which God had sworn to Ebraham, the people grew and multiplied in Egypt, till another king arose, which. Knew not Joseph” (Acts 7:1-18).
“The same dealt subtilly with our kindred, and evil entreated our fathers, so that they cast out their young children, to the end they might not live. In which time Moses was born, and was exceeding fair, and nourished up in his father’s house three months: and when he was cast out, pharaoh’s daughter took him up, and nourished him for her own son. And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds. And when he was fully forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren the children of Israel. And seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defnded him, and avenged him that was oppressed, and smote the Egyptians: For he supposed his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them: but they understood not. And the next day he shewed himself unto them as they strove, and would have set them at one again, saying, Sirs, ye are brethren; why do ye wrong to another? But he that did his neighbour wrong thrust him away, saying, Who made thee a ruler and a judge over us? Wilt thou kill me, as thou diddest the Egyptian yesterday? Then fled Moses at this saying, and was a stranger in the land of Madian, where he begat two sons. And when forty years were expired, there appeared to him in the wilderness of mount Sina an angel of the Lord in a flame of fire in a bush. When Moses saw it, he wondered at the sight: and as he drew near to behold it, the voice of the Lord came unto him, saying, I am the God of thy fathers, the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Then Moses trembled, and durst not behold. Then said the Lord to him, Put off thy shoes from thy feet: for the place where thou standest is holy ground. I have seen, I have seen the affliction of my people which is in Egypt, and I have heard their groaning, and am come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send thee into Egypt. This Moses whom they refused, saying, Who made thee a ruler and a judge: the same did God send to be a ruler and a deliverer by the hand of the agnel which appeared to him in the bush. He brought them out, after that he had shewed wonders and signs in the land of Egypt, and in the Red Sea, and in the wilderness forty years. This is that Moses, which said unto the children of Israel, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear. This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spake to him in the mount Sina, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us: to whom our fathers would not obey, but thrust him from them, and in their hearts turned back again into Egypt, saying unto Aaron, Make us gods to go before us: for as for this Moses, which brought us out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him. And they made a calf in those days, and offered sacrifice unto the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their own hands” (Acts 7:19-41).
“Then God turned, and gave them up to worship the host of heaven; as it is written in the book of the prophets, O ye house of Israel, have ye offered to me slain beasts and sacrifices by the space of forty years in the wilderness? Yea, ye took up the tabernacle of Molech, and the star of your god Remphan, figures which ye made to worship them: and I will carry you away beyond Babyulon. Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness, as he had appointed, speaking unto Moses, that he should make it according to the fashion that he had seen. Which also our fathers that came after brought in with Jesus into the possession of the Gentiles, whom God drave out before the face of our fathers, unto the days of David; who found favour before God, and desired to find a tabernacle for the God of Jacob. But Solomon built him an house. Howbeit the most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; as saith the prophet, Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool: what house will ye build me? Saith the Lord: or what is the place of my rest? Hath not my hand made all these things? Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? And they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have now the betrayers and murders: who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it” (Acts 7:42-53).
“When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth. But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, and said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, and cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep” (Acts 7:54-60).
THAT HIS SEED SHOULD SOJOURN IN A STRANGE LAND; AND THAT THEY SHOULD BRING THEM INTO BONDAGE, AND ENTREAT THEM EVIL FOUR HUNDRED YEARS! THE NATION TO WHOM THEY SHALL BE IN BONDAGE! THE PATRIARCHS MOVED WITH ENVY, SOLD JOSEPH INTO EGYPT! THE SAME DEALT SUBTILLY WITH OUR KINDRED, AND EVIL ENTREATED OUR FATHERS! BUT HE THAT DID HIS NEIGHBOUR WRONG THRUST HIM AWAY, SAYING, WHO MADE THEE A RULER AND A JUDGE OVER US? THIS MOSES WHOM THEY REFUSED! TO WHOM OUR FATHERS WOULD NOT OBEY, BUT THRUST HIM FROM THEM, AND IN THEIR HEARTS TURNED BACK AGAIN INTO EGYPT! YE STIFFNECKED AND UNCIRCUMCISED IN HEART AND EARS! YE DO ALWAYS RESIST THE HOLY GHOST: AS YOUR FATHERS DID, SO DO YE! WHICH OF THE PROPHETS HAVE NOT YOUR FATHERS PERSECUTED? AND THEY HAVE SLAIN THEM WHICH SHEWED BEFORE OF THE COMING OF THE DUST ONE! YE HAVE BEEN NOW THE BETRAYERS AND MURDERERS! WHEN THEY HEARD THESE THINGS, THEY WERE CUT TO THE HEART, AND THEY GNASHED ON HIM WITH THEIR TEETH! THEN THEY CRIED OUT WITH A LOUD VOICE, AND STOPPED THEIR EARS, AND RAN UPON HIM WITH ONE ACCORD, AND CAST HIM OUT OF THE CITY, AND STONED HIM! AND THEY STONED STEPHEN!
When you come to the seventh chapter of the New Testament book of Acts written by the beloved physician Luke you will find the defense which Stephen gave before the Sanhedrin and the Jews when they all rose up against him to put him to death. In order to truly understand the words which are found in the seventh chapter it is necessary first to look back to that which is found in the sixth chapter. It is in the sixth chapter of this New Testament gospel where you will encounter two distinct truths surrounding Stephen. The first half of this New Testament book describes what Stephen was like among the brethren and how he along with six others were chosen and appointed among the brethren for the work of serving among the early Church. We dare not and must not miss and lose sight of this for before we can even get into the defense which Stephen delivered unto those before whom he stood falsely accused and condemned it is necessary to understand how he was taken from among the brethren for a very specific purpose. There are in all reality two distinct realities surrounding Stephen which are found in the sixth chapter of this New Testament book—the first which describe how he was taken from among the brethren along with six others for the purpose of serving among the multitude of brethren which were present within the church, while the second describes how Stephen rose up during those days and did great wonders and miracles among the people. It is absolutely necessary and imperative we recognize and understand these truths—particularly the second for it helps serve as the foundation for Stephen’s defense before the Sanhedrin. What’s more is that when we do finally get to Stephen’s defense before the Sanhedrin and the Jews during those day of the early church we must needs recognize that it wasn’t merely a defense but it was essentially an indictment and rebuke against those of that generation as well as their fathers—not only for how they were treating him, and not only how that generation treated Christ, but also how their fathers treated the patriarchs.
I sit here today thinking about and considering the words which are found in the sixth chapter of the New Testament book of Acts and I am brought face to face with two distinct truths surrounding Stephen. It is absolutely impossible to miss these two truths for were it not for these truths I would dare say we would not have the narrative found in the seventh chapter, nor would we have the early Church’s first martyr. In all reality it’s quite interesting that the first martyr of the early Church and the first one to be stoned was not stoned and killed by Gentiles but was indeed killed by the Jews themselves. What makes this all the more interesting is when you consider the fact that not many days prior those same Jews had killed Jesus of Nazareth whom they delivered unto Pontius Pilate who was governor in Judaea during those days. When you read the words which the apostle Peter preached on the day of Pentecost as well as after an impotent man who was lame from birth was healed in the name of Jesus you will find him not only preaching Jesus of Nazareth but also preaching Jesus of Nazareth crucified and put to death by the Jews, rulers and leaders of that present day. You cannot read the sermons which the apostle Peter preached during those days and not encounter and come face to face with his stinging rebuke and indictment before them for crucifying and putting to death the Lord of glory. Of course we know and understand that it was Pontius Pilate who ultimately sentenced Jesus to death and delivered Him up to be crucified and that Rome was responsible for actually carrying out the act, however, we must needs understand that it was the Jews themselves who deliberately and intentionally delivered Jesus of Nazareth unto the Gentiles to be killed and crucified.
If there is one thing we must needs recognize and understand is that the apostle Peter held the Jews and not the Romans responsible for the death and crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. We would like to think that it was Rome itself that was responsible for the death of Jesus of Nazareth and yet the truth of the matter is that the apostle Peter held the Jews together with their rulers and elders for the action. Consider if you will the following words which are found in the second and third chapters of this New Testament book and the apostle Peter standing up before the Jews as well as the rulers and elders of that day. It is in each of these passages of Scripture we find and encounter the awesome and incredible truth surrounding the apostle Peter holding the Jews and their rulers and elders responsible for the death and crucifixion of Jesus. Oh it was indeed Pilate who sentenced Jesus to be crucified upon a cruel wooden tree and it was indeed Rome itself who crucified the Lord Jesus Christ, however, for the apostle Peter he held the Jews and their rulers and leaders responsible for the act of crucifying the Lord of glory. Please pay careful attention to the following words which are found in the second and third chapter of this New Testament book and the apostle Peter’s stunning rebuke and indictment of the Jews together with their rulers and leaders for their own actions toward and against the Lord Jesus Christ:
“Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it. For David speaketh concerning him, I foresaw the Lord always before my face, for he is on my right hand, that I should not be moved: Therefore did my heart rejoice, and my tongue was glad; moreover also my flesh shall rest in hope: because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou hast made known to me the ways of life; thou shalt make me full of joy with thy countenance. Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day. Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; he seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear. For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, until I make thy foes thy footstool. Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath. Made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:22-36).
“Ye men of Israel, why marvel ye at this? OR why look ye so earnestly on us, as though by our own power or holiness we had made this man to walk? The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, hath glorified his Son Jesus; whom ye delivered up, and denied him in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let him go. But ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you; and killed the Prince of life, whom God hath raised from the dead; wherefore we are witnesses. And his name through faith in his name hath made this man strong, whom ye see and know: yea, the faith which is by him hath given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all. And now, brethren, I wot that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers. But those things, which God before had shewed by the mouth of all his prophets, that Christ should suffer, he hath so fulfilled. Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; and he shall send Jesus Christ, which was before preached unto you: whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began. For Moses truly said unto the fathers, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you. And it shall come to pass, that every soul, which will not hear that prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people. Yea, and all the prophets from Samuel and those that follow after, as many as have spoken, have likewise foretold of these days. Ye are the children of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying unto Abraham, And in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed. Unto you first God, having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities” (Acts 3:11-26).
Pay close attention to the words which the apostle Peter wrote in this particular portion of Scripture when he declared unto the Jews together with their rulers and their leaders on this particular day. The words which the apostle Peter spake unto the Jews and their rulers and leaders during this day are not only reminiscent of that which the Lord Jesus Himself had spoken unto them during the days which He was present among us upon the earth but they were also words which were echoed by Stephen when he stood up before the Jews together with their rulers and elders who not only sought to falsely accuse him but also sought to stone him. In fact, I am convinced that in order to truly fully understand that which is found in the seventh chapter of the New Testament book of Acts we must needs turn ourselves and our attention back to the twenty-third chapter of the New Testament gospel narrative written by the apostle Matthew. It is within this particular chapter we find and encounter the apostle Matthew recording the words Jesus taught unto His disciples concerning the scribes and the Pharisees and how they needed to be on their guard and alert and attentive against the hypocrisy of their religious leaders. I fully believe we must needs look at the words which Jesus spoke unto His disciples and followers during those days for they help to not only explain the actions which they perpetrated against Him when they delivered Him up unto the Gentiles to be killed but also how they were the children of their fathers who stoned, persecuted and killed the prophets. It would be in the fifth chapter of the same New Testament gospel Jesus explained unto His disciples and followers how their fathers had persecuted, despitefully treated, and opposed the prophets and how they themselves would be persecuted and reviled for the name of Jesus. When we come to the twenty-third chapter of this gospel we are brought face to face with the awesome and powerful truth surrounding Jesus speaking unto His disciples and the indictment which was lobbied against the Jewish fathers for their treatment of the prophets. Consider if you will the following words which are found in the twenty-third chapter of this New Testament gospel narrative written by the apostle Matthew:
“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, and say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Wherefore y be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of you fathers. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell? Wherefore, behold, I send unto you the prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar. Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord” (Matthew 23:29-39).
It is absolutely necessary we pay close attention to the words which are found in the twenty-third chapter of the New Testament gospel narrative written by the apostle Matthew for within these words spoken by the Lord Jesus Christ we find Him declaring unto that generation how they were indeed the children of their fathers who not only stoned and persecuted but also killed the prophets which were aforetimes present in the earth prophesying according to the will of the living God. When we come to the New Testament book of Acts we find the deed of delivering Jesus of Nazareth unto the Gentiles to be killed and crucified having been completed as the Jews together with their rulers and elders delivered Him unto Pontius Pilate to be put to death. Oh it is absolutely necessary we recognize and understand this for in the four New Testament gospels we not only see how the Jews and their rulers and leaders persecuted Jesus of Nazareth but also how they would ultimately deliver Him up unto the Gentiles to be crucified according to the manner and custom of the Romans. It is in the four New Testament gospels we find the accounts of the Jews and their rulers and elders delivering up Jesus unto the Gentiles to be killed and crucified while in the New Testament book of Acts we find the apostle Peter indicting the Jews together with their rulers and elders for delivering Jesus up to be killed and crucified. Twice when the apostle Peter stood up among the Jews in the city of Jerusalem we find him indicting them for their complicity in the death of Jesus of Nazareth for it was they themselves who had delivered Jesus up to be killed and put to death.
With this in mind it is absolutely necessary that as you continue reading the words found in the New Testament book of Acts you will find and encounter the Jews together with their rulers and elders beginning to persecute the apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ. In the second and third chapters of this New Testament book we find the apostle Peter together with the apostles freely preaching this gospel of Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified, buried, resurrection and ascended unto the right hand of the Father who was in heaven. In the second and third chapters of the New Testament book of Acts we find the apostle Peter together with the eleven apostles preaching in the name of the Lord Jesus of Nazareth as well as healing of an impotent man who was lame from his mother’s womb who was healed in the name of Jesus by and through faith in His name. When, however, we come to the fourth and fifth chapters of this New Testament book we find that the preaching of the apostles during those days would almost immediately lead to and result in persecution rising up against them. When previously the Jews together with their rulers and elders persecuted Jesus of Nazareth they were now persecuting His apostles who were preaching in His name—and not only preaching in His name but also healing in the name of the Lord Jesus of Nazareth. It is absolutely necessary and imperative we recognize and understand this and how incredibly important it truly is for it calls and draws our attention to the tremendous truth that just as the fathers of the Jews during those days killed the prophets and just as the Jews together with their rulers and elders persecuted and ultimately delivered Jesus up to be crucified so also would they begin to persecute His apostles. What’s more is that this was exactly what Jesus spoke unto them and declared would take place in the coming days.
In all reality the apostles shouldn’t have been and in fact weren’t surprised nor taken back when the persecution rose up against them for it was the Lord Jesus Christ who had taught and prepared them for persecution to rise up against them. What’s more is that if you read the New Testament gospel narratives you will find that not only did Jesus prepare the apostles for persecution during those days but He also prepared them to be hated of all nations for His name’s sake. You cannot read the gospel narratives and not encounter and come face to face with the awesome and powerful truth surrounding the Lord Jesus Christ and how He prepared and made ready His apostles and followers for the persecution which they would experience in the earth—persecution which would in fact rise up in the days after His resurrection and ascension unto the right hand of the Father in heaven. With Jesus having now been removed from the earth the Jews together with their rulers and elders would turn and direct their attention to the apostles of the apostles of Jesus who were not only preaching in His name but who were also healing in His name. What we find and read in the New Testament book of Acts must be carefully considered and understood for it helps us to understand that exactly what Jesus spoke of concerning their being hated of all nations for His name’s sake, their being persecuted, and even their being killed and put to death would indeed come to pass during the days of the apostles and the early Church. Oh the persecution and hatred Jesus spoke about would not come to pass during the days He was still present among them in the earth, however, after He departed from the earth and ascended unto the right hand of the Father it would be a matter of time before persecution would rise up against His apostles. With this in mind I invite you to consider the following words which are found in the New Testament gospel narrative written by the apostle Matthew as well as the words which are found in the New Testament gospel narrative written by the apostle John:
“Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12).
“Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues; and ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you. And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death. And ye shall be hated of all men for name’s sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved. But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come. The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord. It is enough for the disiple that he be as his master, and the servant and as his lord. If they have called the mater of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household? Fear them not therefore: for there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; and. Hid, that shall not be known. What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light: and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops. And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? And one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows. Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 10:16-33).
“These things I command you, that ye love one another. If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also. But all these things will they do unto you for my name’s sake, because they know not him that sent me. If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin; but now they have no cloke for their sin. He that hateth me hateth my Father also. If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father. But this cometh to pass, that the word mnight be fulfilled that is written in their law, They hated me without a cause. But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me: and ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning” (John 15:17-27).
“These things have I spoken unto you, that ye should not be offended. They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service. And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me. But these things have I told you, that when the time shall come, ye may remember that I told you of them. And these things I said not unto you at the beginning, because I was with you. But not I go my way to him that sent me; and none of you asketh me, Whither goest thou? But because I have said these things unto you, sorrow hath filled your heart. Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you” (John 16:1-7).
The words which are presented here within these passages of Scripture are a clear representation of the persecution that awaited the apostles and followers of Jesus the Christ after He departed from them and after the Holy Ghost whom He would send in the name of His Father had come. While He was present in the earth among His apostles and followers Jesus prepared and made ready His apostles for the persecution they would endure for the sake of the name of His name and we begin seeing that persecution taking place in the fourth chapter of the New Testament book of Acts. It is in this particular chapter we find and encounter the tremendous truth surrounding the rulers and elders of the Jews rising up against the apostles—not only because they had healed in the name of this Jesus of Nazareth but also because they preached in that same name. The rulers and elders of the people together with the Pharisees and the Sadducees were grieved the apostles taught in the name of Jesus of Nazareth—and not only taught in the name of Jesus but also held them responsible for the crucifixion and death of the same Jesus whom they now preached. Moreover the apostles didn’t merely preach in the name of Jesus of Nazareth but they preached that He whom the Jews together with their rulers and elders had crucified God the Father raised up from death to life on the third day and exalted Him unto Himself at His right hand.
It would be after the impotent man who was lame from his mother’s womb was healed in the name of Jesus by faith in that name, as well as the preaching and boldness of the apostle Peter in response to the marvel and astonishment of the Jews the religious leaders of that day grew deeply disturbed at their preaching in the name of Jesus. In the fourth chapter of the New Testament book of Acts we find the religious leaders threatening the apostles and commanding them to cease speaking and preaching in the name of Jesus and even binding them and putting them in prison until they would stand before them again. With this being said we come to the fifth chapter of this New Testament book and we find the religious leaders and rulers of that day transitioning beyond merely threatening and persecuting them but once more putting them in prison. Not only would they put the apostles in prison but after an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and loosed them from their shackles and delivered them from the prison but they would also beat and flog them in an attempt to deter and dissuade them from preaching in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. We dare not and must not miss and lose sight of this for it calls and draws our attention to the absolutely awesome and powerful truth surrounding the persecution that would begin to take place almost immediately after the Holy Ghost arrived on the day of Pentecost. The Jews together with their elders and rulers had already delivered Jesus up to be crucified and now some of those same rulers and elders were rising up against the apostles in persecution. Chapters four and five describe the tremendous angst and animosity the Jewish rulers and elders together with the religious leaders had toward the apostles and their attempt to cause all preaching in the name of Jesus to cease.
When we come to the sixth chapter of the New Testament book we find this persecution taking an entirely different level as it would not only be against the apostles but would actually be directed against one of the seven deacons who were chosen from among the brethren. It is in the sixth chapter of the New Testament book of Acts we find and encounter the awesome truth that during the days when the number of the disciples was multiplied there arose a murmuring among the Grecians against the Hebrews because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. As a direct result of this the apostles instructed them to look unto themselves seven men from among the brethren who were of honest report and were full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom whom they would appoint over the business of serving. Luke goes on to write and record how they chose Stephen who was a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost as well as Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte of Antioch and how they set before the apostles. These seven men ordained and appointed from among the brethren by the brethren were brought before the apostles who when they had prayed laid their hands on them. As a direct result of this Luke goes on to write how the word of God increased and how the number of disciples in Jerusalem multiplied greatly. Not only this but Luke also writes how a great company of the priests were obedient unto the faith. Oh pause for a moment and consider how what would originally begin with murmuring because of apparent neglect of the Grecian widows during the daily ministration would eventually transition to the word of God increasing—and not only the word of God increasing but also the number of the disciples multiplying greatly in Jerusalem and a great company of the priests became obedient to the faith.
In the first half of the sixth chapter of the New Testament book of Acts we discover how Stephen was not only a man of honest report who was full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom but also how he was a man full of faith. Twice within three verses we find it written concerning Stephen that he was a man full of the Holy Ghost while it was also written how he was a man full of faith, full of wisdom and was of honest report. As you approach the latter half of the sixth chapter you will find Stephen being a man full of faith and power doing great wonders and miracles among the people. FULL OF THE HOLY GHOST! FULL OF FAITH! FULL OF POWER! FULL OF WISDOM! OF HONEST REPORT! What makes these words actually quite remarkable is when you consider the first criteria set apart for the appointment of those seven who would be chosen by the brethren from among the brethren for the purpose of the brethren and how those men were to be of honest report. This concept of being one of honest report is actually quite the backdrop and foundation for what we read in the latter portion of the sixth chapter for in this portion of Scripture we find certain of the synagogue which was called the synagogue of the Libertines together with the Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and of them of Cilicias and of Asia who disputed with Stephen. Luke goes on to write and record how they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake. As a direct result of not being able to resist the wisdom and spirit Stephen spake they suborned or raised up men which would falsely accuse Stephen of words which he had never spoken. Beginning with the eleventh verse we find how these who could not resist the wisdom and spirit by which Stephen spake raised up men who would falsely accuse Stephen of speaking blasphemy against Moses and against God. What’s more is that not only did they raise up those who would falsely accuse Stephen but they also stirred up the people, and the elders, and the scribes who all came upon him and caught him and brought him to the council. The thirteenth verse of the eleventh chapter describes how they set up false witnesses who accused Stephen of not ceasing to speak blasphemous words against this holy place and the Law. These false accusers would go on to state how they heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place and shall change the customs which Moses had delivered unto them.
It is absolutely necessary and imperative we recognize and pay close attention to the words presented before us in this passage of Scripture for within them we find Stephen who was a man of honest report being falsely accused of words which he had never spoken. Oh please do not miss and lose sight of this for it is quite the contrast which Luke sets up within this chapter writing of men of honest report who were full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom being chosen from among the brethren for the ministry of service in the daily ministration. In the first half of the sixth chapter we find Stephen being a man of honest report and yet in the latter half of the chapter we find it being written how Stephen was falsely accused by those who were raised up against him. Because certain among the synagogue and among the Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and of those of Cilicia and of Asia could not resist the wisdom and spirit which Stephen spake they raised up false witnesses who would falsely and wrongly accuse Stephen of words against Moses, against God, against the Law, against the Temple and against Jerusalem itself. The latter portion of the sixth chapter is truly astonishing when you consider how a man who was chosen because he was of honest report would and could be wrongly and falsely accused by others because there were those who were moved with envy, moved with jealousy, moved with rage, and moved with bitterness and resentment.
If there is one thing we must needs recognize and understand when reading the sixth chapter of the New Testament book of Acts is that what Stephen faced and experienced was similar in nature to that which Jesus Himself had experienced when He was brought before the rulers and elders of the Jews after being betrayed in the garden. You will find and read in the four New Testament gospel narratives the Lord Jesus standing trial before Herod, before Annas, before Caiaphas, and before the religious rulers and elders being falsely accused by those who were raised up against Him. What’s more is that even when Jesus stood trial before Pontius Pilate we find the false accusations which began before the religious leaders and elders of that day continuing as the Jews together with the chief priests, the elders of the people, and the like would wrongly and falsely accuse Jesus of Nazareth. We know in the fourth and fifth chapters of the New Testament book of Acts the apostles would begin to be persecuted just as Jesus Himself was persecuted, however, when we come to the sixth chapter we find that persecution taking on an entirely different level when one of the seven deacons who was chosen from among them was brought before the council and wrongly and falsely accused by those who were raised up against him. In chapters four and five we find the apostles being persecuted, we find the apostles being threatened, we find the apostles imprisoned, and we find the apostles being beaten, however, in the sixth chapter we find Stephen being brought before the council and being falsely accused of words which he had never spoken. Just like his Lord and Master was wrongly and falsely accused before the council and Sanhedrin as well as before Pontius Pilate so also would Stephen be wrongly and falsely accused.
What we must needs recognize and understand when reading the words found in this passage of Scripture is that it is possible to be a man and/or a woman of honest report and even full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom and yet find yourself being falsely accused by others. Not only this but it is also possible to be a man and/or a woman to be of honest report and yet find your character and your integrity being called into question. I am sure when Stephen was called and chosen together with the other six to serve in the ministration among the brethren he never thought or imagined he would be brought before the council and yet Scripture records how after he had been appointed among the seven for the daily ministration of the brethren he would—being full of faith and power—perform great wonders and miracles among the people. Imagine Stephen assisting in the daily ministration of the brethren as well as performing great wonders and miracles among the people and yet finding himself being brought before the council because of the envy of those who opposed him. Because those who attempted to reason and dispute with Stephen could not resist the wisdom and spirit by which he spake they being moved with envy brought him before the council to be tried. Not only this but they would also raise up those who would falsely accuse Stephen of words which he had not spoken. Moreover they would accuse Stephen of blasphemy which they had already accused Jesus of not many days prior. If you recall the narratives which were written concerning the Lord Jesus you will find that when He was brought before the council He too would be falsely accused—and not only falsely accused but also accused of blasphemy.
There is something worth noting and pointing on when reading the sixth chapter of the New Testament book of Acts for although Stephen was chosen from among the brethren because he was a man of honest report who was full of faith, full of power, full of wisdom and full of the Holy Ghost he would find himself being brought before the council. Stephen was. Brought before the council because of the envy, because of the jealousy, and because of the rage and anger of those who could resist the wisdom and spirit by which he spake. As a direct result of this envy and jealousy Stephen would be delivered unto the council where he would be wrongly and falsely accused of blasphemy. Much like his Lord Jesus was brought before the council and falsely accused of blasphemy so also would Stephen be brought before the religious council and be falsely accused. Oh what a tremendous truth this truly is when you take the time to think about it for everything Jesus had spoken would indeed come to pass—and would not only come to pass but would come to pass fairly quickly after His ascension unto the right hand of the Father and the arrival of the Holy Spirit. There is something to be said about what we find within this passage of Scripture and what we read for Stephen would stand before the council—not only just as Jesus would declare but also as Jesus Himself had stood. AS JESUS SAID, AS JESUS STOOD! It is truly something worth noting and pointing out when reading the words found in this passage of Scripture how just as Jesus spoke of His apostles and followers being delivered unto the councils and just as Jesus Himself stood before the council so also would Stephen be delivered up to the council there in the city of Jerusalem. The apostles had already been brought before the council and threatened, imprisoned, and beaten and now we find Stephen who was brought before the council and falsely accused by those who would accuse him of blasphemy.
If you read the words which are found in the opening chapters of this New Testament book of Acts you will read how the apostles themselves preached unto the Jews together with their rulers and elders how they delivered Jesus up to be crucified and killed by the Gentiles. The apostle Peter stood up and held the Jews together with their rulers and elders personally responsible for the death and crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth—this despite the predeterminate counsel and wisdom and foreknowledge of God the Father who had ordained and appointed such suffering to indeed take place. In the opening chapters of the book of Acts we find the apostle Peter preaching of the suffering and crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ at the hands of the chief priests, the scribes, the elders, and the religious leaders of that day who delivered Him up to be crucified and put to death. What’s more is that in the opening chapters of the book of Acts we find some of those same rulers and elders rising up in persecution against His apostles as they would threaten, imprison and even beat them because they dared preach in the name of Jesus of Nazareth and had healed in that very same name. When we come to the sixth chapter of the book of Acts we find this persecution continuing as Stephen would be brought before the council and would be falsely accused before he would become the Church’s first martyr. Perhaps one of the greatest things we must needs recognize concerning Stephen is that he would indeed become the church’s first martyr whom the Jews themselves would kill after having already killed and crucified the Lord of glory. Stop and think about the fact that the apostle Peter had already indicted the Jews together with their rulers and elders for killing the Prince of life and now they would now be responsible for putting to death Stephen who would be the church’s first martyr.
What so amazes me about the words and language which is found in the sixth and seventh chapters of the book of Acts is not only the envy that filled the hearts which prompted men to bring Stephen before the council but also the eventual rage and anger that would flood their hearts and souls. When you come to the seventh chapter of the New Testament book of Acts you will that after Stephen gave his defense before the council—and not only before the council but also before his accusers and quite possibly certain of the Jews themselves—they were cut to the heart and gnashed on him with their teeth. As you read the words found in the seventh chapter of the New Testament book of Acts you will find that while Stephen was staring down imminent death at the hands of those who falsely accused him as well as those who brought him before the council he would look stedfastly into heaven and see the glory of God and Jesus standing on the right hand of God. Stephen would not only see this great and glorious sight but would also emphatically declare and proclaim unto his accusers and those who brought him before the council that he saw the heavens opened and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. Please don’t miss and lose sight of this for there were man who had already heard the apostles preach of this Jesus of Nazareth how He was delivered up unto Pontius Pilate to be crucified and put to death. There were many during those days who heard the apostle Peter declare how this same Jesus of Nazareth the Father raised up from death to life on the third day just as He said He would. Moreover the apostle Peter had also proclaimed that this same Jesus who was crucified at the hands of the Gentiles after being handed over by the Jews and this same Jesus who was raised up from death to life on the third day was exalted unto the right hand of the Father in glory.
Pause for a moment and consider the tremendous truth surrounding these words which were spoken by the apostle Peter for he would speak of Jesus being exalted at the right hand of the Father in heaven and now we have Stephen proclaiming how he saw the heavens opened and seeing the Son of God at the right hand. The apostle Peter had emphatically declared that this same Jesus who was delivered up to be crucified was exalted unto the right hand of the Father and sat down in that place and now we find Stephen boldly declaring that He saw the heavens opened, seeing the glory of God and seeing Jesus standing on the right hand of God. Oh there is something truly astonishing about that which Stephen saw as he would become the church’s first martyr during those days of the apostles and of the Holy Ghost. Before Stephen would even be stoned to death he would see the heavens opened, he would see the glory of God and would see Jesus standing on the right hand of God. In all reality this is one of the only times in Scripture when we read of Jesus standing on the right hand of God as virtually every other time we read of Jesus in connection with the right hand of the Father we find Him being seated. When Stephen looked steadfastly into heaven on this particular day, however, he would see Jesus the Son of God standing on the right hand of the Father. Scripture is entirely unclear why Jesus would be standing on the right hand of God as opposed to being seated and there were those who would argue that Jesus stood on the right hand of God to receive unto Himself this faithful witness who would be the church’s first martyr. There would be and there have been many who would argue that Jesus stood on the right hand of the Father so as to welcome and receive Stephen unto Himself in heaven.
As I sit here today thinking about the words which were spoken by Stephen as well as the response to those words as recorded in the seventh chapter I can’t help but be captivated by Stephen’s defense before the council. If you take the time to read the words which are presented in the seventh chapter you will find Stephen not only speaking of the mistreatment of Joseph by his brethren who were moved with envy and jealousy but also of the suffering and afflictions Joseph experienced in the land of Egypt. Although Stephen would only speak of Joseph’s brethren selling him into slavery it is implied how Joseph encountered tremendous suffering and affliction in the land of Egypt as he would be falsely accused by the wife of his master and being imprisoned for two years. The Old Testament book of Genesis goes on to reveal how Joseph would interpret two dreams of those who would be imprisoned with him—the king’s baker and the king’s cup bearer. One of those prisoners would be executed by Pharaoh while the other would be restored to his position. The one who was restored to his position, however, would not remember Joseph and as a direct result Joseph would spend two years in that prison before the LORD God Almighty would not only elevate him from within the prison but also exalt him to the second in command in the land of Egypt behind Pharaoh himself. With this being said we must also recognize that Stephen would go on to describe how the whole house of Israel—seventy souls in all—would go down into the land of Egypt and be sustained by Joseph before Joseph and his brother and that entire generation would die. It would be after the death of Joseph another Pharaoh would arise who knew not Joseph and would not only enslave but also violently oppress and cruelly treat the Hebrews in the midst of the land.
We must needs recognize and pay close attention to the words which are found in Stephen’s defense and response before the council for Stephen would take the time to speak of the envy, the hard-heartedness, the rage, the anger and the bitterness and resentment of others toward those who were called and chosen by the living God. Stephen would call to their remembrance the events surrounding Abraham and his being called out of Ur of the Chaldeans unto the land of Canaan where the eternal God would give unto him a son through whom the nations of the earth would be blessed. What’s more is that as you read the words found in this passage of Scripture you will find a clear and present contrast between the suffering and the afflictions of the people of God from Joseph at the hands of his brothers and in the land of Egypt to the house of Israel themselves who would be violently mistreated, oppressed, and enslaved in the midst of the land of Egypt. You cannot read the words which Stephen spoke unto the council and before all those whom he gave account and not see the tremendous contrast which existed between the suffering and the affliction of the righteous and the LORD’s hand in delivering them all. The LORD God would deliver Joseph out of the hands of his brothers and would deliver Joseph out of the prison and the LORD God would deliver the children of Israel out of their slavery, out of their bondage and out of their cruel oppression. We dare not and must not miss and lose sight of this for this is precisely what the Father would do for His Son who would suffer in the flesh. It was indeed true that the eternal and only begotten Son would suffer in the flesh and would be killed and crucified, however, the Father would deliver His Son through death. What’s more is that the Father would even deliver His Son from the grasp and clutches of hell itself as He would not allow His soul to abide in hell.
As I prepare to bring this writing to a close it is absolutely incredible to read the words found in the sixth and seventh chapters of the New Testament book of Acts for it calls and draws our attention to the church’s first martyr who would be stoned to death at the hands of the council and those who sought to falsely accuse him. The Jews together with their rulers and leaders had already killed and crucified the Lord Jesus Christ and they had already persecuted, threatened, imprisoned and beaten the apostles and now we witness and behold the first death occurring during those days. Stephen was a man of honest report, full of faith, full of power, full of wisdom, full of the Holy Ghost and worked many wonders and miracles and yet he would ultimately become the church’s first martyr. Just as Abel would be the first whose blood was shed in the earth by his brother Cain so also would Stephen be the first disciple and follower of Jesus whose blood was shed during the days. What’s more is that Jesus had already declared unto that generation that they were the sons of their fathers who had killed the prophets and would indeed be the generation who would crucify and put to death Jesus Himself. Having already delivered Jesus to be crucified and put to death those of that generation would now be responsible for spilling the blood of the first martyr of the early church. Not only this but as you continue reading in the book of Acts you will find that Stephen’s death would not only be the catalyst for a great persecution to break out in the city of Jerusalem against the followers of Jesus but also the persecution which Saul of Tarsus would raise up against the Church. The eighth chapter of the New Testament book of Acts will bring us face to face with the events which would take place on the heels of the death of Stephen who would indeed become the church’s first martyr whose blood was shed during those days.