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The Scriptorium

From the Top

Stephen tells it like it is. Acts 7.1-16

Kingdom Sign and Outpost: Acts 6 and 7 (4)

Pray Psalm 149.1, 2.
Praise the LORD!
Sing to the LORD a new song,
His praise in the assembly of saints.
Let Israel rejoice in their Maker;
Let the children of Zion be joyful in their King.

Sing Psalm 149.1, 2.
(Toulon: I Greet Thee, Who My Sure Redeemer Art)
Sing to the Lord a glorious song and new!
Praise Him you people, to Whom praise is due!
Let us rejoice, let us be glad in Him
Who has created us and cleansed our sin.

Read Acts 7.1-16.

1. Where did Stephen begin his defense?

2. Where are God’s people at the end of this part of Stephen’s defense?


Stephen’s defense before the high priest deserves more space than we can give it here. I want to point out just the most important aspects. There is plenty for us to learn about being witnesses for the Lord in this brief and fatal sermon.

We note that, in defending himself Stephen turns to Scripture. Since his message was Scriptural, his defense should not have been of anything he was doing, but of the validity of his message and his actions in the light of that message. Note the genius of this opening statement: He linked himself to his accusers, and his accusers and himself to the same source – God’s promise to Abraham (v. 2). Then he made God’s initiating grace and Abraham’s obedience to God’s Word the keystone for his message. He will ultimately turn the tables on his accusers, assuming his own obedience of this covenantal call and charging them with failing to do as Abraham did.

Verses 1-16 cover, essentially, the entire book of Genesis, demonstrating the grace and faithfulness of God and the obedience of the patriarchs to His Word. Stephen is building a Biblical case for his actions and message because he wants to make sure his accusers accept or reject that message, and not just him.

In his book, Playing God, Andy Crouch explains that we miss something in presenting the Gospel if we don’t begin at the beginning, if we don’t “take it from the top.” The Gospel of Jesus Christ and the ongoing work of seeking and advancing His Kingdom are not just New Testament concerns. They are rooted in the very beginnings of divine revelation and the covenant of God. Stephen’s oration challenges us to make sure we are living and proclaiming the whole Gospel, as rooted in all of Scripture, and not just some version of “near Christianity.”

Treasures Old and New: Matthew 13.52; Psalm 119.162
How often have you been speaking to someone, and you realize you have lost their attention?
Or perhaps you were imparting some bit of important wisdom or discipline to your child and their adorable face becomes hostile?

Maybe you have been speaking to an audience and you notice the group begins to fidget? Or people begin to leave? Or their somewhat adorable faces begin to show anger?

It is hard to keep on track.
It is hard to stay focused.

It is hard to stay cool and courageous.

Stephen is speaking purely and potently to a crowd of very hostile listeners. Their hatred is palpable, and their attention span is waning. They are ready for action. Against their speaker. Against the truth-teller.

Yet Stephen. Through the power of the Holy Spirit exudes peace and presence of mind.
“You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You. Trust in the LORD forever, for in YAH, the LORD, is everlasting strength” (Is. 26.3, 4).
“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (Jn. 14.27).
“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…” (Rom. 5.1)

“For He Himself is our peace…” (Eph. 2.14).
“…the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4.7). That is what kept Stephen on track.

Stephen had the peace of God that only comes through the indwelling of His Holy Spirit. He may have lost his audience, but he kept his confidence, his competence, his cool, and his self-control. May we have that same trust and obedience.

May God give us the same peace and courage to expound upon the truths of Scripture in the face of dire opposition. From the top, through to the end.

For reflection
1. If you could “hang” your Gospel presentation on five passages of Scripture, what would they be?

2. Why did Stephen start his defense with Abraham? Who was his audience? How would doing this have gotten their attention?

3. How can you maintain the peace of the Lord as you begin to share Jesus with someone?

Then Stephen answers quite seriously and learnedly, retracing their history from the time of Abraham until the recent times of this nation. Out of this long narrative, the main concern or the scope is that it is neither blasphemy nor sedition to teach against ceremonial forms of worship and to preach the [ultimate] purpose of this system: the Messiah. Philipp Melanchthon (1497-1560), Postil for the Feast of Stephen 3.

Pray Psalm 149.3-9.
(Toulon: I Greet Thee, Who My Sure Redeemer Art)
Praise Him with dance, with tambourine and lyre!
To be so praised is God’s one great desire.
Lord, beautify Your holy ones with grace;
show us the mercy of Your saving face.

Sing to the Lord, exult with great delight!
Sing on your beds with joy to God by night!
Sing praise and take His Word into your hand;
publish His grace and wrath in every land!

T. M. and Susie Moore

Check out our newest feature, Readings from the Celtic Revival (click here).

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You can download any or all of the studies in this series on Acts by clicking here.

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Except as indicated, all Scriptures are taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. For sources of all quotations, see the weekly PDF of this study. All psalms for singing are from The Ailbe Psalter (Williston: Waxed Tablet Publications, 2006), available by clicking here.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
Books by T. M. Moore

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