The passage can be read here.
Big trials are big news. In the UK, trials are never televised so during the news the only pictures of the courtroom are hand drawn by artists. In other parts of the world the whole thing can be watched and discussed. During the trial of Oscar Pistorius last year, everyone seemed to have an opinion even though these opinions were based on a few minutes of information each day.
Stephen’s trial was big news and it marked a turning point in the way the Church was treated by the Jewish authorities. It was also a very different kind of trial in that Stephen seemed to have no interest in having his name cleared, remember the charges are lies, his aim throughout the trial was to lift up the name of Jesus.
Stephen’s began his defence by reminding those present of their history. It wasn’t as if all this was new to them, they were supposed to be the experts but Stephen had a couple of goals.
Firstly, in the messages recorded in Acts we see a pattern in that Peter, Stephen and later Paul, seek to build common ground with those listening. When they are speaking to Jewish audiences, they quote extensively from the Old Testament, but when speaking to gentiles who would have little or no knowledge of the Old Testament, they begin with things familiar to their hearers. In Acts 14:15-17 Paul began by speaking to simple farmers of God supplying their harvests. In Acts 17:22-31 he spoke of the nature of God and how he should be worshiped. There is a challenge here for us as we seek to make Christ known in a society that has turned its back on him. The point of all the sermons in Acts and hopefully in our as well is that Jesus is the Saviour, the only name by which people can be saved.
Secondly, Stephen began with a history lesson is he is challenging the three great pillars of the Jewish faith; the land, the law and the temple. He took on the reverence of the land first. He did not deny that the land was given as a result of God’s promise but he did point out that God was active in the lives of his people outside Israel. In Mesopotamia, Haran and the land of the Chaldeans (7:2-4) and then in Egypt (7:9-16), notice how many times the word Egypt appears in this short section. This theme will continue through the message.
Thirdly, Stephen pointed out that Israel had a history of rejecting God’s chosen servants. In verse 9, he made it clear that Joseph’s brothers were jealous of him but God was with him. This is another theme of the message as we shall see in the days ahead. This is not something that affects only the Jews, its the human condition we reject God’s rule in our lives and try to do things our own way. The Bible has a word for that – sin. Thankfully there is a remedy – Jesus.
Lord I come to you,
Let my heart be changed, renewed
Flowing from the grace
That I’ve found in you.
And Lord I’ve come to know
The weaknesses I see in me
Will be stripped away
By the power of your love. (The Power of your Love – Geoff Bullock)