SESSION 14 — “Being the Church,” a Bible study of the Book of Acts

I am excited to offer you a video Bible study of the Book of Acts, and I invite you to watch the video of “Being the Church” on Youtube OR Vimeo . . . for Vimeo, see the link in the Blogroll in the right column on my blog screen. Just as with my sermons, I’ll post notes to accompany each Bible study video.

Review of the study thus far:

— Jesus’ briefing on the Holy Spirit in John 14-17

— The promise for which they were to wait

— Fulfilled in Acts 2

— Peter’s sermon, boldly speaking their sin and Christ’s resurrection, and 3,000 come to Christ

— The beggar born lame is healed, Peter speaks again of Christ’s resurrection and their sin, and 5,000 come to Christ

— Peter, John and the beggar are brought before the Sanhedrin

— Do not speak this name or do anything in this name

— Should we obey God or you? You be the judge!

—We cannot stop speaking of what we have seen and heard

— The bond-servants of the Lord ask for greater boldness to speak,

and God answers their prayer!

— Contrast between Barnabas, who gives all, and Ananias and Sapphira, who lie about their offering, and the consequences.

— The apostles are arrested. The angel who frees them delivers this message: Go! Stand! Speak all the words of this Life! And they did, and were arrested again!

— Sanhedrin cut to the quick, Gamaliel’s advice to let them be, for if it is of God, they may find themselves fighting against God! The Apostles, flogged and released, rejoice to be counted worthy to suffer as Jesus did.

— Spirit-filled believers are required for even the most menial tasks in the church. Filled with the Spirit, full of God’s wisdom, full of faith, full of grace and power! Stephen persecuted for what he speaks and does. As his accusers gaze intently at him, they see his face like the face of an angel — he is radiant!

Now, Session 14 — Acts 7:1-60

This seems like a lot of scripture to do in one session, but my video will not include everything that is in these notes. As I always say, “There’s so much here!”

I pray you are like the Bereans, though, searching the scriptures to see if what I say is true (Acts 17:11)!

Verse 1 — When the high priest asks Stephen if the false witnesses are telling the truth, Stephen begins a history of Israel, with no Bible to aid him.

Again, how does an “unlearned” person know what Stephen knows? How does such a one stand before this august group of 71 experts, leaders of the Jewish faith?

Where does his wisdom come from? We have seen it before. As I said last time, in these verses, we will see that Stephen is given his words by the Holy Spirit (again, Luke 21:15).

The priest knows the history. But Stephen tells it from the perspective that Israel has always resisted God and repudiated the leaders He chose.

Verses 2-4 — Stephen begins by calling them brethren and fathers, speaks of God as the God of glory, and speaks of “our father, Abraham.” The Holy Spirit reminds them that Stephen is a Jew, just like them.

He begins the story of Abraham, who came out from Mesopotamia (today’s Iraq, Kuwait, Syria, southwestern Turkey, and the border area of Iraq and Iran). The Lord told Abraham to go to a place He would show him. So he went! He was obedient, and did not resist God! First he was in Haran, until his father died. Then he continued following the Lord into Israel.

It is the land where Stephen’s listeners are now living. He reminds them of God’s faithfulness to go to a place He would show Abraham.

Verse 5 — But the Lord didn’t say, “This land is yours right now.” Not even a foot. But He promised that even though Abraham was childless, He would give it to Abraham AND his descendants as a possession. He would possess it (occupy it and hold it down, as with holding a fort), but the earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it (Psalm 24:1, 1Corinthians 10:26)!

I like the Expositor’s Bible Commentary’s observation — Abraham did not consider  possession of the land to be the the ultimate purpose for the Lord speaking to him. He cherished the intimate, personal relationship the Lord shared with him, wherever Abraham sojourned.

So there are a couple of questions I must ask you —

Have you left everything to follow the Lord?

What is your ultimate purpose in seeking God? Is it that He has promised something in His Word (like possession of the land), or is it an intimate, personal relationship with Him?

Verses 6-7 — Stephen paraphrases the prophecy about Israel in Egypt, and that they would be enslaved and mistreated for 400 years.

But the Lord would judge Egypt, just as He later judged Assyria after Samaria (northern Israel) was exiled, and Babylon after Judah was exiled. Each regime mistreated His people. It was far beyond what they deserved, in God’s eyes. Exile from the Promised Land and from His presence was punishment enough.

So after the 400 years in Egypt, they would come out and go to Israel. And the Lord would once again be seen as the Owner of the earth —

Exodus 9:29 Moses said to him (Pharaoh), “As soon as I go out of the city, I will spread out my hands to the Lord; the thunder will cease and there will be hail no longer, that you may know that the earth is the Lord’s.”

Verse 8 — Stephen then reminds them of the covenant of circumcision (Genesis 17:1, 7-8). The Lord came down, and said, “Walk before me blameless.” And Abraham followed Him with all his heart, and obeyed the Lord. The everlasting covenant (promise) was for such ones.
What was the everlasting covenant? To be God to Abraham and his descendants. And he would give them the land where Abraham had sojourned. And the sign of the covenant was circumcision of male Jews.

God kept His covenant with Abraham, and Abraham was faithful to God. The Lord gave him a son, Isaac. Abraham obediently circumcised his son, Isaac, who became the father of Jacob and Esau, and Jacob became the father of the patriarchs, from whom came the twelve tribes of Israel.

Obedience is the key that connects what Stephen speaks in this verse and the verses in his message up to this point!

Verses 9-16 — Now we see the first repudiation of God’s choice. Joseph, the son of Jacob, was favored above the rest by Jacob. And the other sons were jealous. Joesph was given two dreams from the Lord, in which his borthers and then his whole family bowed down before him. He told them the dreams, and his brothers become outraged. They sold him into Egypt as a slave.

But God was with him — he was obedient to the Lord, and prospered to the point that he was second only to Pharaoh. When famine came, Jacob’s brothers came to seek food from him. Again, Joseph was obedient to what the Lord showed him in Pharaoh’s dreams, and his brothers bowed down to him.

Joseph revealed his identity to them in their second visit, and ultimately invited Jacob and his whole family, 75 persons, to come to Egypt. And they all bowed down to him.

Thus, the line of Abraham survived the famine. It was because Joseph was obedient to God, and God’s purpose was worked (Genesis 50:19-20).

Verses 17-19  — And Abraham’s descendants multiplied, just as the Lord had promised.

But a new Pharaoh came into power in Egypt — an Assyrian (Isaiah 52:4). He did not know about Joseph saving all Egypt during the famine. He mistreated them. He commanded them to let their newborn sons die of exposure.

Verses 20-28 — But Moses was hidden, and brought up by Pharaoh’s daughter after being nursed by his mother for three months, and was educated as an Egyptian.

At age 40, he learned he was a Hebrew and went to see his brethren. He murdered an Egyptian who abused them. He believed this was the means for God to give them deliverance, but the people disowned him! Again, repudiation and rejection!

Verses 29-34 — He fled to Midian and lived there 40 years. But then God called him from the burning bush, to go and rescue His people out of Egypt. This was the Moses who was disowned by the Jews!

Verses 35-38 — A note on Verse 35, about the angel Stephen refers to, who appeared to Moses in the burning bush. The word “angel” is used not only for heavenly beings, but for the presence of the Lord. So the Lord spoke to him, just according to the text in Exodus 3.

In Verse 38, Stephen reminds the Sanhedrin that the one the Jews rejected was the one who led them out of Egypt! He did wonders and signs in Egypt, at the Red Sea. Even when they would not believe but rejected God’s promise and listened to the bad reports of 10 of the 12 who went in to spy out the land (Numbers 13:25-33), and even in their wilderness wanderings, the Lord used Moses to take care of them. Again, unbelief and rejection of the Lord and His servant!

Verses 39-41 — Stephen reveals the truth of God’s Word to those who know the Old Testament so well. Our fathers were UNWILLING to be obedient to Moses, REPUDIATED him, and turned their hearts back to Egypt! It is the history of Israel’s rejection of the God who called them out as His people! They wanted other gods, and commanded Aaron to make them an idol.

Verses 42-43 — It was just as Amos prophesied in Amos 5:25-26 to northern Israel/Samaria, long after they had entered the Promised Land. They offered sacrifices not to the Lord but to idols, in the wilderness, for 40 years! They brought their false gods with them, out of Egypt. They rejected the Lord!

Amos 5:25   “Did you present Me with sacrifices and grain offerings in the wilderness for forty years, O house of Israel? 26 “You also carried along Sikkuth your king and Kiyyun, your images, the star of your gods which you made for yourselves.”

And indeed, He would remove His people from the land, into exile!

Verses 44-47 — Stephen goes on with the history of Israel — Joshua, David, and then Solomon, who built the temple in Jerusalem. They were faithful to accomplish what the Lord commanded them to do (though Solomon later fell).

Verses 48-50 — But the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands. It’s a quote from Isaiah 66:1-2, where the Lord says He looks to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at His word.

Are you humble and contrite in spirit? Do you tremble at His word?

Verses 51-53 — Stephen’s recounting of Israel’s failures to believe had already stirred up the Sanhedrin. Now he speaks to them directly —

— You men! You!

— Who are stiff-necked (who do not bow to the Lord) and uncircumcised of heart AND ears (their hearts and ears are not tender toward the Lord, but thickly covered over)!

— Are ALWAYS resisting the Holy Spirit. From the beginning! You have, and you are doing just as your fathers did, just as I have reminded you!

— Your fathers persecuted ALL the prophets the Lord sent. They killed (murdered) those who had previously announced the coming Messiah, the Righteous One (see Jesus’ words in Matthew 23:35).

— And you have become His betrayers and murderers!

— You who received the law as ordained by angels, but did not keep it.

[Again, the Law was given to Moses by the Lord, by the Lord’s presence on Sinai. In no way do Stephen’s words indicate that angels somehow mediate the Law. We have one Mediator, Jesus Christ, per 1Timothy 2:5!]

— You received the Law from the Lord, but did not keep it! These who dot every “i” and cross every “t,” who look good on the outside but are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness (Jesus’ words in Matthew 23:27).

Verse 54 — So the members of the Sanhedrin are cut to the quick (Acts 5:33) and gnash (grate) their teeth, evidence of their intense anger!

Verses 55-56 — But Stephen is full of the Holy Spirit. He gazes intently into heaven, and sees God’s glory and Jesus standing at the right hand of God! Jesus stood to honor his faithful servant, Stephen, for Jesus Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father. And Stephen describes what he sees!

Verses 57-58 — They cry out, cover their ears, and all of them rush at him, and drive him out of the city, and stone him. And young Saul (whose Roman name is Paul) is a witness. They lay their ceremonial robes at Saul’s feet so they will not be spattered with blood.

Verse 59-60 — They continue to stone Stephen, while he calls out and says, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!”

Then he falls on his knees and cries out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!”

They were ignorant, after all. Peter said so, in Acts 3:17. Paul speaks of it, that they are ignorant because of the hardness of their hearts (Ephesians 4:18). Then, Stephen falls asleep — he dies.

The Jewish leaders had yet again resisted the Holy Spirit, spurned and repudiated Stephen, who spoke from God by the Holy Spirit, and continued on in their ignorance and anger toward the church.

Are these things so today, among those who profess Jesus Christ? Yes! John Wesley, a theologian par excellence and ordained in the Church of England was rejected, repudiated and disowned by them when God revealed to Wesley that He is able to (and will, for whosoever will ask Him) circumcise and purify a human heart and fill it with His perfect love!

And it is the same today In much of the church, many hold to a form of godliness, but they deny, abnegate, reject, and disavow its dunamis, its miracle working power, and the Holy Spirit who wields it, through His servants. Lord, help us!

We will see more of Saul/Paul next week, in Session 15!