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Stephen’s Defense (1)

Just prior to when the prophet and deacon Stephen was carried out of the council of the Jews, outside of the city walls of Jerusalem to be killed, he offered up his defense for the charges levied against him. For those familiar with it, it is not much of a defense, but is rather a recitation of accounts of revolt by the Hebrews, Israelites, and Jews who had been following in the well-worn steps of a perpetual pattern of rebellion against God evidenced throughout their collective histories.

Due to what he said and how he responded they took him out of the city and stoned him. He got under certain peoples skins when he preached to them. The record in Acts 7 states: “they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke.” So this was a problem to some, as they werent going to change what they had been doing and they werent going to have someone standing up and preaching compellingly against the orthodox view that they themselves wanted to hear, or that they wanted folks to hear. And so in verse eleven it states that they “secretly induced men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” Then they carried him into the council and trumped up some more charges and finally had their way with him and took his life.

In response to this initial charge of blasphemy Stephen took the opportunity to speak and preach what would be his last gospel sermon, as recorded for us in Acts chapter 8. We know that he had preached more than just once as the record says so.

From reading this only recorded message you will see that it seems Stephen was not one of those popular fellows, the typical man of the cloth (as the world might say). He was not likely to be the person called upon to give the invocation at the local ball game. He was not the blatantly outwardly religious sort we might know today, and his faith was not displayed only on his collar. He lived it and it was the central part of his existence, it was the very thing that drove him in everything that he undertook. He also would not be part of the denominational school of pastors and preachers of the likes of which we have to endure today. He would never have made it through preacher school – he would have flunked out. There would be no gold trimmed purple robe for Stephen. And all this from a man that had not been a Christian for very long; for as you may know there had not been a church on the earth but for just a short time when these things were recorded.

I think that it would be in our interest to take a look at this remarkable Christian, and perhaps we can learn something concerning good character and godliness.

The entire record that we have of Stephen’s life encompasses only some few days of his existence and is found in the sixth through the eighth chapter of the book of Acts being recounted in but a few paragraphs. We find him first mentioned with six others that were chosen by the church in Jerusalem as the first deacons on record in a church.

Acts chapter 6:1 – 7

“Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a murmuring against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution.

Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch, whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them.

And the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.”

Notice if you will that Stephen had some prominence and was mentioned first in this listing and that the most detail of all these is given concerning him. But nonetheless the information is limited mostly to what he said and it offers little as to his life, background and character – so, we will have to work for the details.

The recorder states that Stephen was a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit – that’s all. This is interesting to me. Just how is it that someone is “full of faith?” What is it that causes the writer to note this distinction in Stephen, and not in the others? Is it a casual remark? What was it about his faith that made him distinct even from these other godly men, who each also had a portion and indwelling of God’s Holy Spirit? You know the implication is that by his faith he was set apart from the rest of his chosen brethren. That cannot mean that the others were not faithful – for that would infer that they did not belong on this first list of deacons and as servants to the church – and that simply cannot be the case. So there is some other characteristic concerning faith that was remarkable in Stephen alone, that was not in as great a supply or which was perhaps not found in as great abundance in the others. It is a shame that we can only ponder and speculate on this and are not given more detail concerning “being full of faith.”

But moving on, do you suppose that Stephen was a shy type who hid his light under the proverbial bushel? Do you suppose he was a shrinking violet that was worried about whether or not he might offend someone by implying that things were not right in their lives and in their service to God? You know that the speaker implies and that the hearer infers. I then must infer that Stephen was strong and forward in his faith, that he was one of those hard-edged sorts, of a type of preacher the likes of which today are in such short supply that many will never even run across one. The inference stands that he had no soft side and he was not of the form as some would like all Christians to be today, that would make us comfortable so that we could be like the cowboy singing “Home On The Range,” “where never is heard a discouraging word.” To be found where we would never have to lift our earflaps high enough to listen for the arc in tone that might indicate or broker contempt, so that we might remain where there is neither offence to our tender sensibilities in word or in deed, nor anyone to turn our heads away from our own vanity. Any inference from my implications in this last I leave to you the reader. After all, you are on your own concerning what you might infer.

I know something else about Stephen. I know he was a compelling teacher. Notice that I did not say that he was a compelling speaker, for I know nothing at all of how he spoke. The record says nothing about that, whether he had a booming baritone, was a lilting tenor, was a shrill as a choked cat, or if the cadence of his remarks rang like a bell on a clear day, or the words fell flat on the floor. It only says this: “And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke.”