July 20: Acts 7
July 20, 2010
"And the high priest said, 'Are these things so?'"- Acts 7:1
In this chapter, Stephen, the first "martyr" (the Greek word for "witness"), bears witness to Jesus first with his words, then with his blood. In so doing he follows his master, even praying for his enemies as Jesus did (verse 60, compare to Luke 23:34) and commending his spirit to God like his Savior (verse 59, compare to Luke 23:46).
Most of the chapter consists of Stephen's final speech before the Sanhedrin. Although it might at first glance appear to be a standard repetition of Jewish history, in fact it is a carefully constructed defense by Stephen against the two charges brought against him. In this way the author Luke provides an "apology" (the Greek word from which we get our word "apologetics") as a part of his inspired account.
What are the charges against Stephen? In 6:11 they listed as "blasphemous words against Moses and God". Again in 6:13-14 the false witnesses say "This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us". Stephen was one of the first to see the implications of the saving work of Jesus Christ- that the law of Moses was fulfilled and the temple was needed no more. His answer to the council emphasized that God was never limited to the temple in Jerusalem and that the law of Moses was not intended to be eternal. He turns the tables on the Jewish leaders by charging them with disregarding Moses and the One prophesied by him- Jesus the Messiah!
The Bible promises that the Holy Spirit will fill his servants with wisdom their enemies cannot refute and courage they cannot deny in the hour of testing (Luke 21:12-15). Stephen is the first martyr, but millions have followed in his train, confessing their faith in Jesus, even onto death. May God grant us such grace and power (Acts 6:8) in our day!