St. Steven Continues With His Response to the Court
Acts chapter 7, verses 20-38
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Last week when we concluded part 1 of Acts chapter 7, St. Steven had been asked for a response to the charges that had been leveled against him by the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council. Namely, that Steven was guilty of blasphemy and inciting unrest and sowing discontent among the people, charges that were patently false. The real underlying issue was that the teachings of the apostles and the early church they founded were being perceived as being authentic, and rightly so. On the other hand, the temple leadership of that time were a bunch of hypocritical snobs who enriched themselves from the temple offerings of the people. People could readily see the difference between the two. They could easily tell the real from the phony, and the Pharisees and Sadducee’s were deeply offended to no end because of it. So now let’s continue Steven’s ongoing testimony from last week beginning at verse 20.
“At that time Moses was born, and he was no ordinary child. For three months he was cared for in his father’s house. When he was placed outside, Pharaoh’s daughter took him and brought him up as her own son. Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action. When Moses was forty years old, he decided to visit his fellow Israelite’s He saw one of them being mistreated by an Egyptian, so he went to his defense and avenged him by killing the Egyptian. Moses thought his own people would realize that God was using him to rescue them, but they did not. The next day Moses came upon two Israelite’s who were fighting. He tried to reconcile them by saying, ‘Men, you are brothers. Why do you want to hurt each other?’ But the man who was mistreating the other man pushed Moses aside, saying, ‘Who made you ruler and judge over us? Do you want to kill me the way you killed that Egyptian yesterday?’ When Moses heard this, he fled to Midian, where he settled as a foreigner and had two sons.‘” (Acts 7, verses 20-29)
Those of you who read last week’s posting (click here if you missed it) will recall the high priest asking Steven if the charges against him were true. Instead of a simple yes or no, Steven starts his reply by giving the court a quick history of the Jewish people, which is intertwined with Jewish religious beliefs, and to a lesser extent Jewish ideology. What he’s actually doing is telling the court why he is innocent of the charges against him, while also telling them why they are wrong to have charged him in the first place! He uses the story of Moses an an example, although it is a highly condensed version so Steven could come to the point as quickly as possible. Although the court did not yet realize it, Steven was using the story of Moses to compare his being adopted by royalty with Steven’s own salvation in Christ, which had brought him into the Family of God. Jesus was born of royalty – Godly royalty – while Moses was adopted by royalty (the house of Pharaoh). Moses and Jesus were both ultimately rejected by, and in Jesus’ case was sacrificed by, those in power here on earth. But Steven isn’t finished with this portion of his response to the court just yet. In fact, he’s just getting started. So now let’s move on to the 2nd half of this week’s study, taking up at verse 30.
“After forty years had passed, an angel appeared to Moses in the flames of a burning bush in the desert near Mt. Sinai. When he saw this, he was amazed at the sight. As he went over to look more closely, he heard the Lord’s voice: ‘I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Moses trembled with fear and did not dare to look. Then the Lord said to him, ‘Take off your sandals; the place where you are standing is holy ground. I have indeed seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their groaning and have come down to set them free. Now come, I will send you back to Egypt.’ This is the same Moses they had rejected with the words, ‘Who made you ruler and judge?’ He was sent to be their deliverer by God himself, through the angel who appeared to him in the bush. He led them out of Egypt and did wonders and miraculous signs in Egypt, at the Red Sea and for forty years in the desert. This is that Moses who told the Israelite’s, ‘God will send you a prophet like me from your own people.’ He was in the assembly in the desert, with the angel who spoke to him on Mt. Sinai, and with our fathers; and he received living words to pass on to us.‘” (Acts 7, verses 30-38)
So we can clearly see here that Steven is comparing Moses with Christ, but only insomuch as Moses was Christ’s predecessor. Steven also made a point out of Moses’ extreme reverence for God Almighty, even to the point of trembling with fear. It is entirely possible that the apostle Paul later referred to this when he wrote to the Philippians’ church that they should “….work out your own salvation with fear and trembling….” (Phil. 2: 12). Then Steven relates to the court how “the God…. of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” sent Moses back to Egypt to save his people Israel, just as he later sent his Son to save Israel as well as all humankind. Since this was the same Sanhedrin who had handed Christ over to Pilate, you can be sure these words were not being well received at all by the court.
In the same way as Pharaoh rejected Moses, Steven continued, so you all rejected Jesus as the One who was sent by that same Almighty God as the Savior of us all. “This is that Moses who told the Israelite’s, ‘God will send you a prophet like me from your own people.” Moses was referring to Christ, and he prophesied about Christ by making that statement so long ago. Moreover, Steven identified himself as being a latter-day prophet of that very same Jesus Christ, as well as one whop extols his teachings. Keep in mind, too, that Jesus had only been crucified and resurrected just some months before Steven’s apprehension by the authorities of 1st century Jerusalem.
But as I wrote above, Stephen, is still replying at length to the original question, which was, ‘Are you guilty of these charges?’ He has already compared Jesus, whom that very court had crucified, with Moses, whom they all revered. This must have generated a good amount of cognitive dissonance among the members of the Sanhedrin, and this was undoubtedly intentional on Steven’s part. Moses, Steven continued, “….received living words to pass on to us.” Those “living words” Steven spoke of are what we now call the Old Testament, which was the Bible as it was known back then. So this was tantamount to using the same Scriptures taught by the “scribes and teachers of the Law”, as Jesus had called them (see Matthew 25, verses 13-36), against the very teachers who purported to be divine instructors. That would be something like calling a university professor an idiot, but Steven was careful not to provoke them out of a sense of self-preservation.
But, as we will see next week, Steven’s brilliant defense of himself (there were no court-appointed lawyers in those days, and for long after too), and the diplomatic way in which he went about it – despite what Steven was accusing the court of – would not prevent him from becoming Christendom’s first martyr. So, I’ll see you all back next week for part 3 of Acts chapter 7, where Steven concludes his defense. To find out the verdict and how it came to be, we’ll move on to part 3 of Acts chapter 7. Everybody take good care!