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There was much to do in taking care of God’s sheep and telling others the Good News of Jesus.
Stephen was full of God’s grace and power and was doing great wonders and miraculous signs among the people. And Stephen knew his history. He’d invested a lot of time and energy into knowing God’s Story and Israel’s family history. Now that Stephen had God’s Holy Spirit, that history came alive in Stephen, and he was spreading the Good News about it.
But there were some religious teachers who just wanted to argue with Stephen. But when they tried to argue, God’s Wisdom and Spirit flowing out of Stephen left the religious teachers stumped and speechless.
Since their arguing got them nowhere, eventually they started sneaking around and whispering lies about Stephen.
“Hey, these followers of Jesus won’t stop saying bad things about Moses and God. Can you believe it? Pssst, pssst, pssst,” the religious leaders muttered in people’s ears.
Those who foolishly believed the lies got all mad and stirred up and went out and grabbed Stephen by the arm. “You must come with us, Stephen. We’re taking you to the religious council because we heard that you said bad things about God and Moses.”
Once Stephen was standing before the leaders, some lying people were sent in to say, “Yeah, and I heard Stephen say this bad thing.” And another said, “And I heard Stephen say that bad thing.” But it was all lies.
While all this was happening, do you know what Stephen’s face looked like? Do you think he was scared or worried? Do you think his face was all red and hot with anger at all these people lying about him? Nope. The Bible says that everyone noticed his face was like the face of an angel. (I think that means he looked calm, peaceful, strong, and trusting.)
Finally, the high priest said, “Stephen, are these things these men are saying about you true?”
This seems like a great chance for Stephen to say that those men were lying (and he could have), but God had something different in mind for him to say. Stephen started telling God’s long story about His Big Plan — starting with Abraham.
Stephen said, “Brothers and fathers, the God of glory appeared to our forefather Abraham and told him to pack up his stuff and move. So Abraham pulled up his tent pegs. God made him move to this land right here where we now live.
Even though God promised to give this land to Abraham and his descendants, Abraham never even got one foot of ground himself. And Abraham didn’t have any children at the time, yet God said, ‘Your descendants will be foreigners in a foreign country. They’ll be slaves for 400 years. But eventually they’ll come out of that foreign country and worship Me here.’”
The men who were mad at Stephen were listening carefully now. This was the story of their forefather, Abraham! This was their history. They liked this story. So they kept listening.
“Then God made a covenant with Abraham involving the cutting away of those secret parts of the flesh. Then God gave Abraham a little boy named Isaac. And Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob became the father of the 12 sons — the 12 leaders of the tribes of Israel, your fathers.
“But these father-leaders were JEALOUS of their brother Joseph, so they sold their brother into slavery.“
A couple of the men in the crowd started to squirm. They knew they were feeling some jealousy themselves. Not toward Joseph, but toward Jesus and Stephen.
“But God was with Joseph, and rescued him from all his troubles, and granted him favor and wisdom. The pharaoh made Joseph ruler over both Egypt and all his household. Then there was a famine, and our people suffered because they couldn’t find food.
“When Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent our father-leaders, the patriarchs, there to get some. Eventually Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and Joseph invited his father Jacob and all his relatives to come, and Jacob and all the patriarchs lived the rest of their lives in Egypt.
“But Egypt was not the land that God had promised to Abraham, and God was getting ready to fulfill His promise.
“A new king came to Egypt and this king was cruel to our ancestors, forcing them to abandon their babies. Moses was one of those babies. He was beautiful to God. Moses’ parents hid him for awhile, but eventually Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him and brought him up as her own son.
“After Moses was grown up, one day he went to visit his Israelite people and saw one of them being hurt unfairly by an Egyptian. Moses came to the Israelite’s defense and struck down the Egyptian. He thought his own people would surely understand that God was delivering them through him, but they didn’t understand.
“The next day Moses saw two men fighting, and tried to make peace between them, saying, ‘Men, you are brothers. Why are you hurting one another?’ But the man who was in the wrong pushed Moses aside, saying, ‘Who made you our ruler and boss?’ So Moses ran away.
“Forty years later Moses saw a bush all on fire and heard the voice of the Lord say, ‘I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.’ Moses began to tremble and didn’t dare look more closely. But the Lord said to him, ‘Take off your shoes, for the place where you are standing is holy ground. My people are suffering, and I have come down to rescue them. Now come, I will send you to Egypt.’
“So you see, brothers, this same Moses that they push, push, pushed away and said, ‘Who made you our boss? You can’t tell us what to do’ — God sent him as both their ruler and deliverer.”
Some of the men who were mad at Stephen were growing tense… “What was Stephen trying to say? Why was he telling them this story that they already knew?” Do you know why? Stephen is trying to make them see that similar to when God sent Moses to deliver the people out of Egypt, God sent JESUS to deliver us out of sin. But, they wouldn’t listen to Jesus. In their hearts they said to Jesus, “Who made You our ruler and deliverer.”
Stephen continued, “Moses was the man who led them out, performing wonders and miraculous signs. This is the Moses who told us, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your brothers.’
“This is the man who received living words from God to give to you.
“But our fathers were unwilling to obey him. They push, push, pushed him aside and turned back to Egypt in their hearts, saying to Aaron, ‘We want idols!’ They made a golden cow and began rejoicing about what their hands had made. But God turned away from them.
“Later, David found favor with God and asked if he could build a house for God. But Solomon built a house for Him instead.
“Yet the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands. As the prophet says,
‘Heaven is My throne, and earth is the footstool for My feet. What kind of house will you build for Me? Did My hand not make all things?’”
Even though Stephen had only told the same true story they all knew, Stephen could see these men were not loving the story now. On the day of Pentecost, the people had been cut to the heart when they heard the truth about how they had murdered Jesus. But these people were not allowing their hearts to be soft to the story. They were holding on to their traditions and the idols of their hearts and the things their hands had made.
So Stephen told them, “You stubborn people, with uncut hearts and ears! You are always resisting the Holy Spirit, just like your fathers did! Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? Long ago your fathers killed those who told about the coming of the Righteous One, Jesus, who you betrayed and murdered. You received the Law given through angels, but you did not obey it.”
When they heard these things, they became furious. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked intently toward heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Hey! Look!” he said, “I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!”
But they covered their ears. Shouting with a loud voice, they rushed at him. They ran him out of the city and began to stone him, laying their coats by a young man named Saul.
They continued to stone Stephen while he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” Then he fell to his knees and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” As he said this, he died.
On that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem. The followers of Jesus were forced to spread out to other areas. Except for the 12 apostles, everyone left Jerusalem.
Some loyal and devoted men buried Stephen and cried over him.
And Saul, that young man who had agreed completely with the killing of Stephen, started trying to destroy the church. He was going from one house to the next house to the next house, dragging off both men and women and putting them in prison if they were followers of Jesus.
But God’s still going to work all this out for the good, so keep listening to see what happens next.