Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
Stephen, Part 2
Has anyone ever told a lie about you? I don't mean a little "white" lie - I mean a big lie.
I remember many years ago I was in a vocational ministry position at a large church. The senior pastor, unknown to his assistant pastors, had appointed another of his assistants to be a "chief of staff."
We used to meet for breakfast on a certain day every week to discuss the ministry. One day this other man didn't show for breakfast. The other guys didn't seem to care, but I was worried. So I went searching for this brother.
I found him in a classroom down at the church - fuming. "I called a meeting and you guys didn't show up," he said through clenched teeth. "We always meet for breakfast," I told him. "You weren't there." "You guys should have figured out where I was and came to me," he answered.
Shortly after that I became the focus of an investigation. I was suddenly a "troublemaker". If I didn't pray a certain way or a certain amount, I was chastised. My job was even threatened.
Apparently, the man who had gained the new position lied about me to the senior pastor who then made me a target of persecution.
Now, although those events impacted my life a great deal, I have gone on in ministry and the Lord has taught me many things through those experiences.
One of the things He taught me was the effect that lies have on people.
Proverbs 12:19 says: "Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue lasts only a moment."
But in that moment great pain can be produced.
Prov 29:12 "If a ruler listens to lies, all his officials become wicked."
That's what happened in my case many years ago when a ruler listened to a lie. And that's what's happening in the text we have before us in the book of Acts.
As we approach chapter 7, we find Stephen, a powerful witness for Jesus, contending with men of a synagogue made up of freed slaves. When they cannot win against his arguments, they hire others to lie about Stephen to the rulers of the day - the Sanhedrin.
The real liar at work here are not the false witnesses - but the ultimate liar. The being whom the Bible calls "the father of all lies." Satan himself. The Devil.
Satan comes with one purpose - John 10:10 says: "The thief comes only to steal and kill, and destroy." Satan will stop at nothing to destroy what God wants to do in you and through you.
Satan works against God's people in 2 ways: violence and deceit. First Helenists (Greeks Jews from the dispersion) claimed false things, then they incited the people to kill Stephen.
When the people of the Synagogue of the Freedmen can't overcome Stephen's arguments, they try to get back at him through a legal maneuver. This can happen to us when we speak the truth of God. Sometimes Satan can so enrage a person that they try any way they can to subvert the truth. (story of the little girl who tried to sing Kum By Yah my Lord at a day camp and was stopped - or Portland schools prohibiting BC and AD)
7:2 - :50
In reciting a history of Israel, rather than give a philosophical, or even Scriptural argument, Stephen gained the rapt attention of all who stood by. The leaders and the people loved to hear a story of their history. But Stephen uses his lengthy speech both as a way to answer the allegations against him, and re-focus responsibility onto his hearers.
1- Answered Accusations
o Blasphemy against Moses
- 6:11 Answered by going through the history of Israel starting with Abraham (the Jews loved this)
- He showed reverence for God, His divine glory, the Tabernacle, and Moses
o Does not stop speaking against this place and the law
- Stephen asserts that anywhere God is, is holy (ie: burning bush)
o Jesus will break down this place
- A reference to false accusations made against Jesus, who in Matthew 24 said "not one stone would be left on top of another" of the temple - but not that He would do it.
o Change customs Moses handed down to us
- False - introduced to make the maximum impact while remaining somewhat plausible. It was many years before the apostles reluctantly changed some of the Jewish practices.
2 - Parallels between Moses & Christ
a) Moses was a type, a forerunner, of Christ
1 - Moses was sent to deliver his people from bondage and slavery in Egypt
Christ was sent by God to deliver His people from bondage of sin & death
2 - Moses came as a native Hebrew but his people rejected him
Christ came as a Jew, but they rejected and killed him.
3- Stephen drives home this point by quoting a message God gave Moses (Deut 18:15, 18) that He would raise up "for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him."
3 - Focused responsibility
- Stephen claims the leaders are resisting God's Holy Spirit revealing that Jesus is the Messiah.
- That they, like their forefathers before them did to the prophets, actually fought against and killed Jesus.
- They received the Law, but when it pointed to the Messiah, they did not obey it.
The Sanhedrin's Reaction
1 - They were "furious" - Gk means: cut to the heart, or to the core. They had an emotional reaction and may have actually interrupted Stephen in the middle of his speech.
2 - Stephen apparently saw heaven opened, and a vision of God appeared to him.
3 - It was the people, not the council who rushed him, ears covered. Obviously to them, a statement that Jesus is standing at the right side of the Father was blasphemy enough to warrant death.
4 - It is interesting how in two prior occasions the Sanhedrin wanted to put members of this new "way" to death but couldn't for fear of the people. Now the people themselves have had enough. It was one thing to marvel at miracles, but it is quite another when their sacred traditions are called into question, and a personal challenge to their beliefs is put forth.
1- The Sanhedrin acted illegally in allowing Stephen's death. They pronounced no sentence - and as they so eloquently expressed in the case of Jesus, only the Romans could mete out capital punishment. Nevertheless, they let it happen.
2- It was the common custom to drag someone out of the city to stone them. (Lev 24:14) Stoning was the punishment for blasphemy. The witnesses who "testified" against Stephen would have been the first to cast the stones.
3- Stephen prayed and worshiped while being stoned - knelt of his own accord, then, as Jesus did on the cross, asked God not to hold this sin against them. Then he fell asleep - perfectly at peace.
Characteristics of Stephen
1- He had a firm grasp of history, the Word, and how the past applies to the present
2 - He had a humble spirit, willing to wait tables
3 - He respected those in authority
4 - He was not intimidated
What can we learn from Stephen?
1 - Opposition is common for those who stand for the truth
2 - The enemy uses crafty means to get us to look bad
3 - Sometimes you just get stoned - it doesn't mean you're out of God's will
Dean Sherman in his book "Spiritual Warfare" says:
"The devil has no sense of fair play. He has no mercy. When we are down, he kicks us. Like a shark, he moves in for the kill when he smells blood. He is full of hatred, and thrives on torment."
No doubt Satan thought he won that day - after all, Stephen died. His ministry was no longer active. He could no longer steal people away from hell. But Satan lost - Stephen's story is still with us, to encourage and embolden us. And our stories will live on too - when we simply follow our Lord, telling others what He has done for us - not letting the enemy cow us.
How do fight Satan's lies?
1 Pet 5:8-10
8 Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.
The lessons here are:
o Self control - Watch your life, don't give Satan a foothold
o Awareness - What your back spiritually, know his devices and pray for discernment
o Resistance - Just because a lie is shouted in your ear doesn't mean you have to believe it. "resist" means "to stand against"
o Firmness of Faith - Trust that God will get you through even if the circumstances around you seem bleak. Firm means "solid". Stand for something.
o Fellowship of suffering. We aren't alone
o God isn't finished with you until you go home. (restore = repair, to complete thoroughly)