- In what way did God comfort, challenge, or correct you today?
- How should the truth you heard today effect the way you live tomorrow?
- How do you keep your joy while daily sacrificing and suffering for others?
- Is Jesus a bad shepherd for sending his people out as sheep among wolves (see John 10)? Why or why not?
- When is it wrong to run from persecution? When is it right to run from persecution? Think at the level of motivation and fear.
- What does it look like for you to daily commit yourself to the Lord’s care and for his use?
- How should faith-filled rejoicing and weeping look in your life?
- Does your participation in funerals strengthen our Christian community? How can you grow in this area? How can you include your family?
- Why does preaching some truth and some error create a false religion?
- What is the significance of calling miracles like healings and exorcisms “signs”?
- How can you use your spiritual gift as a sign that points to Jesus?
- The way you love and value Mambrino Baptist Church is meant to be a testimony to the reality of Jesus’ power and kingdom. How can you grow in your love for these people?
Main Point: Jesus is worthy of life and death.
It seems everyone these days is comfortable with an Olaf-Jesus. Everyone likes a nice Jesus who gives warm hugs and makes no demands on our lives. If you are emotionally weak and need a Jesus to help you sleep at night, then so be it but keep your fairy-tale Jesus to yourself. To the world, a nice Jesus who makes us nice is quite nice. But a glorious Jesus who is worthy of every square inch of our lives is another matter altogether.
Jesus is the One for whom all things exist. All things are from him, through him, and to him (Colossians 1:16-17). The claim you must struggle with is this: you exist because of Jesus and you exist for Jesus. Your finances and your possessions exist because of Jesus and for Jesus. We spend and we save because of what we believe about the worth of Jesus. Your sexuality exists because of Jesus and for Jesus. We do what we do with our bodies because of Jesus and for Jesus. To make the claim as clear as possible, Jesus is the appropriate goal of everything you do. All things are from him, through him, and to him. You do what you do because of what you believe about Jesus.
You see, following Jesus is directly tied to worshipping Jesus. You will follow Jesus to the extent that you see and feel the worth of Jesus. The greater his worth, the further and faster you will follow him. The bigger his worth, the greater his influence. The lesser his worth, the more you will ignore, distain, or outright hate him.
The two paths of hating Jesus or following Jesus play out in Acts 7. Stephen is a man who saw the great worth of Jesus and therefore lived a life of worship. Stephen did what he did and said what he said because he saw the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Knowing the worth of Jesus and making the worth of Jesus known were driving factors in Stephen’s work. The council of Jewish leaders, the very men who had recently interrogated and executed Jesus, were now ready to lynch Stephen for blasphemy. They heard Jesus make himself equal with God and they killed him for it. They heard Stephen proclaim the resurrected Jesus is equal with God and they will kill him for it.
Let’s read. Acts 7:47-60
There are some important lessons for us to learn from Stephen. Here is the first
I. We follow a Jesus that is hated
But why was Jesus hated? Was he hated because he healed the sick and fed the poor? No. Early on John records this fact, “This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (John 5:18).
Fundamentally, their hatred was religious. Jesus was messing with their understanding of the Sabbath. And being more than a prophet, Jesus was claiming equality with God. The fully divine Son of Man is the One Stephen preached
- Stephen preached Jesus the Righteous One
Back up a few verses to Acts 7:52, “Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, who you have now betrayed and murdered.”
The prophet Isaiah was persecuted by the Jews and Isaiah said this about Jesus, “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous and he shall bear their iniquities” (Isaiah 53:11). Isaiah pointed past the sacrifices of bulls and goats to the death of the Righteous One for sins. Moses promised another prophet like himself would come and the people must listen to him. Moses, Isaiah, and Stephen pointed to Jesus. Stephen points us to the Son of God who offers forgiveness of sins because he took our sins upon himself.
Here is the gospel, 1 Peter 3:18, “Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.” 1 Corinthians 5:21, God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Stephen preached Jesus the Righteous One who makes people righteous by taking away their sin. Jesus brings change.
- Preaching Jesus is demanding change
These Jewish leaders, members of what is called the council, believed they were righteous. They sought to obey the law of Moses, they tried to follow all their rigorous Sabbath rules, they offered the sacrifices of Moses, and they tithed according to their understanding of Moses’ commands. The problem is the law and the sacrifices pointed toward Jesus and the perfect salvation he brings, but the Jewish leaders refused to listen to Moses who pointed to Jesus.
Listening to the Gospels, we see Jesus demanding that prostitutes, thieves, and hypocrites change. Prostitutes and thieves heard Jesus offer them forgiveness and they felt their need for forgiveness. They knew they needed to change and so they received Jesus gladly; in Jesus is forgiveness and hope! When these religious leaders heard Jesus call them white-washed tombs outwardly clean but inwardly full of dead man’s bones, they hated the idea that they needed to change. But Jesus offered to forgive them all and change them all by taking their sin and giving them his Holy Spirit. Stephen’s point is these men, the council, refused to follow the law and Moses to Jesus.
Here is the crossroads. If you see Jesus as fully God with the authority and power to forgive sin and empower a new life of holiness than his offer is great news. But if you see Jesus as an imposter then his claim about your sin and his offer of a new life is at best a joke and at worst the grossest of blasphemies. You see
- Preaching Jesus can produce rage
Both Jesus and Stephen were calling these leaders out on their hypocrisy and lawlessness. In verse 53 Stephen said, “you received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.” Jesus offers you life with God and you reject it.
It is the case that telling people the thing they love, their very way of life, is actually lawlessness produces rage. When you preach Christ who demands change, do not be surprised when people rage. People will tell you, “how dare you say I am wrong, or I need to be forgiven, or I need to change.” But our idols of religion, wealth, sexuality, and power cannot remain alongside Jesus. Expose some sin, preach Jesus as the only righteous answer who demands change, and some people will rage. Church, we follow a Jesus who was hated because he offered to forgive and change sinners. We will be hated when we preach Jesus and call people to repent and follow him. The reality of hatred means we need to be clear about Jesus. Who are we following? Is Jesus worth it?
II. We follow a Jesus who is at the Father’s right hand
Jesus is the living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious (1 Pt 2:4). The natural thing to do is to reject Jesus. We hate what Jesus does but what Jesus does is God’s perfect plan. Our greatest good is seeing Jesus for who he is.
Look with me at Acts 7:55, “But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.”
- Heaven is a spiritual place and so requires the help of the Holy Spirit to see
One of our struggles is that we have grown up in an American culture that preaches the sufficiency and autonomy of the individual. We can do anything we set our minds to. We can build the tower of Babel and bring God down. We have the resources and ability to accomplish anything. But the reality is the spiritually dead cannot see the spiritual worth of Jesus. Plus, physical eyes capable of only taking in physical realities, cannot see the spiritual realm. Unless spiritual beings choose to make themselves known, they will never be seen. Our physical eyes cannot see spiritual beings because light waves and optic nerves are not capable of taking in the spiritual. So, of course science cannot prove the existence of the spiritual. Asking science to prove the existence of the spiritual is like asking a cup measure to tell you the temperature of the sun. A cup measure can’t get to the sun and even if it did, a cup measure doesn’t have the capability to measure temperature.
Acts 6:3 tells us that Stephen was a man full of the Holy Spirit. It is this same fullness in Acts 7 that enables Stephen to look into heaven and see the glory of God. Now, the number of people in the Bible who God enables to see his glory, or a glimpse of heaven, is quite small. There is Moses, Isaiah, and Ezekiel in the Old Testament. Paul talks about this vision in 2 Corinthians 12 and John gets this vision in Revelation 1. What we make of these events is this: the blessing of seeing heaven this side of death is extremely rare.
On this rare occasion, the Holy Spirit enabled Stephen to gaze into heaven and see the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. So, Heaven is a place and Stephen is able to look into it. This points toward heaven being a place or a location that is now spiritual not physical. Our physical eyes cannot see it. So what should we do?
2 Corinthians 4:16-18 explains what we should all expect. “Though our outward self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
During these days we look to the things that are unseen. We don’t see the resurrected Jesus with our eyes, but we comprehend the truth with our minds and seek the benefit by faith. We don’t see the Holy Spirit with our physical eyes; we believe he has been given to us and is empowering us. We don’t see heaven; we believe it is a spiritual place made ready for everyone who follows Jesus. Today we think and understand; one day soon we will see. For a very few, a rare glimpse may be given. Today we ask for the Holy Spirit to give us the ability to look ahead at the reality to come. We ask the Spirit to help us believe and we ask the Spirit to help us when we doubt. We need the Spirit’s help to see Jesus.
Here’s our next fact about heaven
- Heaven is a spiritual place where the glory of God and Jesus currently dwell
Stephen sees a Jesus who is equal with God. This is why the council rages and the people kill Stephen. Stephen claims to see a fully divine Son of Man that stands as an equal with the glorious God. The people want to kill Stephen for this claim. Connect what Stephen sees in verse 55 to what he says he sees in verse 56. He sees the glory of God and Jesus at God’s right hand. He says he sees the Son of Man at God’s right hand.
Stephen sees the fulfillment of the prophet Daniel’s promise. Daniel 7, Daniel saw one like a son of man who is given an everlasting dominion, an indestructible kingdom, and the worship of the nations. This is the final straw. When Stephen claims Jesus is the Daniel 7 Son of Man the people scream, plug their ears, and rush Stephen. Why is this such a big deal?
I could stand on the street corner and proclaim that Kobe Bryant is the son of man and no one would care because the title son of man means nothing to our culture. In Stephen’s day, this title Son of Man was everything. The people were looking for the Messiah, the deliverer, the son of man. For Stephen to say Jesus is the Son of Man and these guys killed him is an unbearable offense. According to the council, Stephen is claiming too much of Jesus and must be stopped.
What Stephen sees is an infinitely worthy Jesus. Stephen sees Jesus who has received an indestructible kingdom, an everlasting dominion, and the worship of the nations. Stephen saw the sovereign Jesus at the Father’s right hand. Stephen saw a Jesus worth dying for. Knowing the place and rule of Jesus gave Stephen boldness and courage.
- Stephen saw the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God
Now this is curious because every other reference to the Son of Man at God’s right hand has the Son of Man seated (Ps 110:1; Mt 26:24; Eph 1:20; Col 3:1; Rev 14:14). So, when Jesus said, “from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the power of God and coming with the clouds of heaven” the council raged. (Mk 14:62; Lk 22:69).
Why then does Stephen see the Son of Man standing? I believe Jesus is standing looking on and caring for Stephen in his final hour. Our King is not cold and aloof eating grapes in a palace somewhere out there. Our King is a shepherd who cares for each sheep. The Shepherd is standing caring for and receiving his precious sheep.
Will we receive the same vision as Stephen? Probably not. We likely won’t see the spiritual with our physical eyes. In the moment of dying we likely will not see Jesus standing at the Father’s right hand. But immediately after our physical death, when the body goes cold and the soul goes to be with the Lord, we will see Jesus at the right hand of glory. Think on these things today, believe them, grab onto them by faith. Soon your faith will become sight.
Ok, let’s follow Stephen’s journey home
III. Stephen followed Jesus unto death
Let’s do a quick recap
- These Jews understood that Stephen was making Jesus equal with God
It is not Stephen’s tone of voice that is hard to hear. The content of Stephen’s preaching is unbearable. The customs of the day demanded that the blasphemer should be stopped with stones and listening ears should be protected from hearing such awful words. Stephen’s vision of the resurrected Jesus standing by the glory of God was unbearable to the people. So, verse 58, “they cast him out of the city and stoned him.” Death for blasphemy.
I want to note at this point that this is another Trinitarian passage. We see the Holy Spirit on earth filling Stephen, and we see Jesus and God as equals in heaven. The Jews understood what Stephen was saying. Do we? They understood Stephen was preaching Jesus as the Son of Man.
- Stephen was killed for preaching Jesus the Son of Man
Remember what Daniel said about the Son of Man. The Son of Man has an everlasting dominion, a kingdom that will not be destroyed, and to him belongs the worship or service of the nations. There is nothing better or stronger than Jesus. There is no one bigger or stronger than Jesus. The kingdom of the Son of Man is worth losing everything to gain. Stephen saw Jesus clearly and so was willing to die to make him known.
The point is, it is not enough to love Jesus in your home. We must get out in the world and proclaim the Jesus of infinite worth. We must preach the good of Jesus and call people to follow him. We must commit ourselves to the care of our Shepherd. Stephen shows us how to do this in our deaths.
- Stephen committed his spirit to God
In verse 58 we are introduced to a man named Saul. This is preparing us for the conversion of this hypocrite into a humble and bold follower of Christ. Stephen’s death points us to the fruit of Saul’s conversion.
Verse 59, “And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’” Just as Jesus died committing his spirit to his Father in Luke 23:46, so now Stephen commits his soul to Jesus. This also proves Jesus’ equality with God. We are to pray to Jesus as we pray to God. We are to commit our souls to Jesus as Jesus committed his soul to God. The Father and the Son are different persons but possess the same deity.
Think on this with me, everyday living is practice for the moment of dying. The person who commits her body and soul to Christ everyday will have little trouble committing body and soul to Jesus at her death (Rom 6). Finding Jesus trustworthy today will lead you to find Jesus trustworthy at your death. Make it a practice when you wake in the morning to pray, “Jesus today I commit myself to you, lead me and keep me.” When you come to die pray, “Jesus I commit myself to you, lead me and keep me.”
Jesus is worthy. Jesus has conquered death. Jesus is fully God. He can be trusted. Like Stephen, we must commit ourselves to Christ and like Stephen, we must love our enemies.
- Stephen loved his enemies
Jesus died committing his soul to the Father. Stephen died committing his soul to the Son of Man. Jesus died praying the Father would forgive his executioners (Lk 23:34). Look how Stephen died. Acts 7:60, “And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’”
Stephen is the winsome radical. Yes, he cared for the widows and the poor. Yes, he healed the sick. Yes, he preached the everlasting dominion, eternal kingdom, and infinite worth of Jesus. He called out sin and pulled no punches. And in all of this his desire is for his neighbors, even his enemies, to find forgiveness in Christ.
Stephen preached boldly and loved deeply. Stephen died following Jesus seeking to make Jesus known. This must be our goal.
- You must decide to follow Jesus
Church listen to Jesus, he is demanding change. The way we are using our bodies, our minds, and our souls must follow the ethics of Jesus’ kingdom. Seeing Jesus’ worth, we must leave all other claims behind and worship him with our lives.
And following Jesus starts with repentance and faith. We have turned away from God and gone our own way. Jesus knows us, he died knowing we run away! He also died because he wants us to return to his care. Jesus is the way back to God, not our works. And praise God there is no bait and switch in the kingdom. Leaving our ways behind will be hard, giving up your identity and your ways is no easy decision. But leaving our ways behind for Jesus’ kingdom is the best decision. Like Stephen, Jim Elliot died to make Jesus known. Jim Elliot said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
Jesus is better. His kingdom is infinite. Let’s go to him and commit our selves to him. We can trust him with our bodies and souls.
Jesus, we commit ourselves to you now, lead us and keep us. Take us up to the blessings of eternal life with you. Cause us to glorify the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Use us to bring many sons and daughters to salvation. Like Stephen, cause us to preach boldly and love deeply. Cause us to glorify your great name, the name of Jesus, Amen.
- In what way did God comfort, challenge, or correct you today?
- How will the truth you heard today change the way you live tomorrow?
- Why is our culture okay with an Olaf-Jesus who likes warm hugs but our culture is not okay with a Jesus who is worthy of commanding every square inch of our lives?
- What does it mean that you exist because of Jesus and you exist for Jesus (Colossians 1:16-17)?
- Why was Jesus hated? Why should you expect to be hated? Why is Jesus worth being hated?
- How does Jesus the Righteous One make you righteous?
- Explain where we see the Trinity in these verses.
- Why do we not see heaven now? Why will we see heaven in the future?
- What is the significance of Jesus standing by the right hand of God’s glory? Connect this with Daniel 7:9-14.
- What do you want to be thinking about when you die? How should Jesus play into these thoughts?
- How does living committed to Jesus prepare us to die committed to Jesus?
Jesus said it plainly, “Remember Lot’s wife” (Luke 17:32).
The context of the command, “Remember Lot’s wife,” is preparation for the difficulty that will precede Jesus’ second coming. Here’s how Jesus put it, “On that day, let the one who is on the housetop, with his goods in the house, not come down to take them away, and likewise let the one who is in the field not turn back. Remember Lot’s wife. Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it” (Luke 17:31-33). Forget your stuff. Leave it all behind.
What was it like in the days of Lot’s wife? Jesus said, “they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building” (Luke 17:28). In the days of Lot’s wife there was nothing more than the material. They were driven by food and drink, possessions and profit, crops and buildings.
When God demanded that Lot’s wife leave it all and follow Him, she couldn’t do it. Her heart was attached to her stuff and not to God. Her possessions were her god.
Now, we’ve had three birthdays in six weeks. Due to the diligence of my wife, I tried to give my daughters good gifts (Luke 11:13). Joy and generosity should be characteristics of every Christian. The question that haunts me is this: Am I raising Lot’s wife? Am I being merely materialistic? Is my joy and generosity bound up in thinking I’m successful because I can buy a certain amount of gifts or afford a certain brand of tennis shoes?
There is a better way. Without losing joy and generosity, I must be working in my master’s field (Luke 17:7-10). I think the difficulty is, while giving good gifts and cultivating gratitude in my daughters, I must also bring them along with me as I pursue the greater good of Christ’s kingdom. It is easy to buy a present and teach my daughter to say thank you. It is another thing to bring my daughter with me and rejoice together as we seek the greater good of serving a widow, praying with the sick, and explaining the gospel.
I’m not against giving good gifts. I am concerned about the greater worth of the kingdom.
Am I raising Lot’s wife? Are you?
It behoveth us with David (Psalm 31:6) to commit our souls into the hands of God daily so long as we are in the world, because we are environed with a thousand deaths, that God may deliver our life from all dangers; but when we must die indeed, and we are called thereunto, we must fly unto this prayer, that Christ will receive our spirit. For he commended his own spirit into the hands of his Father, to this end, that he may keep ours forever. This is an inestimable comfort, in that we know our souls do not wander up and down when they flit out of our bodies, but that Christ receives them, that he may keep them faithfully, if we commend them into his hands. This hope ought to encourage us to suffer death patiently. Yea, whosoever commendeth his soul to Christ with an earnest affection of faith, he must needs resign himself wholly to his pleasure and will. And this place does plainly testify that the soul of man is no vain blast which vanishes away, as some frantic fellows imagine dotingly, but that it is an essential spirit which lives after this life. Furthermore, we are taught hereby that we call upon Christ rightly and lawfully, because all power is given him of the Father, for this cause, that all men may commit themselves to his tuition.
John Calvin, Acts Commentary, 320.
Main Point: God is fulfilling his covenant promises and thereby increasing and expanding worship.
Today we will look at Stephen’s sermon recorded in Acts 7. Last week we saw that Stephen was a winsome radical. Stephen was known to be a good man. He was full of the Holy Spirit, faith, wisdom, and grace. Acts 7 shows us that Stephen was a man who saw the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Stephen listened to the word of God, believed God’s promises, and had a passion for his neighbors to worship God.
Think about the worship of God like a car you drive every day. Your everyday driver requires regular maintenance to keep it working properly. You must monitor tire pressure, change the oil and air filter, rotate the tires, and get the alignment checked. If you do not keep up the maintenance on your car it will start running rough and eventually it will break down. You have to listen to the manufacturer and maintain the car or you’ll end up with a big block of useless metal.
The Jews of Stephen’s day had stopped maintaining the vehicle of worship according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Imagine you’re at a barbeque and a mechanic is there. The mechanic tells one of your friends it’s time for a transmission flush, and your friend punches the mechanic in the face. How dare you try to change my car!
Ok, first, let’s think in broad terms. Looking at human history and God’s plan to restore sinners to himself, there will be necessary changes as God’s covenant promises are fulfilled. As promises are made and as promises are kept, the worship of God will increase. Big picture, according to the covenants, we should expect worship to change. The vehicle of worship is going to get hot-rodded according to God’s covenant plans.
Think now in narrow terms. Looking at what it means to live daily worshipping God, abiding in Christ, and led by the Spirit, you will need to maintain your faith. We must daily depend on Jesus.
Let’s listen to Stephen’s sermon. Read Acts 7:30-53
Stephen is the mechanic who is calling the people of God to repair and maintain right worship. God is fulfilling his covenant promises and thereby increasing and expanding worship. In this sermon, Stephen moves through the covenants with Abraham, Israel, and David. Stephen ends with God’s intended goal, New Covenant worship through Christ.
I. Start with Abraham (1-8)
Now we’re in verses 1-8. Are you there? The right worship of God is built on God’s promises to Abraham
- God covenants with Abraham
I want you to follow along with me in your Bible. Verse 2, the God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when Abraham was in Mesopotamia. Understand here that God is not bound to the city of Jerusalem. God spoke to Abraham in Mesopotamia and in Haran and in Canaan. God is bigger than one city or one country. Two details are important here. First, Stephen calls God, “the God of glory.” God is the God of great worth, the greatest worth, and he is therefore worthy to be praised. It is fitting to give our praise to the One who is infinitely praiseworthy. The God of glory is creating a people through Abraham. Second, Stephen calls Abraham “our father.” Stephen is not distancing himself from the Jewish people; Abraham is our father. The point of Stephen’s sermon is the Jewish people have distanced themselves from God. Keep that in mind, Stephen is driving toward a point and that point is that the Jewish people have moved away from God and it is the Christians who are staying close.
Look on into verse 8, “And he gave him the covenant of circumcision. And so Abraham became the father of Isaac, and circumcised him on the eighth day, and Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob of the twelve patriarchs.” The point of the covenant of circumcision is that Abraham will have children and those children are a part of God’s covenant people. But God is not simply after lots of children.
- God promises to make Abraham into a worshipping family
Look back at verse 7, “’But I will judge the nation that they serve,’ said God, ‘and after that they shall come out and worship me in this place.’” God’s goal is to gather his people so they can worship and serve him alone. So yeah, the worship of God in the temple is a great blessing but the worship of God in the temple is far from the only blessing. Worship in the temple is good, but far from the highest and best form of worship. Let’s trace how Abraham’s people get there.
II. Abraham’s family despised their deliverer (9-16)
Now we’re in verses 9-16. Are you there?
- God rescued Joseph in order to preserve Abraham’s people
Verse 9 tells us, “the patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt.” These sons of Jacob did not want their brother. They hated him and rejected him. They almost killed him, but Judah talked them into selling Joseph into slavery. This means Joseph is leaving Canaan, he is leaving the Promised Land, will God be with him? Is God only the God of the geography around the temple in Jerusalem? No, look on in verse 9, “God was with Joseph and rescued him out of all his afflictions and gave him favor and wisdom before Pharaoh, king of all Egypt, who made him ruler over Egypt and over all his household.”
As history goes, there is a world-wide famine that puts Abraham’s family and God’s promise in danger. The answer, according to God’s promise to Abraham, is for Abraham’s people to go to Egypt. The brothers make two trips and on the second, Joseph reveals his true identity and sends for Jacob. God cares about Abraham’s family.
Verse 15 makes this point, even though Abraham’s people are outside of the land,
- Abraham’s promise stands
Verse 15, “And Jacob went down into Egypt, and he died, he and our fathers, and they were carried back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham had bought for a sum of silver from the sons of Hamor in Shechem.” God’s people, Abraham’s family, hold onto the promise. This is our land, we will return, and we will serve God in that land. They are looking for restoration, the fulfillment of God’s promises.
Along comes Moses and everyone hates him like they hated Joseph. With Moses we come to our third point
III. Abraham’s family repeatedly despised their deliverer (17-41)
Now we’re in verse 17. Are you there?
- God’s covenant people were despised (17-19)
We need to understand that even though the people are hated and slaves in Egypt, they are still God’s covenant people. Look at 17, “But as the time of the promise drew near, which God had granted to Abraham, the people increased and multiplied in Egypt.” God’s people are not first defined by the land in which they live. It is God’s covenant that marks them out and gives them life. But God’s people are in a hard place. Here’s the next step
- God sent Moses to save Abraham’s family (20-25)
What does verse 20 say about Moses? He was beautiful in God’s sight. God preserved Moses from death in order to deliver God’s people. Just as God preserved Joseph from death in order to deliver God’s people, now it’s Moses’ turn. Down to verse 23, “When Moses was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brothers, the children of Israel.” The covenant promise stands! These people belong to Abraham. God made a promise to them and God keeps his promises.
Verse 24, Moses sees an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, so Moses avenged the Hebrew and killed the Egyptian. Here’s why, verse 25, “Moses supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand.” Moses is bringing freedom, Moses is bringing God’s promises, but they don’t want it.
- Abraham’s family rejected their ruler and judge (26-29)
They reject him. The next day, Moses tries to break up a fight between two Hebrews and the bad guy says, “Who made you ruler and judge over us?” The answer is, God did, but they don’t want Moses. Abraham’s people reject their salvation through Moses’ hand. They don’t understand and Moses, verse 29, flees. But catch our next point
- God is not bound to the Promised Land or to Egypt (30-34)
Moses runs to the land of Midian and the angel of God appears to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai. Stephen reminds us, the God of glory is not bound to the temple, he shows up in a burning bush in Midian! Look at what God says, verse 32, “I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob.’ And Moses trembled and did not dare to look.” Moses is instructed to take off his shoes because he is on holy ground, on the side of a mountain in Midian! God is not bound. God is God over Midian and God is God over Egypt. He sees his people and will deliver them. God sends Moses to deliver his people. But again,
- Abraham’s family rejected their ruler and redeemer (35-40)
Verse 35 reminds us that the people rejected Moses earlier, but God again sends Moses to rule and redeem the people (35). Abraham’s people don’t want their savior but he’s coming to save them nevertheless! Verse 36, Moses leads them out with apostolic signs and wonders. The exodus happens and the Red Sea parts so Abraham’s people can return to the land. Skip down to verse 38, then Moses receives the law from God. Moses receives living oracles. God advances the covenant with Abraham by making the covenant with Israel. God kept his promise and made Abraham into a great nation of people. They are headed toward the land and they need to know how to live as God’s people in God’s land. So, God gives his people his good law. God also gives the people the tabernacle so they can make sacrifices and meet with him there. God’s law covers every aspect of life because God wants his people to worship him in every area of their lives. Major changes are introduced through Moses and the covenant with Israel.
But verse 39, “Our fathers refused to obey him.” Abraham’s people don’t want the true God. Abraham’s people would rather be slaves of Egypt and worship idols. Verse 41, “They made a golden calf and rejoiced in the work of their hands.” The people reject Moses, God, and the right worship of God.
But check this out, God promised a second Moses. Verse 37, “God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers.” This truth is big. God’s people should look for a second deliverer who will save the people and advance God’s covenant promises like Moses. This prophet like Moses will bring redemption, law, and changes to worship at least as big as Moses. So, who is this prophet like Moses?
Peter preached Jesus the second Moses in Acts 3:22 and Peter’s point is Stephen’s point. Jesus is the bigger and better Moses. Listen to him! God has always defined his people by their obedience to the covenants and prophets. To reject the prophet Moses is to forfeit your place in God’s people. To reject the prophet like Moses, to reject Jesus, is to forfeit your place in God’s people. It doesn’t matter if you have circumcision, the temple, the law, and the land, if you don’t listen to Jesus then you have lost it all. It doesn’t matter if you get baptized, gather with the church on Sunday, and do good things. If you don’t have Jesus, you have lost it all. Everything hinges on Jesus.
Here’s our next point
IV. Abraham’s people always struggle with right worship (42-53)
Now we’re in verse 42, are you there?
- Abraham’s people were often idolaters (42-43)
Verse 42, “But God turned away and gave them over to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets.” Stephen then quotes from the book of Amos. Abraham’s family was going through the motions of offering sacrifices to the God of Abraham, but they actually worshipped the false gods of Egypt and Canaan. What we need to see is that Stephen jumps from the wilderness generation coming out of Egypt in verse 41 to the people being exiled to Babylon in verses 42 and 43. That’s 800 years in a verse. Stephen’s point is that God’s people have often worshipped idols while outwardly they looked like they had it together. Having circumcision and the temple is no guarantee of faithfulness. You can have those things and not worship God.
So, it is Stephen who understands and honors Moses and the law. Stephen obeys Moses by listening to Jesus. The charge against Stephen shouldn’t stand. It’s the Jewish people who have failed to listen to Moses because they failed to listen to Jesus, the prophet like Moses. Stephen should be acquitted of all charges about the law. But what about the temple? We get to the temple in verse 44
- Abraham’s people erred by limiting worship to the temple (44-50)
Now we’re in verse 44, you there?
Remember, God didn’t ask for the temple; that was David’s idea. God has the heavenly tabernacle and he had Moses pattern the tent of witness accordingly. Verse 45, God was with Joshua and the people when they entered the Promised Land. The temple isn’t necessary. God is necessary. God is with them and God drove out the people of the land.
But then David gets a guilty conscience because he lives in a paneled house while the ark of the covenant lives in a tent. David asks to build the temple and his son Solomon gets to build the house.
Concerning the temple, this is crucial, look at verse 49. Solomon built the temple and said, “Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands” God says through the prophet Isaiah, “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest? Did not my hand make all these things?”
No one with a right and big view of God would think God could be limited to the temple. If heaven is his couch and the earth is ottoman, then God is immense. The temple is a suitable place to meet to worship God, but it is blasphemous to think the greatness of God is limited to that tiny temple space. God is bigger!
Now remember, Jesus is advancing the covenants and worship like Moses. It is Jesus who said the hour is coming when neither on the mountain in Samaria nor in Jerusalem will the people worship the Father (John 4:21). The fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham, the fulfillment of the new covenant, means true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth (John 4:24). True worship is not bound to the temple. True worship is bound to the gift of the Holy Spirit and the truth of Jesus Christ. God seeks worshippers, but
- The most natural thing is for unspiritual people to resist the Holy Spirit (51)
And looking at verse 51, what is resisting the Holy Spirit connected to? Three things in verse 51, resisting the Holy Spirit is linked to being stiff-necked, uncircumcised in heart, and uncircumcised in ears. A stiff-necked person can’t turn and look elsewhere. A stiff-necked person will not bow or bend. This is connected to a heart that does not love the things of God and ears that will not hear the things of God. So, the Holy Spirit is making Christ known. You hear the songs, you read the Bible, and you hear the sermons, but your heart is cold. The glory of God in Christ is worthless to you. You stop up your ears with tradition, pleasure, and bitterness. You refuse to truly worship God.
Stephen says, in the end of verse 51, that this is normal for the children of Abraham, “As your fathers did, so do you.” This pattern of resistance continues on today. Like those of Stephen’s day
- We need and we hate correction (52)
Look at verse 52. God sends his prophets to his people. Why? The prophets had two main jobs. Prophets called Abraham’s people back to lives of right worship and prophets announced the coming of Jesus. The Righteous One of verse 52 is Jesus (Acts 3:14). The prophet’s job was to expose sin and hold out the coming deliverer-Messiah as the answer.
And what the people did then we do now; they hated correction. We hate correction. Having my dark and dangerous sins exposed is the best thing that could happen to me but having my sins exposed is the one thing I don’t want to happen. We honestly expect the mechanic to tell us there is never anything wrong; that’s foolishness. Each of us in this room, all of us here, need the regular call to return to right worship. We need realignment. We need to meet the Righteous One everyday through the word and prayer because we are weak, foolishness, and bent toward sin. We need to gather together with Abraham’s family because when we gather Christ is among us.
Let’s get even more specific
- Jesus brings change
It is true that we love a domesticated Jesus who stays in his Sunday box. We love a Jesus who makes no claims on us and is perfectly happy with us. Our culture cannot stand a Jesus who makes demands on our money, sexuality, and politics. Like the Jews of Stephen’s day, we cannot stand a Jesus who makes demands on our worship. They killed the Righteous One and we reject him.
It is frightening to think we despise a glorious Jesus who is worthy of all-encompassing worship. We want Jesus to stay in his Sunday box. We want Jesus to be normal and live on the fringes of our lives. But if you limit Jesus to your Sunday mornings and a little prayer each day then your god is too small.
The Righteous One is worthy of all-encompassing worship. Get Jesus out of the Sunday box because he has a good plan for your guilt and temptation. Get Jesus out of the box because he has a good plan for your work. Get Jesus out of the box because he has wisdom and power and grace for you to parent your child or your teen.
Jesus is the promised offspring of Abraham. Jesus fulfills all the promises. Though you have despised him, like Joseph’s brothers despised him, Jesus will take care of you in your time of need. Though you have neglected Christ as your way of salvation, he will be a faithful king who will redeem you. Jesus is the better prophet and as the Son of God he is worthy of all obedience. Listen to Jesus and worship Jesus because you were made to worship him. Abraham’s people do all of life depending on Jesus. The temple and the customs of Moses are good but far too small. Jesus is bigger and better. Jesus advances the covenants and advances worship.
So, let’s worship him. We want to give you the opportunity right now to follow the covenant with Abraham to God’s intended goal; we want you to worship Jesus. The way we worship Jesus is we listen to Jesus and depend on Jesus. Jesus is the reason we sing and repent and love and serve. Jesus is the solid rock. Let’s build our lives upon him.