Stephen’s Defense before the Council: Acts 7:1-43.
This is the longest address in the book of Acts. Stephen was falsely accused he Stephen sought to destroy the temple and spoke against the Law of Moses. Stephen begins his defense in a polite and respectful manner. Christians should defend their faith always in a gentle and respectful manner (1 Pet 3:15). He begins and ends his address giving glory to God (7:2, 55). In his defense, Stephen gives an account of Israel’s history. He affirmed that Christian faith is the natural fulfillment of the promises given in the Old Testament. Jesus is the Son of Abraham (Matt 1:1; Gal 3:16). Stephen relates God’s promises to Abraham and proved that if you believe in Christ you are Abraham’s offspring and heirs according to promise (Gal 3:29). He explains that Israel rejected the prophets. But it did not prevent God from carrying out the plan of salvation through Christ. He quotes the promise that “God will raise up for them a prophet like Moses from Israel” (Deut 18:15). This was a promise about their coming Messiah (7:37). God gave them law to protect them from idol worship and pagan influences. Yet they despised the law. Outwardly they were worshiping God but inwardly their hearts were far away from God.
Temple was only Shadow of Christ: Acts 7:44-53.
Jews failed to understand that the Law and Temple point to Jesus Christ and are shadows. But Israel rejected their Messiah because of their blindness (2 Cor 4:4). Stephen pointed out that our salvation is a gracious gift of God from beginning to end. Christ’s ministry, death and resurrection are the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises. But Jews replaced God’s living truth with their traditions. Yet God in His grace carefully prepared Israel for our salvation through Christ. He carefully crafted history using people like Joseph and Moses for the great deliverance through Jesus Christ. Because of our union with Christ we have become the children of Abraham to share God's great promises to Abraham. Throughout Israel's history, God was graciously orchestrating events that leads to the coming of their Messiah. Jews mistakenly believed that their temple was the ultimate dwelling place of God's presence. They failed to understand that God is not limited by a structure made with human hands. God is near to all who call on him in Jesus Christ. Christ's life, ministry, death, resurrection are the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises of God. Jesus did not demolish the Old Testament but he embodied and fulfilled it.
Stephen the Martyr: Acts 7:54-60.
The Jewish leaders became very angry at Stephens’s defense. They gnashed their teeth and shook their fists against Stephen. He faced an unjust death at the hand of an angry mob. He dying request to God was to forgive his murderers. He has learned this love from Jesus and set an example of loving one's enemies. He made no retaliation toward the council but fastened his sight on heaven. He saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. The crowd dragged him out of the city and cried for his death. They stoned Stephen. That was the Jewish form of death for blaspheming. The Sanhedrin provided the oversight of his murder. It was customary that the witnesses cast the first stone. Their garments were placed at the feet of a young man named Soul. While they were stoning, Stephen prayed for the forgiveness of his persecutors. Such radical forgiveness and love must have influenced Soul (7:58). He soon became the most famous supporter of the gospel. As they stoned him, Stephen prayed “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit”. Jesus stood up to welcome his servant to glory. His concern was not for himself but for those who were stoning him. When the Jewish religious leaders were at their worst, Stephen was at his best. For Christians, death is a promotion to the presence of Christ. God does not call all of us to be martyrs but He wants us to be the living sacrifices (Rom 12:1, 2). It may be harder for some to live for Christ than to die for Him. Those who are willing to live for Christ will not find it hard to die for Him. Christ wants us to remain faithful unto death by following his example.