Dr. John Hartmann

Proclaiming the Whole Counsel of God

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The Ministry of Stephen – Part 2 – His Preaching, Debates, and Theological Contribution

August 14th, 2011 · No Comments

In this study we look at Acts 6:8-7:60, examining the ministry of Stephen, whose ministry exemplifies the bold witness that comes from being clothed with power from on high. We also look at his theology, which is revealed in his indictment of the Jewish leaders/people in his discourse before the Council. First of all, his ministry:

  1. The first man aside from the apostles to perform signs and wonders.
  2. His debates with the Jews centered upon Jesus, but also focused on the Law and the Temple, whose abiding validity must be reviewed in light of the epoch-shift that occurred with Jesus’ death and resurrection.
  3. None can cope with the wisdom with which Stephen speaks; he therefore is brought to trial, as Jesus was, with plots and false witnesses.

As in the previous narrative (Acts 3-5), the one brought to trial before the Council becomes the prophetic prosecutor of his accusers. This has two purposes:

  1. Stephen brings a final and decisive prophetic indictment of the Council’s actions in condemning Jesus. He does this by way of an overview of Israel’s history which reveals a long-standing pattern of rejection of God’s message and messengers on the part of Israel and it’s leaders.
  2. Stephen’s ministry lays the groundwork for the theology of the apostle Paul – in which the Jew and Gentile in Christ now become the new temple of God and in which some aspects of the Law are shown to be no longer applicable to those living in Christ in the era of the new covenant.

There are 6 parts to Stephen’s discourse, as he bears witness before the Council (Acts 7:1-53):

  1. vv. 2-8 – Abraham, the patriarchs and the covenant God made with them
  2. vv. 9-16 – Joseph, rejected by his brothers due to jealousy, but raised up by God as deliverer
  3. vv. 17-38 – Moses, rejected as well, but also raised up as deliverer
  4. vv. 39-43 – Israel’s historical pattern of disobedience to the Law
  5. vv. 44-50 – the great question concerning the location of God’s dwelling place, with a citation of Isaiah 66:1-2a leaving the question hanging for those who have ears to hear the echo and who will take the time to look at what is left out, namely, the answer in Isa 66:2b.
  6. vv. 51-53 – The final indictment – those in the Council who had condemned Jesus were guilty of the murder of Jesus, just as their fathers had rejected and murdered the prophets. Israel, which had been brought into covenant with God and given the Law, now stood under the curse of the Law which they had repeatedly broken throughout salvation-history.

Stephen’s death marks the end of Luke’s narrative on the spread of the gospel in Jerusalem and becomes the starting point for the spread of the gospel to the farthest ends of the earth. As such, Stephen’s martyrdom marks the beginning of what will become the Gentile mission. The sharp divine irony here is that Saul of Tarsus, who will later be known as the apostle Paul, is God’s instrument to ignite the Gentile mission through his zealous persecution of the church.

Tags: Sermons

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