by Pastor Adekoya Akinbode
If you have read Acts 7:1-53, then you have already automatically read Genesis chapters 13-50 and Exo 1-15
On this note, I welcome us as we review Acts chapter seven! 60 solid verses but what I perceive we need to glean from here is just some simple but profound and expected Christian virtues.
STUDY TO SHOW YOURSELF APPROVED!
The interesting, faith-challenging and inspiring story of Stephen continues here in Acts Seven, climaxing into the introduction of from-his-mother’s-womb God-ordained apostle to the Gentiles Saul (in Hebrew), Paul (in Greek). Stephen proved those that selected him right as a man full of faith and filled with the Holy Ghost. Human recommendation is not just all we need but personal devotion to worthy course. Stephen proves here that he’s a man given to studying, as he pedagogically took his audience back to the history lane from their first ancestor till the present subject matter. Only a man given to a studious life can operate at that level, powered by the Holy Ghost.
2 Timothy: 2. 15. Study to shew thyself approvedunto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
1 Peter: 3. 15. But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:
Interestingly, we are not told to study to argue or to debate, or to prove to men that we have knowledge but, to show ourselves approved unto God.
You cannot defend the course of God among the gainsayers without been rooted in the knowledge of God.
Faith in Christ can be shaken if not deeply rooted in the knowledge of Christ Himself. Men and women who have proven to be radical and indefatigable in the course of God’s kingdom are those who are not just filled with the Holy Ghost but loaded with the knowledge of the kingdom. Spiritual ignorance places a limit on what the Holy Ghost can bring to us (like divine ideas) and what He can do through us. He does not impart truth but guides into all through. That means we have the responsibility to settle with the truth (the Word of God) and the Holy Ghost guides us into seeing or knowing it!
Spiritual knowledge, or revelation, is the strength of faith. The deeper you go in the knowledge of Christ, the stronger your faith grows in Him. Stephen demonstrates such a commendable level of boldness that is justified in his depth of knowledge powered by the Holy Ghost for hearth cutting delivery.
Acts: 7. 54. When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth.
Don’t ever stop learning to know more of Him because you can’t ever get to know too much of Him.
THE CHRIST PATTERN
Christ is our pattern in/for all things, in Christianity. As the Old Tabernacle was built after the pattern of the heavenly version so are we the New Testament Temple built after the fashion of Christ. Christianity is not a religious race to becoming like Jesus. Rather, it is living like Jesus – He being the pattern for our existence on earth and, living as Jesus_ having been made to be like Him at new birth!
Stephen manifested Christ’s traits to the full in his brief encounter with the opposition to the gospel.
(1) First, in his manner of approach, answering their question:
Acts: 7. 1. Then said the high priest, Are these things so?
You will seldom see Jesus give a direct “Yes” or “No” answer to the question anyone ever asked Him, even when it appears to be either Yes or No question. Had Stephen answered yes, his death could have taken another process and probably expedited or happen earlier than what is recorded. So, he would miss the opportunity to preach to the divinely orchestrated audience. Had he answered “No”, he would have denied the truth and thus denying Christ. So, following the Jesus’ pattern, he took the gainsayers down the memory lane and such is supposed to inspire some sober reflections that should rather catalyze into repentance. But where rebellion has gain ground, it will rather galvanize or instigate violence as it was the case in this chapter of review.
57. Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, 58. And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul. 59. And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.
One may regard Stephen to be a coward by rather preferring to go, than to continue to face stern persecution preaching gospel unlike Apostle Paul who is introduced here. My take is that, *there’s no other more honourable way and time to go than when it is witnessed by and recorded in heaven that you breathe your last, defending the course of Christ!
Stephen indeed did valiantly and remain one of the greatest examples for us now to emulate in the defence of the gospel.
(2) Stephen was firm and plainspoken – somewhat audacious!
A certain degree of audacity is required in addressing those that are audacious enough to challenge the gospel of Christ.
In addressing the council, Stephen sounded like His Master:
51. Ye stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye. 52. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? And they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers:
13. But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in. 14. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation. 15. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves. 16. Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor! 17. Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold?
Note: this is not encouraging an unguarded approach or unmannered disposition fleshly put on against those that question our faith. But speaking the truth the hard way.
I have series of occasions when I’ve had to go in this dimension but it was beyond all doubts I was speaking by the Holy Ghost. It began from 2014 when ground-breaking and church planting mission began at various location dreaded to be havens of the dark ones. In 2017 when I was to began the church in Lagos, I was both excited and at the same time furious in the spirit when as at the time I asked the service begin before my arrival I heard that there’s a confrontation from one of the OPC (an occultic/diastolic group) leaders that there’ll be no Church in that place. He withstood those that were to go in and threatened those who were in against starting anything. I appeared on the scene not seeing him even though he was there as he stylishly gave way for me to pass. I went straight to the Mic and service began with strong warnings from Acts 5:34-39 and strange declarations followed. Till we relocated mid last year, no strange noise from anywhere!
As long as this world remains, the gospel will continue to be challenged. We cannot pray it off, we can only chose to be firm, standing strong, immovable and unshakable, been energized continually by the Holy Ghost.
It is very certain, as long as we will not bow, oppositions will wear out. Just like Stephen, if anyone is ordained to go on the field, preaching the gospel, that doesn’t stop anything – the gospel of Christ remains unstoppable as you and I, empowered by the Holy Ghost remain indefatigable.
(3) The third trait found with Christ displayed by Stephen was that, he revile not!
1 Peter: 2.
20. for what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. 21. For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: 22. Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: 23. Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously:
It is rare to find a fault with anyone that is wholly given to the gospel of Christ, but such is the eternal enemy of the antichrists! However, suffering (abuse, persecution, rejection and what have you) for the sake of the gospel is indeed a good one! Except for what Christ sis go through when He was on earth. In as much as all the consequences of sins He suffered on our behalf are now illegal, such that should not be found around us, whatever He went through for preaching about the Kingdom_ false witnesses, open confrontations, molestation and harassment, we should count it all joy (like did the apostles) to share in such an experience.
After all is said and done, Jesus never spoke any evil or placed a curse on any of those that persecuted Him till the point of crucifixion.
33. And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left. 34. Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots.
He was crucified, yet He didn’t curse!
Acts: 7. 60. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
How often we miss out on God fighting for us because we have taken over the battles ourselves!
In all sincerity, it is not all that we think God should punish that He will eventually punish, and it is not how we want Him to punish He carries out His punishment. Otherwise, Saul should not escape the instant judgement of God! On the contrary, I believe that the message preached by Stephen before he was stoned to death would have served as seed well sown in Paul’s heart before and particularly after his encounter with Christ.
We are often discouraged from going to some place to preach the gospel thinking that they won’t hear. Whereas, there is someone there that God wants to use us to reach out to. Point-blank, Stephen’s message and death was foundational and a prolegomenon to Paul’s encounter. Perhaps it is accurate to say that Stephen gave up his ghost for the Holy Ghost to subsequently take on Paul!
I love the fact that it is not recorded that he died but that he fell asleep! The righteous don’t die. Particularly when death catches up with the righteous in the pursuit of a righteous course!
We all need grace upon grace to learn to relate well with all men without regarding any as an enemy with a mindset of revenge. Otherwise, we will find ourselves been the real enemy of God and of His plan. Imagine Stephen had rather called down fire upon all his persecutors, what would then be my and your fate today, because Paul would have died too.
Think about that!
There is just a tiny transitional line between law and grace; between Moses and Jesus. Moses as a type of the Messiah to come was rejected when he was moved with passion to settle a case between his two fellows (Jews)
23. And when he was full forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren the children of Israel. 24. And seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended him, and avenged him that was oppressed, and smote the Egyptian: 25. For he supposed his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them: but they understood not. 26. And the next day he shewed himself unto them as they strove, and would have set them at one again, saying, Sirs, ye are brethren; why do ye wrong one to another? 27. But he that did his neighbor wrong thrust him away, saying, who made thee a ruler and a judge over us? 28. Wilt thou kill me, as thou diddest the Egyptian yesterday? 29. Then fled Moses at this saying, and was a stranger in the land of Madian, where he begat two sons.
In God’s dealing with the Jews, the number forty played out so often for a very deep reason. Probably we shall look closely into that at another time. Adam was given a thousand year to live but in his fallen state lived to be 930years and that was a deliberate act of God. God divided the Seventy years remaining into forty and thirty. Forty symbolizes something so profound in God’s acts and dealings majorly in the Old Testament. Moving away from that…
Moses at forty was found acting as a type of what Jesus would begin to do at thirty – to rescue his people from their taskmaster. In the case of Moses, it was an Egyptian but in the case of Jesus, it was the devil. Having conquered Satan, He (Jesus, like Moses) expects everyone to see how that God has sent Him to rescue them and therefore believe. Unfortunately, the Jews remain in their unbelief and would rather persecute the sent ones.
One other silent in Stephen’s message is that, if you claim to know and obey Moses as an addicted loyalist, you should end up with Christ because Moses already spoke of Him as He that all should hear and follow.
Acts: 7. 37. This is that Moses, which said unto the children of Israel, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear.
That they ended up killing Stephen is a sign that they deliberately have chosen to hold on to the law, rejecting the grace of God that brings salvation to all men.
In compliance to the law, Stephen was executed, charged with blasphemy!
Leviticus: 24. 14. Bring forth him that hath cursed without the camp; and let all that heard him lay their hands upon his head, and let all the congregation stone him.
Blessed be God, you and I have gotten the eyes of our understanding enlightened by the gospel of Christ. We shall not stop there but commit practically in every way engaging every mean to reach the unreached, as we commit to the ministry of the word and of prayer. I trust God to do yet mighty things in this our generation through you and I before Jesus comes. Yes, you’ve been anointed for it!!!
It’s a great privilege to have championed the first seven chapters of the book of Acts.