Stephen's Sermon: Part 3; Lesson 7 of 8
by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)
As your fathers did, so do ye.
They were like their fathers, since they were stubborn and headstrong, and resisted the various methods God utilized to reclaim and reform them; they were like their fathers, unresponsive both to the word of God and to His divine intervention. They were like their fathers:
1. They were stiff-necked; they would not bow their heads, not even to God himself, would not do homage to Him, and would not humble themselves before Him. The stiff neck is the same as the hard heart, obstinate and insubordinate, and will not yield; which is the general character of the Jewish nation (Ex. 32:9; 33:33, 5; 34:9; Deu. 9:6, 13; 31:27; Eze. 2:4).
2. They were uncircumcised in heart and ears; their hearts and ears were not devoted and yielded to God, as the people were zealous for the sign of circumcision: “In name and show you are circumcised Jews, but in heart and ears you are still uncircumcised heathens, and pay no more deference to the authority of your God than they do” (Jer. 9:26).
3. They were like their fathers in that they were under the power of degraded lusts, which stopped their ears to the voice of God, and harden their hearts to that which comes from Him. They did not have that circumcision made without hands—“In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ” (Col. 2:11).
4. They were like their fathers in that they were not only NOT influenced by the methods God took to reform them, but they were enraged and incensed against them—they always resist the Holy Ghost.They, like their fathers, persecuted and slew those whom God sent to them to call them back to Him, and to offer them mercy. Their fathers had been the cruel and constant persecutors of the Old-Testament prophets. They were like their fathers, since they (this same council) had betrayed and murdered Jesus. They had hired Judas to betray Him, and had in a fashion forced Pilate to condemn Him; and therefore, they are charged with being His betrayers and murders. Thus they were the genuine seed of those who slew the prophets.
1. Their fathers resisted the Holy Ghost in the prophets that God sent to them, and so did they resist Christ’s apostles and ministers, who spoke by the same Spirit, though they had greater gifts than the prophets of the Old Testament.
2. They resisted the Holy Ghost striving within them for the conversion of their souls in the same way their fathers resisted the commands God gave to them by the hands of Moses. There is that in our sinful hearts that always resists the Holy Ghost, a flesh that lusts against the Spirit, and wars against His influence; but in the hearts of God’s elect, when the fullness of time arrives, this resistance is overcome and overpowered, and after a struggle the throne of Christ is set up in the soul, and every thought that had exalted itself against it is brought into subjection to it—“(For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;), casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Co. 10:4, 5).
5. They, like their fathers, received the Law and would not obey it. They were receiving the gospel now from Stephen, and yet they did not embrace it. They would not yield to the plainest demonstrations, any more than their fathers before them did, for they were resolved not to comply with God either in His law or in His gospel.
52 Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers:
Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted?
The persecution of the prophets of God took the form of either saying slanderous things about them or insulting and berating them (Matthew 5:1133), or even killing them (Matthew 23:3134), as they did Isaiah, Zachariah, and others. “Isaiah was sawn asunder at the command of Manasseh.”
And they have slain them
which showed before of the coming of the just one.
The just one refers to Jesus the Messiah, who appears in the prophecies of the Old Testament as the righteous servant, righteous branch, holy, good, and just, and bringing salvation to His people; and whom Stephen calls just, partly on account of the holiness of His nature, and the innocence and harmlessness of His life; and partly because He is the author of righteousness, and the end of the Law for all that believe; and whose coming in the flesh all the prophets more or less spoke. Since this was good news, and glad tidings, it made the sin of the Jewish fathers, who put them to death, even greater. Likewise, the innocent nature of Christ, made the sin of the Jews, who murdered Him, even worse.
It was "the characteristic of the nation" to persecute the messengers of God. This is not to be taken as literally and universally true; but it was a general truth; it was the national characteristic.
Of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers; Judas.
One from their nation, Judas, betrayed Christ into the hands of the chief priests and elders; and they betrayed, or delivered Him into the hands of Pontius Pilate to be condemned to death. Then they pestered him and demanded His death and didn’t stop until Pilate washed his hands of the whole thing and consented to the Lords death by crucifixion; and therefore, they are rightly called the murderers, as well as the betrayers of Christ.
53 Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it.
Who have received the law, by the disposition of angels.
The occasion mentioned here is the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai, and all Stephen means to do is merely express the common Jewish opinion that God was accompanied on this occasion by the heavenly hosts, and by the symbols of his presence—fire, and smoke, thunder and lightning (Psalm 104:435
). It is certain that there were great numbers of angels on Mount Sinai when the Law was given (Deuteronomy 33:237
).And so the Jews say that "when the holy blessed God descended on Mount Sinai, there came down with him many companies of angels, Michael and his company, and Gabriel and his company.''
The phrase “By the disposition of angels” has created a great deal of diversity of opinion. The word translated "disposition" does not occur anywhere else in the New Testament. It means the "organizing" or "arranging" of an army; placing it into ranks and proper divisions. From this phrase, it has been thought to mean that the Law was given "in the midst of" the various ranks of angels, who were present in order to witness its proclamation. Others suppose that the angels were there as agents or instruments to communicate the Law. But all that the expression really implies is the former; that the Law was given in the midst of the attending ranks of angels, as if they were summoned to witness the pomp and ceremony of giving "Law" to an entire people, and through them to an entire world.
Stephen’s main point was unmistakable: “As Israel was in its history, so you are today, you have become the betrayers and murderers of God’s Anointed.” Israel was proud that they had received the Law of God and were guardians of the Law, but Stephen reminded them, “You have not kept it.”
And have not kept it.
They broke the Law countless times, and none of them kept all of it; for no man can keep it perfectly. Though they pretended to be very scrupulous observers of the Law, they were wicked law-breakers.This closing word is designed to shut up those idolizers of the Law under the guilt of a very high degree of disobedience to it, aggravated by the majestic manner in which they had received it. Their guilt stung them to the heart and they sought relief by murdering the one who caused it, instead of repenting of their sin and seeking mercy from the Lord.
We have reason to think Stephen had a great deal more to say, and would have said it if they would have permitted him; but they were wicked and unreasonable men that could no more hear reason than they could speak it.
End of Part 3