It is stated that Stephen performed great signs and wonders, obviously being one of the first who had received the granting of spiritual gifts through the Holy Spirit and through the hands of the apostles. The record also states that he spoke in a manner that made it all but impossible to overturn his argument. The listeners could not ignore his points for his logic was compelling from beginning to end.
When it states that they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke, I wish that here they had put a lowercase “s” on the word spirit. Obviously some of these folks resisted what he said or the events that followed his speech would have ended differently. Furthermore, the Spirit of God isn’t a soul snatcher. God doesn’t take us over, spiriting away those who simply can’t resist the overwhelming force. He doesn’t take over minds, lifting people up and leading them off as if on collar and chain – with minds blinded by the light and relieved of reason, sensibility, and ability. What nonsense – what sheer godless nonsense. That was not the spirit that lived in Stephen, and that was not His work – not then and not now.
When it says is that the listeners were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which Stephen spoke, it means his words were compelling, that he spoke plainly, with intent and clarity (with thoughts and words surely given directly by God). That does not mean the Spirit was in control of him or was carrying him away on this journey. The Spirit did not compel Stephen or anyone else to either get up to the pulpit or down into the baptismal. The Spirit provided the reasoning intelligence guided by Gods purpose, but the indwelling Spirit of God was under control of the prophet himself, and so teaches the scriptures. Yet Stephen’s arguments were indeed forceful as is the pure word of the gospel of Christ, and though not at all appreciated by some in that crowd, they too noted the persuasive sense. I should also take this to mean that he was filled to the brim and overflowing with fervor and zeal. He spoke with gravity and specific charge. He had what W. G. Bass used to call a dose of “enthusatism.” The words were supplied by God but the delivery and fervor was supplied by Stephen. You could see he was not only a believer, but that he lived and breathed the thoughts behind the words and so he also knew he had to be an imparter of the truth. I suppose then that in this he was simply living up to the ideals of the great commission.
Following is presented the body of Stephen’s defense. The passage is lengthy and runs through the end of the seventh chapter. Beginning with verse 12 of chapter six through chapter seven and verse 50, well print it here for your convenience:
And they stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes; and they came upon him, seized him, and brought him to the council. They also set up false witnesses who said, “This man does not cease to speak blasphemous words against this holy place and the law; for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs which Moses delivered to us.”
And all who sat in the council, looking steadfastly at him, saw his face as the face of an angel.
Then the high priest said, “Are these things so?”
And he said, “Men and brethren and fathers, listen: The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran, and said to him, “Get out of your country and from your relatives, and come to a land that I will show you.
Then he came out of the land of the Chaldeans and dwelt in Haran . And from there, when his father was dead, He moved him to this land in which you now dwell. And God gave him no inheritance in it, not even enough to set his foot on. But even when Abraham had no child, He promised to give it to him for a possession and to his descendants after him. But God spoke in this way: that his descendants would sojourn in a foreign land, and that they would bring them into bondage and oppress them four hundred years.
“And the nation to whom they will be in bondage I will judge, said God, “and after that they shall come out and serve Me in this place.
Then He gave him the covenant of circumcision; and so Abraham begot Isaac and circumcised him on the eighth day; and Isaac begot Jacob, and Jacob begot the twelve patriarchs. And the patriarchs, becoming envious, sold Joseph into Egypt . But God was with him and delivered him out of all his troubles, and gave him favor and wisdom in the presence of Pharaoh, king of Egypt ; and he made him governor over Egypt and all his house. Now a famine and great trouble came over all the land of Egypt and Canaan , and our fathers found no sustenance. But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt , he sent out our fathers first. And the second time Joseph was made known to his brothers, and Joseph’s family became known to the Pharaoh. Then Joseph sent and called his father Jacob and all his relatives to him, seventy-five people.
So Jacob went down to Egypt ; and he died, he and our fathers. And they were carried back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham bought for a sum of money from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem. But when the time of the promise drew near which God had sworn to Abraham, the people grew and multiplied in Egypt till another king arose who did not know Joseph. This man dealt treacherously with our people, and oppressed our forefathers, making them expose their babies, so that they might not live.
At this time Moses was born, and was well pleasing to God; and he was brought up in his father’s house for three months. But when he was set out, Pharaoh’s daughter took him away and brought him up as her own son.
And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and deeds. But when he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren, the children of Israel . And seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended and avenged him who was oppressed, and struck down the Egyptian, for he supposed that his brethren would have understood that God would deliver them by his hand, but they did not understand.
And the next day he appeared to two of them as they were fighting, and tried to reconcile them, saying, “Men, you are brethren; why do you wrong one another? But he who did his neighbor wrong pushed him away, saying, “Who made you a ruler and a judge over us? Do you want to kill me as you did the Egyptian yesterday?
Then, at this saying, Moses fled and became a sojourner in the land of Midian , where he had two sons. And when forty years had passed, an Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire in a bush, in the wilderness of Mount Sinai .
When Moses saw it, he marveled at the sight; and as he drew near to observe, the voice of the Lord came to him, saying, “I am the God of your fathers the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses trembled and dared not look.
Then the Lord said to him, “Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground. I have certainly seen the oppression of my people who are in Egypt ; I have heard their groaning and have come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send you to Egypt .
This Moses whom they rejected, saying, “Who made you a ruler and a judge? is the one God sent to be a ruler and a deliverer by the hand of the Angel who appeared to him in the bush. He brought them out, after he had shown wonders and signs in the land of Egypt , and in the Red Sea , and in the wilderness forty years. This is that Moses who said to the children of Israel , “The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear. This is he who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the Angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai , and with our fathers, the one who received the living oracles to give to us, whom our fathers would not obey, but rejected. And in their hearts they turned back to Egypt , saying to Aaron, “Make us gods to go before us; as for this Moses who brought us out of the land of Egypt , we do not know what has become of him. And they made a calf in those days, offered sacrifices to the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their own hands. Then God turned and gave them up to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the Prophets: “Did you offer Me slaughtered animals and sacrifices during forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel ? Yes, you took up the tabernacle of Moloch, and the star of your god Remphan, images which you made to worship; and I will carry you away beyond Babylon .
Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness, as He appointed, instructing Moses to make it according to the pattern that he had seen, which our fathers, having received it in turn, also brought with Joshua into the land possessed by the Gentiles, whom God drove out before the face of our fathers until the days of David, who found favor before God and asked to find a dwelling for the God of Jacob.
But Solomon built Him a house. However, the Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands, as the prophet says: “Heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool. What house will you build for Me? Says the Lord, or what is the place of My rest? Has My hand not made all these things?”
At first glance this appears to be a compressed history of the Jews. But notice how Stephen presents this defense. First, he does not answer to any charges. Second, he notes that God had appeared to Abraham, and that Abraham carried out his given charge. Third, he notes that Isaac, Jacob and Joseph beyond them all served God in this same exact way, as did Moses then beyond them, each fulfilling the things given them and doing things exactly as God had said that they should. He concludes this treatise noting that God is bound neither by our notions and desires, nor by our perceptions.
These sayings were at first like music to the ears of the hearers. They knew the old lessons, and were just like many are in this day and age – as long as you sing the right notes and repeat the standard litany, the expected and much cherished lines, then youre just fine by us and well all nod in unison and amen to your word and your by rote entreaties. Yet Stephen was only gathering in his audience – his notes were a half tone too high. He was preparing them for a different song that would carry to the very heart of their dying religion.
He preps them by telling them the story of how their ancestors had rightly served God. This was done to identify the part the Jewish nation played in their continuing rebellion. The Jews then were just like many of us today; they were into ancestor worship – they believed that as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and Moses had done – that they too were doing well. And the notion that something might be amiss in their hearts, in worship and in their religion was not even up for consideration. They rebelled at the very thought that things might not be working well – after all, they were descendants of Abraham. The general accepted notion was that by simple acknowledgement of your lineage, taking note of the deeds of these patriarchs and leaders, that as these had well served God, so too did they. This was the view whether or not they themselves were actually doing anything God desired them to do at all. There are many today that believe similarly and follow after the same deadly example. With the knowledge of a few things, an association with the works of others and an acknowledgement of Christ and of some of his teaching, many believe that they stand with sufficient confidence before God, and by such scant evidences these then “feel” that they will end their days in heavenly bliss.
Im sure that there were some among the Sanhedrin that knew that Stephen was up to something from this point in his remarks, but they might not have been too sure exactly what that something was. You could almost hear the wheels turning in their heads as they momentarily pondered these words as they were spoken. In the next two essays well deal with the concluding remarks of Stephen, some other distinctions, and the response by the Jews and Christians to these things.