For an introduction to this series, click here.
June 1, 2007
This is an incredible chapter. I know I'm not going to give it justice here, because I don't have time to dig into all the details. This chapter gives Stephen's sermon to the council.
The sermon focuses on God's purpose through the history of Israel, going all the way back to Abraham. He hits most of the highlights, jumping from Abraham to Joseph to Moses, on whom he spends most of his time. After he finishes his story of Moses, Stephen quickly mentions Joshua, David and Solomon and then gets straight to the point of the sermon: "You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it." (7:51-53)
He had them when he was talking about Abraham and Moses, but when Stephen started blasting them, they were disappointed, to say the least: "But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul." (7:57-58, ESV)
This may sound a little weird, but the Jewish leaders finally came to grips with what they were fighting with Christianity. They were not dealing with resentful hero-worshipers who were still mad that they had crucified their leader. They were dealing with confident people who knew that God was leading the world in a new direction. They were proclaiming that the death of Jesus was a part of God's plan to bring in a new way of worshiping and knowing Him. And it was happening right in Jerusalem, the very city where Jesus was killed and the heart of Judaism.
I want to say something else here that may be controversial, but hear me out before you accuse me of blasphemy. A lot has been made of Stephen's sermon and the apparent differences in the outline of the facts in his sermon and the way they occur in the Old Testament, particularly his timeline of Abraham's life. Skeptics point out the differences and say that somebody is lying, and others spend a lot of time trying to reconcile the two.
May I go so far as to say that it doesn't matter? Stephen's account probably reflects the understanding of most 1st century Jews, but we shouldn't give it any more weight than that. This does not mean this section of Acts is not inspired. All that is necessary for that is for Luke's account to accurately reflect what Stephen said. Stephen never claimed to be inspired, he was just preaching a sermon. Lord knows if you took every sermon to be inspired, you would get into trouble in a hurry. If you can logically reconcile Stephen's sermon with the Old Testament account, fine. But don't spend too much time on it. If you come to a place where they can't be reconciled, just stick with what was intended to be an accurate historical account: the Old Testament.