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Acts 7

Acts 7 continues the story began in Acts 6 so we will begin with the first five verses:

Then the high priest asked Stephen, “Are these charges true?” 2 To this he replied: “Brothers and fathers, listen to me! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Harran. 3 ‘Leave your country and your people,’ God said, ‘and go to the land I will show you.’ 4 “So he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Harran. After the death of his father, God sent him to this land where you are now living. 5 He gave him no inheritance here, not even enough ground to set his foot on. But God promised him that he and his descendants after him would possess the land, even though at that time Abraham had no child."

Stephen intends to use the same argument that Peter had used successfully with the Sanhedrin.  From memory, Stephen begins to recite large passages from the Old Testament.  Before we continue with Luke's narrative, lets review the geography of the middle east (map below)...

Stephen refers to the journey that God directed Abraham to take from Ur of the Chaldeans to Haran (Charran).  The green area is referred to as the fertile crescent.  Much of this journey took place in modern day Iraq.  Note the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee which are in modern day Israel.

Jeremiah 32:28-29,  "Therefore thus saith the LORD; Behold, I will give this city into the hand of the Chaldeans, and into the hand of Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon, and he shall take it:  And the Chaldeans, that fight against this city, shall come and set fire on this city, and burn it ..."

Return now to Acts 7 verses six through eight:

"God spoke to him in this way: ‘For four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves,’ God said, ‘and afterward they will come out of that country and worship me in this place.’ Then he gave Abraham the covenant of circumcision. And Abraham became the father of Isaac and circumcised him eight days after his birth. Later Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob became the father of the twelve patriarchs."

The Twelve patriarchs were:  Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Gad, Asher, Dan, Naphtali, Joseph, and Benjamin, but it is a bit more complicated. 

Jacob’s first wife, Leah, bore him six sons: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun.  Each was the father of a tribe, though Levi’s descendants (among whom were Moses and Aaron), the priests and temple functionaries, were dispersed among the other tribes and received no tribal land of their own. Two other tribes, Gad and Asher, were named after sons born to Jacob and Zilpah, Leah’s maidservant. Two additional tribes, Dan and Naphtali, were named after sons of Jacob born of Bilhah, the maidservant of Rachel, Jacob’s second wife. Rachel bore Jacob two sons, Joseph and Benjamin. The tribe of Benjamin provided Israel with its first king, Saul, and was later assimilated into the tribe of Judah. While no tribe bore the name of Joseph, two tribes were named after Joseph’s sons, Manasseh and Ephraim.

Back to Luke's narrative (and Stephen's message) at Acts 7 verse nine:

“Because the patriarchs were jealous of Joseph, they sold him as a slave into Egypt. But God was with him 10 and rescued him from all his troubles. He gave Joseph wisdom and enabled him to gain the goodwill of Pharaoh king of Egypt. So Pharaoh made him ruler over Egypt and all his palace.11 “Then a famine struck all Egypt and Canaan, bringing great suffering, and our ancestors could not find food. 12 When Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent our forefathers on their first visit. 13 On their second visit, Joseph told his brothers who he was, and Pharaoh learned about Joseph’s family. 14 After this, Joseph sent for his father Jacob and his whole family, seventy-five in all. 15 Then Jacob went down to Egypt, where he and our ancestors died. 16 Their bodies were brought back to Shechem and placed in the tomb that Abraham had bought from the sons of Hamor at Shechem for a certain sum of money."

Keep in mind that Stephen is recounting this history from memory.  He had no time to prepare.  He had simply been drag before the Sanhedrin and he knew that they would catch any error that he made.  Stephen continues at verse 17-50, detailing the life and ministry of Moses:

“As the time drew near for God to fulfill his promise to Abraham, the number of our people in Egypt had greatly increased. 18 Then ‘a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt.’ 19 He dealt treacherously with our people and oppressed our ancestors by forcing them to throw out their newborn babies so that they would die.  20 “At that time Moses was born, and he was no ordinary child.  For three months he was cared for by his family. 21 When he was placed outside, Pharaoh’s daughter took him and brought him up as her own son. 22 Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action.  23 “When Moses was forty years old, he decided to visit his own people, the Israelites. 24 He saw one of them being mistreated by an Egyptian, so he went to his defense and avenged him by killing the Egyptian. 25 Moses thought that his own people would realize that God was using him to rescue them, but they did not. 26 The next day Moses came upon two Israelites who were fighting. He tried to reconcile them by saying, ‘Men, you are brothers; why do you want to hurt each other?’

27 “But the man who was mistreating the other pushed Moses aside and said, ‘Who made you ruler and judge over us? 28 Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?’ 29 When Moses heard this, he fled to Midian, where he settled as a foreigner and had two sons.  30 “After forty years had passed, an angel appeared to Moses in the flames of a burning bush in the desert near Mount Sinai. 31 When he saw this, he was amazed at the sight. As he went over to get a closer look, he heard the Lord say: 32 ‘I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.’ Moses trembled with fear and did not dare to look.

33 “Then the Lord said to him, ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground. 34 I have indeed seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their groaning and have come down to set them free. Now come, I will send you back to Egypt.’  35 “This is the same Moses they had rejected with the words, ‘Who made you ruler and judge?’ He was sent to be their ruler and deliverer by God himself, through the angel who appeared to him in the bush. 36 He led them out of Egypt and performed wonders and signs in Egypt, at the Red Sea and for forty years in the wilderness.  37 “This is the Moses who told the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your own people.’ 38 He was in the assembly in the wilderness, with the angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our ancestors; and he received living words to pass on to us. 39 “But our ancestors refused to obey him. Instead, they rejected him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt. 40 They told Aaron, ‘Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who led us out of Egypt—we don’t know what has happened to him!’ 41 That was the time they made an idol in the form of a calf. They brought sacrifices to it and reveled in what their own hands had made. 42 But God turned away from them and gave them over to the worship of the sun, moon and stars. This agrees with what is written in the book of the prophets:  “‘Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings forty years in the wilderness, people of Israel?
43 You have taken up the tabernacle of Molek and the star of your god Rephan, the idols you made to worship.  Therefore I will send you into exile’ beyond Babylon.  44 “Our ancestors had the tabernacle of the covenant law with them in the wilderness. It had been made as God directed Moses, according to the pattern he had seen. 45 After receiving the tabernacle, our ancestors under Joshua brought it with them when they took the land from the nations God drove out before them. It remained in the land until the time of David, 46 who enjoyed God’s favor and asked that he might provide a dwelling place for the God of Jacob.[k] 47 But it was Solomon who built a house for him. 48 “However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands. As the prophet says:  49 “‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool.  What kind of house will you build for me?  says the Lord.  Or where will my resting place be?  50 Has not my hand made all these things?’"

Finally, after fifty verses, Stephen pauses for just a moment before making is point.  I can almost see Stephen standing before the Sanhedrin, reciting much of the Old Testament.  Then he takes a breathe and says:

51 “You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! 52 Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him 53 you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.”

Stephen made his point!  Probably more accurate to say that the Holy Spirit made HIS point.  Scripture attests to Jesus.  The Holy Spirit testifies to Jesus.  Many hundreds of people witnessed the miracles and resurrection of Jesus, yet these Jewish religious leaders are blind.  Not only are they blind but they are furious.  As Luke explains beginning at verse 54:

54 When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”  57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.  59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep."

Can you see any parallels between the way that Jesus went to the cross and the way that Stephen died?  What an incredible man of God!  While the Sanhedrin has gotten rid of Stephen they are far from winning the battle.  

God is still working.   Look at Acts 1:8 and Acts 8:1 side by side.  Acts 1:8, “And you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”   Acts 8:1, “And Saul approved of their killing him.  On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered through Judea and Samaria.”

God used the death of Stephen as a catylast to move the Church beyond Jerusalem into Judea and Samaria!  And Luke introduces a new character named Saul.  We will learn much about this man during our study of Acts.  This chapter ends the first phase of God's plan (Acts 1:8).  As we turn to chapter 8 next time we begin phase two!

As a side note:  The Greek name Jesus and the Hebrew name Joshua both mean “Jehovah the Savior.”  There are two places in the King James Bible where Joshua is called Jesus  –  here,  and  Hebrews 4:7-8 7 Again, he limiteth a certain day, saying in David,  To day, after so long a time; as it is said,  To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.   8 For if Jesus had given them rest,  then would he not afterward have spoken of another day.

Posted by Bruce Powers with

Acts 8

Today we begin the second phase of the growing church.  It took a big push to really move the church beyond Jerusalem.  This “push” was in the form of Stephen death followed by Saul’s desire to destroy the Church.  Can you think of a time in your live when a big “push” was required to make you change?

The first few verse of chapter eight close out the first phase of Acts.  As you may recall from chapter seven, Stephen was being stoned.  Luke begins chapter eight by noting, "And Saul approved of their killing him.  On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison."

The force and authority of the Sanhedrin was tasked with the destruction of the Church.  Front and center of this assault was Saul.  Saul doesn't know it yet, but he will soon have a face to face meeting with Jesus.  For now though, Saul is enemy number one and most of the young Church flees Jerusalem in his wake.  Among the fleeing is a man named Philip.  Luke continues at verse four:

Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city."

Samaria is north of Jerusalem so it is counter intuitive for us to read that Philip went "down" to Samaria.  We typically think of south as "down" and north as "up."  But in Israel, Jerusalem is the high point.  One goes "down" no matter which direction they travel.  Luke also notes that while in Samaria, Philip spoke about the Messiah (Jesus).  The Holy Spirit empowered Philip to do many miracles, including physical healing and spiritual healing.  Continue reading at verse nine:

Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, 10 and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, “This man is rightly called the Great Power of God.” 11 They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his sorcery. 12 But when they believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13 Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.

The religion of the Samaritans was a hybrid of Judaism and pagan religions.   Following the exile the weakest and poorest of Israel were left behind.   Those left inter-married with gentiles and took on components of their religious beliefs.  Because of this, when the Hebrews returned from the exile they hated the Samaritans. 

In this passage, what do Simon and Philip have in common?  How are they different?  How does the crowd respond to each man?  What is the relationship between Jews and Samaritans?  What was the source of Simon’s abilities?  What was the source of Philip’s abilities?  How sincere do you think Simon was about his commitment to Christ?  What appears to be his motivation?  Continue reading at verse 14:

14 When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. 15 When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit."

Is it surprising that God would send Peter and John to Samaria?  What is significant about the Samaritans receiving the Holy Spirit?   Continue reading at verse 18:

18 When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money 19 and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”  20 Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! 21 You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. 23 For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.”

What does Peter’s rebuke in verse 20 tell us about Simon?   What do you make of Peter’s response in verses 12-23?  What was your primary motivation for receiving Jesus Christ as your savior?  Continue reading at verse 24:

24 Then Simon answered, “Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.”  25 After they had further proclaimed the word of the Lord and testified about Jesus, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many Samaritan villages."

Do you think Simon words in verse 24 reveal a change in his heart?  Explain?  At this point Peter and John return to Jerusalem but God calls Philip to a special mission.  Continue reading at verse 26:

26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. 29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”

Have you every experienced God’s prompting you to go?    This was a substantial journey for Philip, about 80 miles.  But Philip was obedient to God's calling and headed south-west toward Gaza.  This Ethiopian man also had traveled many miles.  It is about 50 miles between Jerusalem and Gaza.  It is another 300 miles or more to his home.  Why would an Ethiopian man go to Jerusalem?  Ethiopian:  Probably not from modern day Ethiopia.  This is a Greek term means he was from Kush, of African ancestory.  Most scholars equate Kush with the southern part of modern day Egypt.  Most likely, this man was an Egyptian convert to Jewish faith.   Kandake or Candace is more a title than a name, meaning “Queen of the Ethiopians.”  Likely a Queen from Egypt.  Eunuch:  Generally means castrated.  This was often a requirement to serve in the royal court.  Some scholars believe Luke uses this term to indicate that the man was neither fully Jew nor Gentile.   Continue reading at verse 30:

30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.  31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.  32 This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading:  “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth.  33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.   Who can speak of his descendants?  For his life was taken from the earth.”

Has the Holy Spirit ever prompted you to speak to another person?  Provided you with a question?  What was this man reading?  Let us take a moment to read Isaiah 53:7-8.  He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.   He was taken from prison and from judgment:  and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living:  for the transgression of my people was he stricken."  How does this passage prepare the man for hearing the Gospel message?

34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus."

Why would Philip be qualified to share the Gospel?  Why did the Spirit not send Peter or John?  How would you share the Gospel message if you were asked by a stranger?  Some people like to share the "Roman Road," others use the "A, B, C" method (Accept, Believe, and Commit).  I find Romans 3:23 and John 3:16 useful.  One needs to have a "method" in mind and than rely on the Holy Spirit to do the work of conviction and salvation.  But lets get back to Philip and the Ethiopian in verse 36:

36 As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” [37] 

You may notice that some Bibles omit verse 37.  Verse 37 in found in some early manuscripts but not in the majority.  When it is included, verse 37 reads, "Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” The eunuch answered, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”

38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. 40 Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.

What is significant of this baptism?   Let’s make a list of all the things that God needed to ordain in order to prepare for this interaction?  What does this teach us about our role and God’s role in ministry?  Have you ever experienced a “Gaza road-like” setup in which it was clear that God was set things up but still required your obedience?   When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing.  Was this a miracle?   How do you think that Philip got from Gaza to Azotus – 30 miles away?  What are the barriers that we experience in sharing the Gospel?  What do you THINK God planned for this African man?

Posted by Bruce Powers with

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