Immediately following Stephens introduction, after he had gained the ears of his accusers with some well-intended remarks, he then moved through some arguments that they would not be so fond of hearing. He pointed out that Moses, who was rightly held in the highest esteem by these religious leaders, was at the first rejected by the people when initially he had attempted to serve them. This is to note to them that as Moses had been rejected so this pattern held concerning Christ, who in similar fashion was rejected.
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.
Jesus had shown signs and wonders. Jesus too brought them out of bondage after He had given them evidence of God’s grace. Jesus received and gave the living oracles to them just as Moses, and they did not obey but rather rejected Him. And just as surely in their hearts they “turned back to Egypt” and made and worshipped idols after their own making.
Moses had spoken of Jesus. The passage from Deuteronomy 18 here quoted had just some little while earlier also been quoted by Peter following the healing of the lame man (as recorded in Acts three). “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.”
Stephen’s intent was to note that God had now given those Israelites up to a reprobate mind as when they refused to heed Moses, as they had now again rejected his messenger who this time was God, and had rejected his word and his overtures again. He is also implying (and we can draw the inference) that Jesus was as Moses only greater: the deliverer sent from God and they, the Jews, were now then no different than had been their forebears. Both not only rejected the messenger, the chosen one and lawgiver of God, and had chosen instead the path of idolatry – worshipping the “man made” God of their own making. In doing so they rejected the council and plan of God and stood in rebellion against the creator.
Do you suppose that these educated and powerful men were still sitting comfortably as he finished saying these things?
Now let us focus on the conclusion of Stephens remarks.
“You stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers, who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it.”
Here was the end of things, the irresistible argument: the point where he drove them off the cliff. The record says the main response was that they were “cut to the heart.” That same phrase had been used to describe the crowds reaction to Peters sermon in Acts chapter two. Except in these you had an entirely different crowd and the cutting went in an entirely different direction. In Acts 2 there were true hearts and they were “cut” through with remorse and out of their need for repentance. In this account they had no intention of reforming and they were “cut to the heart” with anger and seething – so full of hate and mad (and that is the right word to use) that they were grinding their teeth. Do you recall what it is to be that moved – perhaps you have never known – or so we have hope. Have you ever clenched those teeth together so hard that it made your jaw hurt?
So what type of man was Stephen?
We can say that he was fearless in the face of opposition and fearless of the disposition of those who heard; and that he fully understood that he served God and God alone. He also knew what his end and reward might be as he stood and faced the crowd. Do you suppose that he did not know that the penalty for blasphemy under Moses law was death?
He didn’t soften his message for the hostile crowd. I knew a man that once preached a lesson on marriage and divorce, and witnessed its result in that he had upset one woman so much that on the way out she sent the preacher to the ground with a kick to the shin. This was more than a kick to the shin.