Vs 1 Then the high priest said, “Are these things so?”
Stephen had been falsely accused by some of the Jews to be speaking and teaching blasphemy.. Now he appears before the Sanhedrin. It has been speculated that the leader questioning him here was in fact Caiaphas – the leader that sat over the trial of Jesus.
And those who had laid hold of Jesus led Him away to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders were assembled. ~Matthew 26:57
In response, Stephen begins a sermon to the council that recounts their history of miracles from God, persecution, deliverance, and in all of that – a lack of faith and faithfulness to God.
Vs 2-5 And he said, “Brethren and fathers, listen: The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran, and said to him, ‘Get out of your country and from your relatives, and come to a land that I will show you.’ “Then he came out of the land of the Chaldeans and dwelt in Haran. And from there, when his father was dead, He moved him to this land in which you now dwell. And God gave him no inheritance in it, not even enough to set his foot on. But even when Abraham had no child, He promised to give it to him for a possession, and to his descendants after him.
God had promised to bring Abraham to a new land and to give him not only the land they were standing on, but He had also promised to do miracles through Abraham giving the land to his descendants even when he had no children.
Then He brought him outside and said, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness. Then He said to him, “I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to inherit it.”
~ Genesis 15:5-7
God had fulfilled that promise! They could look around them and see that God had done exactly what He said He would do. Yet they still lacked faith that God had sent them a Redeemer in Jesus Christ. They chose not to see that the Promise had been fulfilled.
For indeed He does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham. Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.
~ Hebrews 2:16-17
How often we forget to look at Jesus and see how God has cared for us by His provision!
Vs 6 “But God spoke in this way: that his descendants would dwell in a foreign land, and that they would bring them into bondage and oppress them four hundred years.
Foreign land? For 400 years? Sound familiar?
Now the sojourn of the children of Israel who lived in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years. And it came to pass at the end of the four hundred and thirty years—on that very same day—it came to pass that all the armies of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt. ~ Exodus 12:40-41
For a good explanation on the difference between the 400 years vs the 430 years, see “How Long Were the Israelites in Egypt?”
Vs 7-19 ‘And the nation to whom they will be in bondage I will judge,’ said God, ‘and after that they shall come out and serve Me in this place.’ “Then He gave him the covenant of circumcision; and so Abraham begot Isaac and circumcised him on the eighth day; and Isaac begot Jacob, and Jacob begot the twelve patriarchs. And the patriarchs, becoming envious, sold Joseph into Egypt. But God was with him and delivered him out of all his troubles, and gave him favor and wisdom in the presence of Pharaoh, king of Egypt; and he made him governor over Egypt and all his house.
Now a famine and great trouble came over all the land of Egypt and Canaan, and our fathers found no sustenance. But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent out our fathers first. And the second time Joseph was made known to his brothers, and Joseph’s family became known to the Pharaoh.
Then Joseph sent and called his father Jacob and all his relatives to him, seventy-five people. So Jacob went down to Egypt; and he died, he and our fathers. And they were carried back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham bought for a sum of money from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem.
But when the time of the promise drew near which God had sworn to Abraham, the people grew and multiplied in Egypt till another king arose who did not know Joseph. This man dealt treacherously with our people, and oppressed our forefathers, making them expose their babies, so that they might not live.
Now at this point, the Israelites had gone from the Promised Land to Egypt because of the famine, and now they were being held as slaves in Egypt. This didn’t feel like the incredible promises of God being fulfilled in their lives. As a matter of fact, it was a terrible time of trial and tribulation for the Hebrews. They were in despair over their situation. They were not thinking about the prophecy of 400 years that was given to Abraham. They were simply looking around them at their current situation and circumstances and they were in despair. Don’t we all do that from time to time?
Vs 20-29 At this time Moses was born, and was well pleasing to God; and he was brought up in his father’s house for three months. But when he was set out, Pharaoh’s daughter took him away and brought him up as her own son. And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and deeds.
Now when he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren, the children of Israel. And seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended and avenged him who was oppressed, and struck down the Egyptian. For he supposed that his brethren would have understood that God would deliver them by his hand, but they did not understand.
And the next day he appeared to two of them as they were fighting, and tried to reconcile them, saying, ‘Men, you are brethren; why do you wrong one another?’ But he who did his neighbor wrong pushed him away, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge over us? ‘Do you want to kill me as you did the Egyptian yesterday?’ Then, at this saying, Moses fled and became a dweller in the land of Midian, where he had two sons.
How often I go through difficult times and I want to flee! I want to run out of that situation and not turn back! When we go through difficulties, it is so easy to quit. Whether it means quitting on your homework because it’s too hard, or quitting on your marriage, or turning away from a friendship because of some rough times, or quitting a job because you didn’t like your boss.
Through difficult times, God grows us up! He teaches us about loving people when it’s hard to love them. Look at how Jesus loves us even though we are so unloveable at times! He shows us perseverance in times of trial. Look at how Jesus persevered through His multiple court trials and death!
Vs 30-34 And when forty years had passed, an Angel of The Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire in a bush, in the wilderness of Mount Sinai. When Moses saw it, he marveled at the sight; and as he drew near to observe, the voice of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘I am the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses trembled and dared not look. ‘Then the LORD said to him, “Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground. I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt; I have heard their groaning and have come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send you to Egypt.” ’
God sees, hears, and knows! What a great God we have that He watches over us all the time – 24/7/365. He knows the tough things you are going through and He walks with you through them. God’s Word – the Bible – is such a soothing ointment on the pain of our lives when we are going through trying circumstances.
Vs 35-43 “This Moses whom they rejected, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’ is the one God sent to be a ruler and a deliverer by the hand of the Angel who appeared to him in the bush. He brought them out, after he had shown wonders and signs in the land of Egypt, and in the Red Sea, and in the wilderness forty years.
This is that Moses who said to the children of Israel, ‘The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear.’
This is he who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the Angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our fathers, the one who received the living oracles to give to us, whom our fathers would not obey, but rejected. And in their hearts they turned back to Egypt, saying to Aaron, ‘Make us gods to go before us; as for this Moses who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’
And they made a calf in those days, offered sacrifices to the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their own hands. Then God turned and gave them up to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the Prophets: ‘Did you offer Me slaughtered animals and sacrifices during forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel? You also took up the tabernacle of Moloch, And the star of your god Remphan, images which you made to worship; And I will carry you away beyond Babylon.’
God had delivered the Israelites from the terrible Egyptian slavery, had parted the Red Sea so that they could cross it on dry land, then He destroyed the Egyptian army in the Red Sea. After all of that, Moses is up on the mountain with God for one month and they think he’s gone. They turned from God and wanted to worship this golden calf that they made with their own hands. How often I do that even today! I go through something tough for a little while and I think God doesn’t care. But He has shown over and over again how much He does care.
Vs 44-50 Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness, as He appointed, instructing Moses to make it according to the pattern that he had seen, which our fathers, having received it in turn, also brought with Joshua into the land possessed by the Gentiles, whom God drove out before the face of our fathers until the days of David, who found favor before God and asked to find a dwelling for the God of Jacob.
But Solomon built Him a house. However, the Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands, as the prophet says: ‘Heaven is My throne, And earth is My footstool. What house will you build for Me? says the LORD, Or what is the place of My rest? Has My hand not made all these things?’
Stephen is pointing out here that God gave them a tabernacle and later a temple in which to worship and to serve Him. But He is so big and so mighty, He doesn’t need them! And in fact, they are not big enough to contain Him. “What house will you build for Me? says the LORD, Or what is the place of My rest?”
They had accused Stephen of blaspheming against God, against the Law (God’s Word), and against the temple. Stephen is merely pointing out that they shouldn’t worship the temple itself, that it is simply something God gave them as a place to worship.
Vs 51-53 You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers, who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it.
Stephen is showing them how they have rejected and persecuted the prophets that God sent from Moses all the way to their present day. As a people, they had rejected God’s instruction, correction, and direction – time and time again, over and over. Even to the point of killing Jesus.
Vs 54-60 When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth. But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!”
Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.
And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
Once again, the unbelieving and hard-hearted Hebrew people persecute and kill someone that God had sent to them. How often I do not want to hear God’s instruction in my own life. It’s something we all do, and I need to watch out for and repent of when it happens.