Home > Biblical Theology, New Testament > The Importance of Stephen’s Sermon

The Importance of Stephen’s Sermon

In Acts 6:9-8:3 we have one of the most significant events in the life of the early church.  I think this event is much more important than we realize, especially when we consider the role Stephen’s sermon plays in revealing the theology of the early church and the worldwide expansion of the gospel. 

Stephen, one of the first deacons, is accused of speaking against the temple and the Law of Moses (Acts 6:9-15).  These charges are important to recognize because they become the basis for Stephen’s sermon.  Stephen will demonstrate in his sermon that the charges, while unfound in one sense, are true in another sense when considered in light of Jesus Christ.  He forcefully demonstrates that he is not speaking against the law or the temple, but will show both historically and theologically that both the law and temple were never an end to themselves, but served a greater purpose.  Stephen’s speech can be summed up as follows.

1.) God had a plan from the very beginning when he visited and called Abraham out of his land.  God was with Abraham as he led him to a new land (Acts 7:1-16; cf., Gen 12:1ff).

2.) Joseph was sold into slavery, but God was with him.  God was with his people and preserved and blessed them in a foreign land.  God met with Moses in the land of Midian and revealed himself and his covenant to Moses.  God raised up the prophet Moses to lead Israel out of bondage from Egypt (Acts 7:17-36; Exo 1:1ff).

3.) God gave the Jews the Law.  Moses wrote in the Law how God would raise up another prophet that would come whom they were to listen to (Acts 7:37-38; cf., Deut 18:15-18).

4.) God was with his people in the wilderness.  However, our fathers rebelled against God’s messenger, Moses, and angered the Lord (Acts 7:39-43; Num 1:1ff).

5.) God dwelt with the people in a tabernacle and went with them into the land and drove out their enemies (Acts 7:44-45; Josh-Judg).

6.) David found favor in God’s sight and God was with him.  David wanted to build a temple for God, but it was Solomon who built a house for the Lord (Acts 7:46-47; 1-2 Sam, 1-2 Kgs).

7.) However, the prophets agree that God does not live in temples made by human hands, but heaven is his throne and earth is his footstool, what kind of house will you build for me (Acts 7:49-50; Isa 66:1-2)?

Upon completing his sermon Stephen answers their accusations and exposes their ignorance of God’s ways (Acts 7:51-53).

1.) Do you not understand that God does not dwell in stone structures, but dwells with his people?  To think that God’s dwelling with his people is confined to a parcel of land or a temple runs contrary to both history and prophecy.  Throughout the history of Israel God’s presence was always with his people regardless of their geographical location (e.g., Ur, Egypt, Midian) and external circumstances (e.g., paganism, slavery, wilderness).  The fullness of God’s dwelling with his people has come and his place of meeting with men is not in a particular land or a temple, but in Jesus (John 1:14; 2:13-22; 4:23-24;Col 1:19; 2:9).

2.) If you believed Moses, you would have believed in the one he spoke about.  Moses spoke of another prophet like himself who would reveal God to the Jews.  Jesus is that final prophet (Heb 1:1-2; cf., Mark 9:7).  Jesus did not come to abolish the Law of Moses, but to fulfill it (Matt 5:17-20).  The law was only a custodian or babysitter until the fullness of time (Gal 3:16ff).  Now that the fullness of time has come and the promises of God are fulfilled in Jesus, people are no longer under obligation to keep the law, but are to look to Jesus, the new law giver (cf., Matt 22:37-39; Mark 9:2-13; 1 Cor 9:20-21).  To deny Jesus is to deny Moses and the law; thus, if you were truly law keepers you would see Jesus (John 5:36-47).

3.) God’s presence is not confined to the law, land, or a temple.  God’s purpose and presence is now offered through Jesus Christ by faith.  You stiff-necked sinners, you are just like your fathers, who always rejected God’s messengers, who always resisted the Holy Spirit, and who always misunderstood God’s ways (Acts 7:51-53).  Just as your fathers before you rejected God’s messengers and misunderstood God’s ways so you have done the same by betraying and murdering the Righteous One.

4.) Convicted of their sin, the religious leaders knew what Stephen was saying.  Being enraged they gnashed their teeth at him (Acts 7:54).  Stephen looks into heaven and declares that he sees Jesus standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:55-56).  The religious leaders were already angry with him, but his final statement sent them into a rage.  They understood what Stephen was saying.  His declaration of Jesus at the right hand of God meant that Jesus was in fact King and Lord (cf., Psa 110:1-2; Acts 2:17ff; Heb 1:13; 10:11-13).  The religious leaders with one purpose rushed him, dragged him outside the city and stoned him (Acts 7:57-58).  They did not want to accept Jesus as their King.  They were doing just as their fathers did in the past, but how much more severe would their punishment be since they were rejecting the God’s King and Servant (cf., Matt 12:22-32)?  Aware of this judgment, Stephen cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:59-60).

5.) On that day a great persecution broke out against the church (Acts 8:1-3).  Although the death of Stephen was terrible; it was by this act of rejection by the Jewish people that God would fulfill his promise to Abraham, namely that in his seed all the families of the earth would be blessed (Gen 12:1-3; Gal 3:16ff; cf., Rom 9-11).  Foreshadowing the rest of Acts, Luke records the presence of Saul at Stephen’s death and his ensuing persecution of the church.  Saul had heard Stephen’s sermon, disapproved, and partook in his death; however, little did Saul realize that very soon the message of Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of Old Testament would be his message as well.  Saul, along with the other apostles, would now carry God’s message of the kingdom beyond national and geographical boundaries to the rest of the world (Acts 1:8).  God was now bringing about his purpose and plan for all humanity, namely that he might be their God and they be his people. Israel was never the end of God’s purpose, but only the means by which he would bring salvation to the nations.  God chose to express this work in a very limited way in the OT—through Israel.  God is restoring his presence with his people through Jesus Christ.  His dwelling place is now in our hearts.  It is not by men or through a nation that God will restore his people and creation, but through the man Christ Jesus (1 Tim 2:5; cf., Eph 1:10, 18-23; Col 1:13-20).  One day God will walk among his people like he once did with Adam in garden (Gen 3:8).  This dwelling place for God and man is the New Jerusalem in the new heavens and new earth (Rev 21:1ff).  However, the New Jerusalem is not a dwelling place for God’s people, but, rather, a people as God’s dwelling place.  We are the temple of God, the New Jerusalem, the holy city, the place of God’s dwelling (cf., Eph 2:19-22; Gal 4:21-31; Heb 11:10).

  1. Kevin Pannebaker
    May 10, 2007 at 9:36 pm

    “This dwelling place for God and man is the New Jerusalem in the new heavens and new earth (Rev 21:1ff). However, the New Jerusalem is not a dwelling place for God’s people, but, rather, a people as God’s dwelling place. We are the temple of God, the New Jerusalem, the holy city, the place of God’s dwelling (cf., Eph 2:19-22; Gal 4:21-31; Heb 11:10).”

    Wow! I don’t think I’ve ever heard it put that way. A statement like that has major implications regarding our understanding and interpretation of the scriptures dealing with the “end times.”

    Maybe you can spend some time in future blogs delving into this concept even more. I, for one, would be very interested. I guess my understanding of these things has always been driven by a literal/physical (dispensational?) interpretation. If that’s incorrect, which I’m beginning to think it is, I would love to “come to a knowledge of the truth.”

  2. May 11, 2007 at 4:46 am

    I love Stephen’s sermon, the way he linked every event in the Bible in an inexorable march to the glorified Christ. Of course what is sobering is the reaction unregenerate people have to the unadulterated Gospel. Murder in his day, scorn and accusations of intolerance in ours. I tell my flock, if a sermon doesn’t cause visceral reactions one way or the other, it probably isn’t much of a sermon!

  3. May 15, 2007 at 2:23 pm

    Great post. Great blog. I like the deductions you make from Stephen’s sermon regarding the theology of the early church. Stephen was a warrior! God bless.

  4. Jason
    May 23, 2007 at 9:19 am

    Another stimulating read! Thanks Chad. I enjoy reading your material after our services at SGCC. You and Kit compliment one another terrifically (in my estimation). We are in a series on God With Us: The Recovery of Sacred Space in Christ in which we are learning that God’s plan (from at least the Fall forward–I’d say even before that!) is the summing up of all things in Christ and the Recovery of God’s Dwelling Place in Him. Essentially, the very thing that Stephen preached and you so insighfully brought out in your post: “This dwelling place for God and man is the New Jerusalem in the new heavens and new earth (Rev 21:1ff). However, the New Jerusalem is not a dwelling place for God’s people, but, rather, a people as God’s dwelling place. We are the temple of God, the New Jerusalem, the holy city, the place of God’s dwelling (cf., Eph 2:19-22; Gal 4:21-31; Heb 11:10).”

    I’m turning as many people as I can onto your blog. From your writings to your book recommendations and reviews, there is a wealth of material here to satisfy the hungry heart and mind. Thanks again!

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