Todd teaches through Acts 6:7-7:58, which is Stephen's sermon. Stephen's sermon walks through the rich story of the Old Testament, which culminates in Jesus Christ destroying the shadow of temple worship, fulfilling the law, and giving a bigger vision for the spread of Christianity now to all people of all nations.
Stephen…a Faithful Mailman Who Saw Jesus
How to Destroy a Shadow: Stephen’s Masterful Defense of Jesus Finished Work
Hellenistic Lives Matter (And So Does the Ministry of the Word)
The Gospel is NOT a Fad
Beauty and the But
Where Does That Come From?
Living Bolder as We Grow Older
What Makes a Man Fit for Judgment, Ministry and a Ready Response - Acts 4:7-23
The Beginning of Persecution and the Proper Reason for It. - Acts 4:1-12
The First and Enduring Attributes of Christ’s Church
The First Savior Exalting Sermon of the Church
The Gift of Tongues Part 2
Baptism of the Spirit, Tongues of Fire and the Beginning of the Church
From Judas to Matthias: How to Choose Leaders and Find Hope in Failed Ones
The King’s Orders for the King’s New Men
The Story Before the Beginning of the Story: Genesis - Acts 1
Hello to all my friends around the Metroplex. It is a beautiful weekend to study the Word of God. I hope it has been a great weekend for you. We have an opportunity to invest our time together right now to dive into the Word and learn something, but we're going to pray, because we're going to cover one of the longest chapters in Acts. It's the longest recorded message in the book of Acts, so it probably matters. The goal is 67 verses. Are you ready?
Father, would you teach us? We know that every word you've given us is for a purpose. This is a message given by a Hellenistic Jewish Christian, and we believe it has relevance, because you have preserved it and preserved it in a special way. Lord, what's great is that you knew that some 2,000 years later, this is the day each of us was going to hear some thoughts and meditations on this text, so wherever we are, whatever we have going on, there's something here for us.
I pray you would use this word to uniquely encourage and strengthen and help folks who are trying to understand who you are, folks who are living in relationship with you and are struggling, people who are hurting because sin and death is in this world, and all of us who would say, "If you are there, God, and you are anything like you have revealed yourself to be in the Word, we are desperate to know you more."
I thank you, Father, that you are always more excited to show us your kindness and your goodness than we are to seek it. We want to open up wide our mouths like little birds, and we pray you would stuff the worm of truth in it. So feed us. In Jesus' name, amen.
Here we go. Acts, chapter 6. We are going to look at verse 7, and this is one of those spots… This book we're studying is the record of the early church. It's answering the question, "Is Jesus who he said he was, and is he going to continue to do what he said he would do, even though he has left?" God, Jesus said, was revealing himself most fully in his person when he was here. He is the physical image of the invisible God.
No one had ever seen God before until Jesus showed up, and now we beheld God's glory, full of grace and truth. Jesus said, "I'm going to go away. It's going to be better for you that I leave, but I'm not going to leave you as orphans. I'm going to send you my Spirit." The spiritual body of God, his church, is now going to continue to do what the physical body of God did through his Son. His children will glorify the Father and bring grace to earth until God rolls up his program to reveal himself and brings judgment to all who reject his grace.
All throughout the book of Acts you have markers, where we're finding that, in fact, what Jesus said would happen is happening. What we see at the very end of this amazing time of conflict in the early church… There were folks who felt like they were not being cared for like others. There was a racial division, and we see how the church handles racial divide. We saw how the church, even with increasing complexity as it grew to maybe even 20,000 people at this point…
We saw how the leadership of the church made sure they didn't get busy doing social work at the expense of the primary work, but how if you don't do the social work the primary work will lose its moral authority. So we saw the church care for people, and we saw the church continue to care for and minister the Word of God. Let me read to you Acts, chapter 6, verse 7, and give you a little application that I think will encourage you.
"The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith." Notice it's increasing in Jerusalem, but God's plan was never just to bless the Jews and never just to bless Jerusalem. God's plan was always to bless all of the nations of the earth. Every family under heaven was to be blessed.
You'll see that being brought forth and the Jews reminded of that when Stephanos, this Hellenistic (meaning, Greek-influenced) man of Jewish descent, who believes in the God of the Old Testament and the fulfillment of all of the Old Testament prophecies in the Messiah being fulfilled in Jesus, is about to give a message that is going to set the church on a completely different course than they had any idea they were going to go on.
It was going to break through and destroy the central idea of temple worship. It was going to shatter this idea that Christianity was just going to be this sect underneath Judaism, and it was going to drive the church outside of its little, small-minded, Jewish, Jerusalem focus. This is a seminal text. You're going to find out that if this isn't the foundation of the entire book of Hebrews, the message Stephen teaches…
There's a book in the Bible called Hebrews, and it's reminding Jewish people to not let go of who Jesus is in the midst of all the persecution that was going on. The book of Hebrews raises up the superiority of Jesus Christ to angels, to Moses, to the Mosaic covenant, to the tabernacle itself, and to all the priesthood. Jesus is superior to those things, the whole Jewish economy.
"You don't want to go back to Judaism. Jesus is the fulfillment of everything that has been revealed to you through all of those other mediums. Christ didn't come to abolish them; he came to fulfill them. They were a shadow." I'm going to show you that Stephen understood this, and Stephen said what Jesus said, which is, "I'm going to destroy this temple in three days."
I'm going to explain to you what Jesus meant, what Stephen meant, and why that's relevant to you today. There's going to be some great theology here, but you're going to find some incredibly practical stuff. We see it right here in chapter 6, verse 7, which is a summary of God's gospel, God's goodness on the earth continuing, and it's continuing for three reasons that we studied the last time we were together.
First, people were using their gifts humbly. Secondly, they were loving one another as God intended. Thirdly, the Word was being preached as God intended, and tied with that is the church was paying attention to it prayerfully. When that happens, when people discover, develop, and deploy their gifts… They don't just come, listen to a message, and move on, but they realize that God is doing something in them, so they collectively become a part of the body. (See also the opportunity in Dallas to go to membership classes. Plano and Fort Worth, you pay attention to where your opportunities are.)
They discover, develop, and deploy their gifts, they love one another irrespective of their prior racial and national background, and the Word of God is continually taught and prayerfully ingested. You're going to find what happens. I want to ask you…What did you do this week to keep the Word of God spreading and the number of disciples increasing?
If all we do is just move from Sunday to Sunday… You're going to see that God is going to shatter this temple-focused worship. He doesn't want it. He wants us to constantly live in surrender and worship with him. There's a reason that I end every week we're together, "Have a great week of worship." This is a reminder corporately. This is an encouragement for each of us to respond to the goodness of God and then to live worshipfully throughout the week.
I'll give you an application to that very point before we get out of here that comes out of this message we're hearing from Stephanos, this Hellenized (which is a word for Greek) influenced Hebrew who now believes the Messiah has come in the person of Jesus. So I want to ask you what you did this week. Did you deploy your gifts in some way? Were you a faithful minister of the Word of God? Were you making disciples?
Notice this. The church was growing because it was growing with disciples, not just a bunch of folks who were gathering around passionate men who knew who Jesus was. The problem with too much of American churchianity, and probably around the world, is there are a few folks who are leading them who aren't even passionate anymore; they're just kind of doing some religious ceremony.
Maybe they have a form of godliness but deny its power, because they're not doing what God wants them to do. They're being attended by people who aren't tending to the Word of God themselves, and they're not a disciple-making community. The church was prospering because there were disciples.
You're going to find out here is this guy, Stephanos (Stephen), who was learning about Jesus, and he was ready. He was evangelizing. He went back to the folks he had a relationship with. I'm going to show you that in just a moment. He went to them and told them, "Let me share with you what I've come to understand." As he did that and made disciples and did everything he could, the Word of God increased.
What did you do this week to keep the Word of God spreading and the number of disciples increasing? If we didn't do anything, then we have to check ourselves. Because we're getting bigger in size isn't necessarily good things. You hear all the time that healthy things grow. That is a half-truth. The truth is living things grow, and not all living things are healthy.
I have a friend I prayed for this week who has something growing in their stomach that should not be, and I have somebody with something growing in their stomach that should be. One is my daughter who has a child growing inside her. That's a sign of health, and we are fired up about that. Another one is a friend who has cancerous tumors growing in their stomach. Both of their stomachs are growing. Growth of a community doesn't mean it's a healthy community. It just means it's growing.
A number of years ago, I was persuaded against my better judgment by guys I work with to allow them to submit what's going on at Watermark to a magazine that pays attention to these things. Every year that we have done that, this community we're a part of, Watermark, has been not just one of the largest churches in the country by number but also one of the fastest growing churches in the country by number.
What happens is when people see large groups of people gather and increasing numbers of people gather, they pay attention to it, and they ought to, because if it's not biblical it's a problem, and if it is biblical it should be celebrated. I was asked these questions by the editor of this magazine. They said, "Pastor Wagner, your church again is listed in this year's Outreach 100. It's one of the few churches that's one of the largest and the fastest growing churches in America. We want to ask you some questions."
The questions they asked me were these. First, "What concerns you about the state of the American church today and over the next few years?" Listen to my response. About a month and a half ago, I wrote this back to them. I said, "What concerns me is the leadership of it, the lack of courage in it, and the lack of faithfulness throughout it; the lack of wholehearted surrender to the Word of God and commitment to discipleship, which is the solution to both." It's almost like I had been studying the book of Acts.
The second question was, "What excites you?" I said, "The passionate young men and women, the Millennials, who are the future leadership of the church in our country I see pouring into Watermark each week." It is amazing. The whole world is trying to reach 20-somethings, and every Tuesday night and every weekend we have thousands of them here. I think it's because Millennials don't want to just jump into some rote, non-difference-making monolith of religiosity. They want to change the world.
Didn't we when we were their age? You bet we did, and I still do. I'm telling those young Millennials, "Man, you go. Don't you stay around here if all we're doing is buying your presence so we can feel good about ourselves." We want to change the world more than ever, and I think they do too, and they're finding out that nobody changes the world like a gracious and loving God.
Third question. They asked me several, but here's the last one I'm going to share with you. They said, "In many ways, the American church experience is different than just a generation ago. How do you see it evolving in the future?" I said, "If by the 'American church experience' you mean wineskins, I do see forms shifting with the culture, but the experience of the true church has never changed."
In other words, the true church is always doing the stuff they're doing in the book of Acts. I said, "Every generation of God's elect has been a part of God's transformational presence and grace in the world and has faced trials, temptations, and assaults on the truth of the gospel. It's my privilege and duty to make sure that I and the local expression of Christ's church of which I am a part stand in the gap for my generation, as the faithful church has always done in theirs."
That's why I don't just want you to come hang out with us. I want to know what we are doing with the truth we're hearing. You're about to see what Stephanos did. By the way, we don't expect that everybody who comes in here with us in large gatherings or in some of the stuff we do throughout the week agrees with us.
That's why we say, "If you're here today and you don't know Christ, then don't sing songs about how great he is. Listen to us tell you how great he is. Ask us questions about why we're so certain that this Jesus has destroyed old religion and even is the fulfillment of the Old Testament, so we don't need to pay attention to some of the forms God was revealing himself in." All right, here we go. That's all verse 7, and we have 66 more to go.
"And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people." I'm going to give you an application. God's people have always been marked by grace, by power, by wonders, and signs. Has that been true of you this week? Has there been a sign in you that something divine is going on in your life? Has there been a selflessness? Has there been a morality? Has there been a generosity? Has there been a discipline? Has there been a gentleness? Has there been a humility?
Has there been a love that the world goes, "I don't see that. I wonder at you. You are not somebody who is using capitalism as an excuse to make yourself more comfortable. You're using capitalism as an opportunity to be effective and free and produce everything you can so that in your blessing you can bless others." Have you been a minister of reconciliation? Have you been a peacemaker?
Have you done nothing from selfishness or empty conceit but with humility of mind considered others as more important than yourself, not merely looking out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others? Have you had in yourself the same divine attitude which was in Christ Jesus? Does the world go, "You have to explain that to me. I don't meet people like you very often"?
If that's not what's going on with you, then you're not a part of that true church or you're not abiding with the God who wants to do his work through you. Folks, we have to pay attention to that. We have to make sure before we try and grow by adding more people that we purify what's happening right here.
I love this quote by one of my favorite authors. He was a pastor almost 60 years ago. He said, "Each generation of Christians is the seed of the next, and degenerate seed is sure to produce a degenerate harvest—not a little better than but worse than the seed from which it sprang. […] For a worldly, weak, decadent church to make converts is but to bring forth after her own kind and extend her weakness and decadence a bit further out."
If you're a guest here, I hope you are glad to hear I asked this question. Do you see grace and power and wonders and the sign of the divine on your life? Holiness doesn't mean you separate yourself from the world; it means you're in the world but not of it. The word holy means to separate. It really doesn't mean we're going to find our own little island away from all of the wicked people.
It means you live amongst them in a way that they go, "You live on a different plane. There's a different kindness, morality, and selflessness. You are a more glorious human. It is a wonder that you don't abuse each other sexually, that you don't abuse each other financially, that you don't look at each other the way the world does racially. We could use more of that. Or when you do deviate from that intention, you acknowledge it. You don't have some cockamamy, weak sense of 'That wasn't right' and try and explain it away. You humbly own it and seek forgiveness. You make amends, and you repent and forsake it."
This is what Stephen was doing. Verse 9: "But some men from what was called the Synagogue of the Freedmen…" Remember, I mentioned the last time we were in the book of Acts together that there were different synagogues, and one of the synagogues, which is a gathering place of Jews… They gathered a lot of times according to their ethnicity, and there were Jews who had been dispersed when one of the Roman Caesars had come and wreaked havoc on that particular land.
He took a number of them as slaves, and when he got done with what he needed them to do back in Rome, he turned them free, and they were dispersed all over the Roman kingdom. Some of them made their way back to Jerusalem. They were ex-slaves who had become free. Because they had been Hellenized and influenced by the Roman culture, which had been influenced by the Greek culture, when they got back to Jerusalem they weren't as Israeli or Jewish as the rest of the Jews, so they had to form their own little synagogue.
So they were from the Synagogue of the Freedmen. It says they were Cyrenians and Alexandrians, which are from Northern Africa, and they were Cilicians and Asians. Let me just show you a map of the early New Testament world. You see that little part that's pulled out where it says "Palestine" where the Mediterranean Sea is, kind of facing west. You'll see where modern-day Syria is. If you look at the top of the Mediterranean Sea where it says "Cilicia…"
By the way, in Cilicia there's a little town called Tarsus. That's going to be relevant in just a moment, because a guy by the name of Saul, who's about to be named Paul, is from there. That's Asia, by the way, that whole area up there. Modern-day Turkey is what that big land block is to the left of Syria. If you come down, that's the northern coast of Africa. You see Cyrene and Alexandria, large cities.
What it's saying is some of those Jews had been dispersed. They had become citizens of those other places, and now they were back in Jerusalem and were a part of this Synagogue of the Freedmen. That's what Stephanos was. This guy Stephen was from this synagogue. When your life is changed, the first people who ought to see that your life is changed are folks from your community.
He was telling folks in his community, "Guess what? The Messiah has come. And guess what? You don't need to concern yourself with the temple. I know we still gather up there on the Temple Mount, but the temple is going to be destroyed." When you were a Jew, and to this day a good Jew won't even go up on what's called the Temple Mount. It is the holiest place in their entire world order. They can't imagine ever saying anything about that place is going to be less important.
But Stephanos had been paying attention to the Messiah who he believed was Jesus. When Jesus was here, Jesus even said he was going to destroy the temple. How was Jesus going to destroy the temple? Well, first of all, there is a prophetic reference here. Jesus knew that because the hand of protection was going to come off Israel because it was rejecting God's relationship with it, there was going to be a time in AD 70 when a Roman ruler by the name of Titus was going to come and destroy the temple, and he was not going to leave one rock standing on top of another.
I think Jesus had some of that in mind, but that's not what he meant when he said it's going to be destroyed in three days. One of the things Jesus meant when he said that is explained in John, chapter 2. In John 2:19, Jesus says, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." This is different than what he says some other places. Other times he said, "Do you see this temple? It's going to be destroyed." Here he says, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up."
"The Jews then said, 'It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?'" But it says in John that here he was talking about the temple where the Spirit of God was present in his body. This is really important. This is going to all make sense to you why I'm doing all this to set you up for the long message, the longest message in the book of Acts. There's something about to happen the church needs to understand.
"Hey, you guys don't need to keep hanging around the temple, because Jesus says, 'I'm going to destroy the temple.'" In Matthew 5:17, Jesus says, "I did not come to abolish the law of Moses and the Prophets. I came to fulfill it." One of the ways you destroy something is by making it irrelevant. Jesus is the light and glory of God. That's what he's bringing. So if Jesus is coming from the light, as he gets closer to earth, what's the first thing you're going to see?
If Jesus is going to bring the light of God and this is Jesus and here's the light of God and Jesus is bringing it, what's the first thing you're going to see on earth? A shadow. It's the first thing you're going to see. Right? It only makes sense. What's going to happen is when he gets there… It's kind of like up here. You can see there's a shadow of my foot, and then all of a sudden my shadow is done away with. Why? My shadow is abolished because the fulfillment of the shadow, that which was creating the shadow, has come.
Jesus is saying, "Hey, listen. The temple worship, the sacrifice, the covering are shadows, but now I am here, and you don't need that. I'm not getting rid of it; I'm fulfilling it." The way you destroy a kitten… This is very, very sensitive stuff I'm about to say. I love kittens. The problem with kittens is they turn into cats. It's the opposite with Jesus. The way you can destroy a kitten and not be arrested is you let it become what it was intended to be, which is a cat, which is why I have a problem with kittens.
I'm kind of like Shere Khan in this sense. Mowgli is fine. The problem with man-cub is they become men. Mowgli is the shadow of what will come. In that sense, he's saying, "Man has ruined the jungle." What Jesus is going to say is, "I am going to be the fulfillment of all that you guys hold dear." If what you hold dear is good, what the reality of it is coming… The way you get rid of an acorn is it becomes what it was intended to be, which is an oak. Jesus is the oak of revelation.
That's why in the book of Hebrews it says that Jesus is the exact representation of his nature. He is the fulfillment of all the Law and the Prophets. When Jesus says, "I'm going to destroy the temple," guess what he was doing? The same thing he was doing in John, chapter 4, when he was talking to a woman, and she said, "I perceive you to be a prophet." Then she goes on to say to him, "Sir, our fathers worship on this mountain up here in the north, and your people say that Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship."
"Jesus said to her, 'Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth…'" You won't need the temple. "…and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth."
A little bit later, Jesus says, "I am the way, I am the truth." The temple is no longer necessary, because the temple anticipates. That's why the book of Hebrews says, "You don't need angels. Who gave you the law? You don't even need the law, because the law was to teach you about what righteousness looks like." Now we're going to have the righteousness of God revealed not through what you should do but what is being done.
It's Jesus, and he says, "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect. You're not perfect. That's why you need a perfect sacrifice made for you. Those bulls and goats are not a perfect sacrifice. They're finite creatures. They're animals. They're not like you, but you sacrifice them as a testament to your guilt. But guess what's going to come?
A perfect man, who will be a perfect lamb, who will be an eternally perfect creature, so the eternal, perfect wrath of God can be satisfied. When that comes and he is offered you won't need the temple anymore to talk about what is coming. You don't have the faith in the shadow. The reality is here, and in three days, my death, burial, and resurrection, I will destroy the temple." That's what Jesus is talking about.
What he's saying here is, "My body is a temple. You destroy that, and I'll raise it up in three days. By the way, there's going to be a day that your temple is going to be destroyed, because God's protection is not going to be on you, but even more, I am here to accomplish what the Law and the Prophets said would be accomplished, that the Messiah would come and deliver you from your great oppressor. Your great oppressor wasn't Pharaoh. Your great oppressor wasn't Cyrus. It wasn't Nebuchadnezzar. It's not Alexander the Great. It's not the march of the Caesars. It's sin. Sin holds you captive. I am the deliverer, and I will set you free."
Stephanos knows this, so he's saying, "Hey, Jesus destroyed the temple." He's going to the Synagogue of the Freedmen, his brothers, and saying, "You guys, we don't need to keep going to the Temple Mount. We don't need to keep worshiping the way we're worshiping." When your business is to run the Temple Mount, you don't like that.
This is why Jesus said to the Pharisees when they were around, "Hey, you guys say you love this stuff, but you don't love this stuff. You love to pompously use your positions. You make converts, and when you make converts they're twice the sons of hell you are." It's why Jesus said so often, "Have you not read? Don't you understand what God was showing you? Don't you recognize the shadow?"
It's kind of like if I told you (this is even more awkward than my earlier illustration) that there was this beautiful bride you were going to marry, and all you got was a picture of her, and I updated that picture continually. Now this beautiful bride is here, and you go, "I don't want you. I'm in love with the picture." "Have you not studied the picture? This is her!" And you go, "But I love the picture."
"I'm so committed to online dating I'll never get offline." And she's right there, on time. You would be crazy to keep loving the shadow, the picture. Here goes Stephen. This is so great. Aren't you glad you're here? Verse 10: "But they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking." They couldn't argue with him, because it was true. What do you do when you can't win an argument on merit? You have to start attacking the man. It's called ad hominem.
"Then they secretly induced men to say, 'We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.' And they stirred up the people, the elders and the scribes…" The leaders of the people, the rabbis and the copyists of the law. "…and they came up to him and dragged him away and brought him before the Council." That's the Sanhedrin. Those are the exact same guys Peter and John had been brought before, the exact same guys Jesus had been brought before. Watch what happens. The exact same thing they said to Jesus.
"…we have heard him say that this Nazarene, Jesus, will destroy this place…" They're in the temple right now. They're on the Temple Mount. They're in the temple courts. They're right near the Holy of Holies. "…and alter the customs which Moses handed down to us." Half-truth. Stephanos is saying, "Yes, he's going to destroy it. You don't need this. The shadow has been done away with, because that which created the shadow is here. The Messiah has done what the Messiah was supposed to do. So, yes, he's going to alter the customs of Moses. He's not going to get rid of the law. The law has been fulfilled."
What they're saying is, "You can't do anything that threatens our system." So off he goes. "And fixing their gaze on him, all who were sitting in the Council saw his face like the face of an angel." This is how our faces should appear. In other words, as a messenger of God. They looked, and there was a sense of peace. Stephanos was not concerned. He knew the world hated him. When you bring a message that's contrary to the systems in the world and when the world loves its systems…
If the world's system is, "We like our form of worship, even though we deny the power of it in our lives," or maybe we like our worship of self and flesh… What we'll call it today is "Nothing you say can affect me, and my self-expression and self-actualization is the greatest thing." We say, "No, not your self-actualization but your self living actually as you were intended to live is what matters." The world is not going to like that, but you're going to find out that your job is to communicate with grace.
"The high priest said, 'Are these things so?'" Basically, Stephanos is going to say, "Let me tell you what is so, bro." "Hear me, brethren and fathers!" "This is what is so. God has always brought forward faithful messengers, and he has done it in ways that are outside of your small-minded thinking, and you men have always rejected it. Every man God has brought forth has, frankly, been a shadow of Jesus."
He's going to walk you through Old Testament typology. He's going to show you that Jesus is being telegraphed all through the Old Testament, and he's going to show you that people have always resisted what God was ultimately doing, and they've repositioned it the way they can handle. He's going to say, "Listen, God has never really been about working here in Jerusalem. By the way, where did this whole thing start?"
He goes, "He grabbed our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia," which is Iraq. That's the very first place God started reaching out to people, not here at the temple. Way over there between the two great rivers. Meso (between) potamia (river). Hippo (horse) potamos (river), a river horse. That's what a hippopotamus is. Mesopotamia, between the rivers. The great rivers, Tigris and Euphrates.
He's saying, "Way over there. I wasn't near Jerusalem. I wasn't even in Jerusalem at the time. God reached out to your father Abraham." God told Abraham that he was going to make him a great nation, and then he says at the very end of verse 3 in Genesis, chapter 12, "All the nations of the earth will be blessed through you." It was never about Judaism. He's going to go on to say this: "…before he lived in Haran, and said to him, 'Leave your country and your relatives, and come into the land that I will show you.'"
"By the way, guess what Abraham did. He faithfully obeyed God. I'm going to tell you about somebody else who faithfully obeyed God, who listened to the voice of God when he said, 'I want you to leave this land and go to another.' This one who although he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but he emptied himself, and being found in appearance as a man and being made in the likeness of a man, he humbled himself to obediently be your servant in this land and experience death on the cross."
"Then he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran. From there, after his father died, God had him move to this country…" Like Jesus moved to this country. "…in which you are now living. But He gave him no inheritance in it…" Like you guys aren't giving Jesus influence in it.
"…not even a foot of ground, and yet, even when he had no child, He promised that He would give it to him as a possession, and to his descendants after him." Even though Jesus, in a sense, has no child, he's now having all kinds of children here who are being born of him, because Jesus is, like Abraham, God's intended way to bless the earth. Like the descendants of Abraham were to bless the earth, the descendants of Jesus will bless the earth.
Verse 7: "**** And whatever nation to which they will be in bondage I Myself will judge… *" Just like people who put Jesus' children in bondage God will judge. 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."
What he's basically saying there is, "We have a sign. Our sign isn't circumcised flesh. Our sign is circumcised heart. The flesh has been trimmed from our hearts, and our sign is love. We love one another. Do you see a dispute anymore? Like you, Synagogue of the Freedmen, are having a problem with the synagogue of the Jews. Do you see us not getting along? Don't you see what we just did? God has brought us together. It was his intention from the beginning." This is an amazing message.
Lesson two. He's still going to hang out with the patriarchs. Let's go to Joseph. "The patriarchs became jealous of Joseph and sold him into Egypt." He just got through saying, "By the way, there was Abraham, there was Isaac, there was Jacob, and the Word of God kept increasing, because when the Word of God is at work, you can't stop it. Guess what? The Word of God is at work. What Gamaliel said to you in chapter 5 you ought to pay attention to.
Even though the brothers, your patriarch fathers, wanted to say, 'We're not going to let God work through Joseph, the chosen one,' God was going to work through Joseph, the chosen one, and God brought judgment to them when they messed with Joseph, God's chosen one. No matter what you do to Joseph, God is not done with Joseph.
They took Joseph and fired him off to Egypt, and you forgot about Joseph. You thought he was dead, but, in fact, God had ascended him to a place of great prominence, so that when you experience the famine of your living in judgment, you will go to Egypt and find that I in my kindness have taken what you have intended for evil and used for good."
Does that story sound familiar? Do you see what Stephanos is doing here? He's just walking them through. "You can't keep messing with God. That's what Israel has been doing all along, and it hasn't worked out well for them. You call me a blasphemer? You're the ones who blaspheme God and fight against his purposes, not me." He says, "God made him governor over Egypt, just like Jesus is seated at the right hand of God."
Verse 11: "Now a famine came over all Egypt and Canaan, and great affliction with it, and our fathers could find no food." I have to stick this in here. What happened is when Jacob's sons, the 11 brothers, said, "We reject God's provision of blessing for us" and drove him out, they tried to continue living, even though they were murderous. God in his grace brought great affliction to them, that they might see that's not the way you should live. In their affliction, they went somewhere else. Sometimes when you live a life that's irresponsible…
God's punishments are simultaneously a source of divine retribution and a sign of divine grace. A father disciplines the ones he loves, so he disciplined the sons of Jacob in Israel by making a famine come, just like so many of us have had famines. We can't find joy and peace. No matter how much we prosper or how much we try and numb ourselves with whatever it is we're numbing ourselves with to distract ourselves from our reality, we have a famine of joy and peace. Eventually, we get sick and tired of becoming sick and tired and return to the one we have forsaken.
So there was a famine. Verse 12: "But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent our fathers…" Meaning the 11 leaders of the tribe of Israel. "…there the first time. On the second visit Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and Joseph's family was disclosed to Pharaoh." You're going to see who Jesus was on his second visit. "Then Joseph sent word and invited Jacob his father and all his relatives to come to him, seventy-five persons in all."
"Come live in blessing. The entire nation under Joseph's rule." That was the offer. "And Jacob went down to Egypt and there he and our fathers died. From there they were removed to Shechem…" His point in saying that is, "That's not Jerusalem. That was part of the promise." This is the third lesson. Verse 17: "But as the time of the promise was approaching which God had assured to Abraham, the people increased and multiplied in Egypt…"
"God loved faithful Abraham, God loved faithful Joseph, and God loved faithful Moses, just like he loves the one Abraham foreshadows, the one Joseph foreshadows, and, guess what, the one Moses foreshadows. If you reject Abraham, you're in trouble. If you reject Joseph, you're in trouble. If you reject Moses, you're in trouble, and especially if you reject the one they all anticipate." Watch what he says.
"…until there arose another king over Egypt who knew nothing about Joseph." In other words, the nation was being held subject through an uncaring oppressor, just like Israel was when Christ came. Verse 19:"It was he [Pharaoh] who took shrewd advantage of our race and mistreated our fathers so that they would expose their infants and they would not survive." "Just like Herod tried to have us kill all of our infants under 2 when this Messiah arrived."
"It was at this time that Moses was born; and he was lovely in the sight of God…" Just like "This is my beloved Son; listen to him." "…he was nurtured three months in his father's home." As Jesus, for three decades. "And after he had been set outside, Pharaoh's daughter took him away and nurtured him as her own son." Just like Jesus came out of Egypt, Moses came out of Egypt. "Moses was educated in all the learning of the Egyptians, and he was a man of power in words and deeds." Just like Jesus spoke in a way that amazed the crowds.
"But when he was approaching the age of forty, it entered his mind to visit his brethren, the sons of Israel. And when he saw one of them being treated unjustly, he defended him and took vengeance for the oppressed by striking down the Egyptian. And he supposed that his brethren understood that God was granting them deliverance through him, but they did not understand.""Just like you didn't understand that God was providing for you with Jesus."
"On the following day he appeared to them as they were fighting together, and he tried to reconcile them in peace…" Just like Jesus did. "…saying, 'Men, you are brethren, why do you injure one another?'" Why do you live as defined by sin? "But the one who was injuring his neighbor pushed him away, saying, 'Who made you a ruler and judge over us?'" That's what they said to Jesus.
" You do not mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday, do you?" Just like Jesus was feared. They thought Jesus would use his God-given abilities to destroy them. When they saw that Jesus came with signs and wonders, they said, "Look, if we don't deal with him, if we let him go on like this, all will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation." That's what they said about Jesus. They go, "This Moses is going to get is in trouble." "This Jesus is going to get us in trouble."
Verse 29: "At this remark, Moses fled and became an alien in the land of Midian , where he became the father of two sons." Just like Jesus was removed to a different place, and just like Moses had children in this other place, Jesus in the place he has been removed to has children."After forty years had passed, ** an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in the flame of a burning thorn bush."**
"By the way, Sinai is not Jerusalem. Here we had God talking to us in Mesopotamia. Then we had God working in Egypt. Now he's working in the Arabian Desert. A little bit later, you're going to build a tent of meeting. That's in the Judean wilderness. God has always been working all around the world."
"When Moses saw it, he marveled at the sight; and as he approached to look more closely, there came the voice of the Lord: ' I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob .' Moses shook with fear and would not venture to look. But the Lord said to him, 'Take off the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground. I have certainly seen the oppression of My people in Egypt and have heard their groans …'"
Just like Jesus will hear the groans of the nation of Israel during their tribulation period, and he will come and reveal himself as God's deliverer, and he will reign. "…the one whom God sent to be both a ruler and a deliverer with the help of the angel who appeared to him in the thorn bush. This man led them out, performing wonders and signs in the land of Egypt and in the Red Sea and in the wilderness for forty years." Just like Jesus did signs and wonders, and he's doing it now through his people.
"This is the Moses who said to the sons of Israel, 'God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brethren.'" "Jesus is the prophet Moses said he would raise up. I'm not the one who's blaspheming Moses. You are the one who is putting away the work of God." Verse 38: "This is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness together with the angel who was speaking to him on Mount Sinai, and who was with our fathers; and he received living oracles to pass on to you."
"Just like Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, Moses was in the wilderness. Just like Jesus spoke words of authority and life to you, Moses spoke words of authority and life to you." "Our fathers were unwilling to be obedient to him…" "Just like you're unwilling to be obedient to the one God has brought forth." "… saying to Aaron, 'Make for us gods who will go before us…'"
"A god that meets our own human understanding, just like Israel today rejects what God has done, and you like your own little systems and reject the fulfillment God has brought. You're the idolaters. You're the one who is blaspheming Moses, not me. You're the one," if I can fast-forward to verse 43, "who has this tabernacle of Moloch. You're the one sacrificing your children in a way that seems right to you when God has brought something greater here."
What he's saying is, "The tabernacle is only important because it contained the revealed will of God, but Jesus is superior to the tabernacle. He is the fulfillment of all the tabernacle pushed you toward." Stephen is just going to continue. He talks about how Joshua comes and the time of David comes.
"David found favor in God's sight, and asked that he might find a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. But it was Solomon who built a house for Him." When Solomon built a house, he said, "Look, God doesn't dwell in a house. This is just what we're going to do to celebrate him." Stephanos is just saying, "It was never about the temple but what the temple was to teach us."
Here's the application. Verse 51: "You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did.""You're working out a system that seems right to you, and you're rejecting the message of God. That has never worked out well for your fathers, and it's not going to work out well for you."
"Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it."
"You can't keep the law Moses gave you. That's why God sent Jesus: to fulfill it and do it for you and be the perfect Lamb in the temple in the Holy of Holies. When the curtain was ripped when he was crucified, it's because there's no longer a barrier between God and man, and there's no longer a barrier between Jew and Greek, because the world God intended to bless through Abraham's seed has come, and you killed him." Wow.
"Now when they heard this, they were cut to the quick…" In other words, they were mortally wounded and exposed. "…and they began gnashing their teeth at him." With uncontrollable hate. Sometimes it doesn't matter how well you do. People are going to go, "I'm not going to listen to that any longer. I'm going to kill you." There was a mob scene that rose up, and they threw stones at Stephen and killed him.
Verse 55: "But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus…" Seated at the right hand of God? Standing. Wouldn't you stand? If you told people they who would testify you before men you will testify before the Father… This is the very first Christian martyr. We've already had a Christian death, by the way. Remember that? Who was the very first Christian death? Ananias and Sapphira, but Jesus didn't stand when they died, because they died having been saved yet as one who passes through fire.
But when you are faithful to the end and are an overcomer and you testify of Jesus and study the Word and teach the Word and point people to God and his will and way and do it with grace, you do it prophetically but you do it pastorally… You're going to see in just a second that Stephen didn't just have a prophetic heart; he had a pastor's heart. He told them this with gentleness and in gentleness interceded for them.
Jesus stood up. I believe he stood up… This is just Todd. I think you have to picture Fred Flintstone when he's getting ready to run. I think the Father has him by the scruff of the neck, because when he saw one of his little ones go down, I think Jesus was like, "Let's go get them. Let's go back now." But God has not come back yet, and the Scripture tells us why. Because he's patient toward you.
He wants other faithful sons to testify as Stephanos did and to use their gifts as Stephanos did and for the church to thrive as the church was doing in Acts 6-7, so that more people could hear this story and would go, "I get it. That's my Savior. That's my sin. That's my way to be reconciled to God, and I want to respond to that God. I want to live for him if he died for me. If that story is true, Todd, what do I do? What must I do to be saved?"
The answer is just confess your need for a Savior, and then, out of incredible love for him, live for him in this world, knowing that this world is not your home and that there is a new heavens and new earth coming. You just serve right now as his warrior and his minister and don't entangle yourself in the affairs of everyday life, so that you might please the one who enlisted you as a soldier. You say, "Let's go!" and you tell people the prophetic truth, and when they hate you on account of his name, you say, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do," just like Stephen did.
That's the end of the story. It says they didn't want to hear him anymore. "But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one impulse." You're going to find out in verse 58 there was a guy by the name of Saul who gathered their clothes, who, by the way, would have been there because he would have been one of the guys in the Synagogue of the Freedmen, because he was from Cilicia. He knew Stephen. What happened I'm going to tell you next week.
I want to close with these two points. First, even as we speak strong words of consequence to those who reject the person of Christ, we must maintain a strong sense of compassion. That's exactly what Peter did. Christians always have a prophetic responsibility, but you also have a pastoral one. This is true, and what I'm going to say to you is true. There's sin and death, there's guilt, there's consequence and culpability before God, but I take no delight in telling you that.
I don't want you to be damned. I don't want you to go to hell. I want you to be saved and receive the mercy that I have said there is a pastoral one. There's a gentleness and a winsomeness, and as they nail you to a cross or pelt you with stones, you do what Stephen and Jesus did. "Father, forgive them. They don't know what they're doing."
Finally, the elevation of temple worship, which is what was happening there, can lead to a lack of understanding of the need for constant worship. One of the things that happens… Even today in Jerusalem, you find all kinds of Jews who are very careful around the Temple Mount but are not living righteous lives away from it, just like you see all kinds of folks who put on their Sunday best and do their Sunday thing and then live their worst Monday through Saturday. They are still confused by the god of Moloch, that what he wants is just some sacrifice in a moment.
It's a way that seems right to men, that you do these things, pay your tax, and then you're free, and that's just not the way of Christ. There is no "Sunday best" and then you're free. God has given himself for you, and we come and gather to remind ourselves of the glory of God so that we may live for him always. That's why we leave here to have a great week of worship, having been reminded of the goodness of God, his love for all of the nations, the gifts he gives to all of his people. Let me pray, and then let's worship.
Father, I thank you for a chance to come and gather and study and see what you were doing in the Old Testament as you anticipated the coming of the Messiah, how Stephanos was ready, and how he took the Word of God and taught it and explained to them why the temple sacrifices were no longer necessary. We don't need to become more Jewish in our Christianity. Jews need to become more in love with the Messiah in their faith.
We don't need to go through temple sacrifices; we need to understand the sacrifice that was made through Christ and respond. We don't have a place that's holy; we have a God who's holy, and because we live in relationship with him all the time, Lord, we want to live holy lives now as we charge into our Saturday, as we charge into our Sunday, as we hit our Monday. As we live all throughout the week, we want to be holy people.
We don't want just our Sunday best. We want our lives continually offered for your glory. Lord, I pray if there's anybody here who has never understood the kindness of Jesus and what he has done, if they still have a system that seems right to them, that it will do with their works or their sacrifices or their religion, that they would repent of that and accept your provision and would follow the fulfillment of the law, the one who has come to put away sin and death forever.
We thank you that we know him and his name is Jesus. Would you teach us now more of him? Let us delight in his ways. May we be filled with grace and peace and power, and may the signs and wonders of divinity be on us as we are useful and fruitful for you. In Jesus' name I pray, amen.