The Defense Rests (Acts 7:54-8:1a)

The Defense Rests (Acts 7:54-8:1a)

  • Stephen has been presenting his defense against the accusations of false witnesses that he was speaking “blasphemous words against Moses and God” (6:11) as well as “speaking words against this holy place and the law” (6:13).
  • Read Acts 7:54-8:1a
  • Let’s keep in mind where we are. This community has been increasing daily since Pentecost. The church has experienced rapid growth, but it has not been widespread. The growth has occurred within Jerusalem. As we see from 8:1-4, Stephen’s death serves as a catalyst for mission.

The Anticipation of Heavenly Glory Produces Peace Instead of Fear (54-56)

  • v.54 “Enraged”–There is a kind of conviction that softens (2:37) and a kind of conviction that hardens (5:33; 7:54). Their rage could no longer be quenched by Gamaliel’s reasoning, but murder.
  • v.55 “Full of the Holy Spirit”–This is an ongoing filling of the Holy Spirit for a particular work (typically in Acts it is for the proclamation of Christ 4:8, 31).
    • v.55 “Saw”–The glory of God and Jesus standing.
      • Receive: Embracing a spirit?
      • Advocate: Bruce, “Stephen has been confessing Christ before men, and now he sees Christ confessing his servant before God.”
    • v.56 “Said”–Declaring the truth of his vision ensured his execution. The suggestion that anyone was at the right hand of God confirmed their accusations of blasphemy.
  • WLC Q.86 What is the communion in glory with Christ, which the members of the invisible church enjoy immediately after death?¬†The communion in glory with Christ, which the members of the invisible church enjoy immediately after death, is, in that their souls are then made perfect in holiness, and received into the highest heavens, where they behold the face of God in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies…
  • Stephen is dying with the assurance that he will be with the Lord. How do you and I gain that same assurance?
  • If the anticipation of heavenly glory produces peace, then it is probably true that the focus upon earthly glory will produce fear.
  • We, like Stephen, must behold the glory of the Lord. How do we do that?
    • 2 Cor. 3:15-18 “Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
    • We behold the glory of the Lord when we read God’s Word without the veil of unbelief. When God’s Word is accompanied by faith in our preaching, reading, meditating, praising, we behold His glory.
    • And the more we behold that glory, the more we are compelled to say something about it to others.

Stephen’s vision didn’t only give him peace, it also produced in him a compassion towards his executioners‚Ķ

The Anticipation of Heavenly Glory Produces Compassion Instead of Vengeance (57-60)

  • v.57 Like children refusing to listen, they “stopped their ears” and rushed at him together. They were driven by a singular hatred for the truth. Not only were they forming into a mob of executioners, but they were of one mind in purpose (“together” like the apostles gathering together and praying together 2:46; 4:24; 5:12).
  • Stoning was a ghastly means of execution. The weapons were the stones of the land. The emphasis seems to be that the crimes which threatened the covenant promises received this form of punishment.
    • Blasphemy, idolatry, spirit divination, false prophecy, adultery, son’s disobedience, child sacrifice.
    • Each of these being a threat against the authority of the Word of God and/or the unity of the People of God (even down to the family unit).
    • 7:57-58 are consistent with Old Testament protocol, but the legal examination seems to have turned into mob violence more than anything else.
  • Luke is not trying to establish some sort of universal pacifism. He is fundamentally concerned with Stephen’s personal response.
  • Did you notice the two contrasting cries? One is the outburst of rage as the crowd rushed Stephen (v.57). The other is the loud cry of Stephen for mercy (v.60). It is as if the one crying for mercy outweighs the multitude crying for murder. You might argue that Stephen lost his life. But that is only true on a physical level. In God’s economy, the Church gained a great deal with Stephen’s death. And Stephen wouldn’t want it any other way.
  • When the families of the 9 victims of the shooting in Charleston, SC spoke to the shooter, responding with compassion, the world saw a display of grace that is all too rare.
  • But in the case of Jesus and Stephen, it was in the act of dying that they expressed a willingness to forgive.
  • Think of the person who has wronged you the most in this life. Maybe they have taken advantage of you or someone you love. Maybe they have brought a tremendous amount of anxiety and fear into the way you interact with others. When you pray for that person is it a call for justice or mercy?
  • Maybe vengeance isn’t your struggle as much as indifference. Either way, the goal remains to make a move towards compassion.
    • Our hearts can be filled with cynicism and a smug indifference. We Christians are guilty of mocking and scoffing the world more than praying for the world’s reconciliation to her God.
    • And that’s not the attitude Stephen had–even towards the one’s throwing stones!
    • We need to stop taking our cues from political pundits. Rather than adopting the snarkiness and critical spirit of everyone different than us, we should pray that God would give us the grace to see the world with compassion. Maybe, what will have the greatest impact, is when God changes our attitude, not everyone else’s.
    • You will pass that attitude on to others. You can perpetuate a bitterness that will carry into our children or we can pass on a compassion that will stop the cycle of vengeance.

Conclusion

  • Change appears to have taken some time. Neither the accusers of Jesus or Stephen appear to be changed on the spot. Saul would go on to ravage the church, and it would seem the others did too. But over time, the blood of these martyrs–dying with peace and compassion in their hearts–changed the course of history!