Read thru New Testament Devotional – June 26, 2017

June 26

 

Acts 7:44-60

Acts 7:44-50-Stephen tells the Council that as their fathers had refused to recognize that Moses was sent to deliver them, so they have refused to recognize that Jesus was sent to deliver them (:35).  Moses performed miracles that were proof of who he was and Who sent him, Jesus did the same thing (:36).  Moses had the word from God, Jesus also had the word from God (:38).  In fact, all 11 facts about Moses that were identified by Stephen in verses 20-44…are also true about Jesus.  The point that he was making was that just as the fathers had refused to accept Moses, so the Council now had refused to accept Jesus.

Acts 7:51-53-Stephen continues by accusing them of not just rejecting Moses, but also of rejecting the prophets.  The Council is acting just like their fathers.  They had killed the prophets who announced the coming of the "Righteous One" (:52-this is a reference to the coming Messiah).  And now, the Council has become the very ones who killed the “Righteous One”.  They are ”always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did…betrayers and murderers” (:51-52).  Finally, he accuses them of knowing what the law says…but of not doing it (:53).

Acts 7:54-This indictment was just too much for the Council to stand.  Stephen had accused them of rejecting Moses, rejecting the prophets, rejecting the law, and of murdering the Messiah.  The Jews were "cut to the quick" (:54-literally-“their hearts were cut in two” meaning that their emotions were deeply disturbed, they became very angry!) by his words.  This was expressed by the Jews both visibly and audibly…they were “gnashing their teeth at him.”  They were grinding their teeth and hissing at him to show their displeasure and disgust.  It was a sign of judgment.

Acts 7:55-57-The contrast here between Stephen and those on the Council is stark.  On one hand, Stephen is “full of the Holy Spirit” and gazing intently into the sky.  There, he has a vision of the glory of God the Father…and Jesus standing at His right hand.  There is a sense of peace and serenity in that picture.  Such that, those looking at him “saw his face like the face of an angel” (6:15).  On the other hand, the Council members are grinding their teeth, hissing, yelling out loud and covering their ears so that they cannot hear what he is saying, and finally they “rushed upon him with one impulse”…a mob intent on his death.

 

One man full of the Holy Spirit faces a gallery of men full of hate. Luke is not describing a special momentary gifting in Stephen (as Haenchen 1971:292; Bruce 1990:240), but the fitting climax of a life in the Spirit (6:5, 8, 15; Williams 1985:132). The gallery concentrates on him; Stephen gazes into heaven (atenizo is stronger than the NIV looked up to; compare 1:10; 3:4, 12; 6:15). God grants that Stephen may peer into heaven itself with his mind's eye and see the glory of God (either a circumlocution for God the Father or the shekinah glory that both conceals and reveals the divine presence and nature; compare 7:2; 22:11).

This vision positively culminates the climactic thesis of Stephen's sermon: God dwells in heaven, not in temples made with hands (7:48-50). The Son of Man standing at the right hand of God is at the center of Stephen's attention and the heart of his confession. Son of Man, a phrase otherwise present primarily on the lips of Jesus during his earthly ministry, points at once to Jesus' incarnation, saving death and resurrection, and heavenly exaltation, universal dominion, and glorious future reign (Mt 8:20; Lk 9:22, 44; 18:31; 19:10; 21:27, 36; 22:69/Dan 7:13; Ps 110:1). When we think of the title against its background (Dan 7), the divine nature of this figure comes to the fore.

By this confession Stephen and Luke invite us to see Jesus for who he really is, and in that vision to recognize him as worthy of worship, of complete devotion and obedience even to death.

The Sanhedrin will have none of this "Jesus worship." To them it is a blasphemy (Mk 14:61-64) that their loud yells must drown out and their hands must prevent from entering their ears (Strack and Billerbeck [1978:2:684] relate the rabbinic teaching on such a pious duty). And what a perfect picture of their spiritual deafness, these who are "uncircumcised in ear" and refuse to take that essential first step to salvation—having ears to hear God's message (7:51; Lk 4:21; 8:8; 9:44; 14:35; Acts 28:27/Is 6:10).

(http://www.biblegateway.com/resources/ivp-nt/Stephens-Execution)

 

Acts 7:58-60-One of those who stood by and witnessed this execution was Saul (58; 8:1,3).  He would very soon become an intense persecutor of the followers of Jesus.  But surely this moment would leave a lasting impression on him.  While he was in agreement with what the Council was doing…he must have been amazed at the response of Stephen.  It would have been common for someone who was being stoned to cry out in self-defense, in innocence; and, to cry out in vindictive anger against those committing the act.  Stephen did neither.  In fact, he did just the opposite.  He lifted his heart in prayer…committed his spirit to the safe-keeping of Jesus and asked that his executioners be forgiven.  If those words sound familiar it is because they echo the words of Jesus when He was on the cross.  And, it is interesting that Luke (who wrote both the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts) is the Gospel writer who recorded these words of Jesus while He was on the cross (Luke 23:34,46).  Luke was not at the crucifixion of Jesus, or the stoning of Stephen.  So, who would have told him what Jesus said on the cross and what Stephen said at his execution?  Remember, he was a traveling companion of Paul (Saul) for several years.  In his Gospel, Luke begins by saying, “it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order…” (Luke 1:3).  Could Paul be the source?  We have no record of Paul being present at the crucifixion.  However, remember that it had taken place only a short time before and Paul would have had immediate access to all of the gruesome details…including the things that Jesus said while on the cross.  And now he hears Stephen echo the same words, the same spirit as Jesus.  The confidence, the calmness, the forgiveness of Stephen must have deeply impressed him.  There are times when something happens and we ask, “Why?  What good did that accomplish?”  Perhaps such questions were asked concerning the death of Stephen.  But in the larger picture, what if the stoning of Stephen was one of the elements that God used to convict the heart of Saul and to lead him to Jesus as his Savior.  Paul, evangelist to the Gentiles.  Paul, church planter throughout his part of the world.  Paul, defender of the faith.  Paul, advocate of salvation by grace, through faith.  Paul, author of much of the New Testament.  Perhaps we will learn the truth in Heaven.  But regardless, in an era when Christianity has become the most persecuted religion in the world…we need men like Stephen to show us all how endure during our own trials and tribulations.  To show us how to have faith in the One who will receive us…and forgiveness for the ones who would attack us.

Prayer: Father, here is Saul...a most zealous and self-righteous man.  He knew all of the answers and persecuted those who did not arrive at the same conclusions.  And yet, he was wrong.  Please help me Lord, to know You correctly, not as I would construct, or manufacture You.  Please reveal Yourself to me...and then help me to know how to rightly respond to those who disagree with what I have learned.  In contrast, there is Stephen.  Even while he was being judged and stoned...he kept his heart focused on Jesus and on proclaiming Him.  Perhaps that is what I need...to not allow my eyes to be diverted and to become focused on those who disagree with me, but to keep my eyes focused on Jesus.  When that happens...then I will be confident and at peace with Him (:59, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!")...and, my attitude towards those who are against me will be correct (:60, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them!").

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