A Golden Opportunity to Preach

to a captive audience.

Acts 6:8–7:3

And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. Then there arose some from what is called the Synagogue of the Freedmen (Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and those from Cilicia and Asia), disputing with Stephen. And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke. Then they secretly induced men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” And they stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes; and they came upon him, seized him, and brought him to the council. They also set up false witnesses who said, “This man does not cease to speak blasphemous words against this holy place and the law; for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs which Moses delivered to us.” And all who sat in the council, looking steadfastly at him, saw his face as the face of an angel.

Then the high priest said, “Are these things so?”

And he said, “Brethren and fathers, listen: The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran, and said to him, ‘Get out of your country and from your relatives, and come to a land that I will show you.’

This is a perfect example of Christian eyes in action. To secular eyes it looks like Stephen’s in a tough spot, but his Christian eyes see a captive audience and a golden opportunity to preach.

Stephen’s response to the high priest’s question runs 52 verses. It’s the longest sermon recorded in Acts. Peter’s Pentecost sermon is only 23 verses.

And Stephen’s “answer” ignores the question. When the high priest asks him, “Are these things so?” he’s referring to the accusations, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” and, “This man does not cease to speak blasphemous words against this holy place and the law.”

The claim that Stephen speaks blasphemous words against anything is absurd. The only time Stephen speaks “against” anyone or anything is at the end (in Acts 7:51–53) when he accuses his audience.

“You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers, who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it.”

His lighting into them at the end is a curious turn. Stephen was making a brilliant defense up to that point. To secular eyes, it looks like he suddenly remembered that he’s supposed to lose; so he throws the match.

But Stephen’s not a pro wrestler; he’s a Christian.

Who cares about winning? This is about the kingdom.

Always be on the lookout for a chance to preach. Being on defense can give you a captive audience.

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.

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