In Acts 6:11–14, Stephen is falsely accused of blaspheming God by speaking ill of the Mosaic Law and the temple. Acts 7 then records his speech, notable because it is the longest speech in Acts and one by a non-apostle.
Given a quick read of his speech, we might wonder why it took Stephen 50 verses (Acts 7:2–53) to answer these charges. A closer examination of his words, however, reveals a carefully-crafted response that not only answers the charges against him, but also builds a case to rebuke Israel, ending in a climactic fashion by doing just that.
In leading up to his climactic rebuke, Stephen speaks of how Israel historically sinfully treated the very ones that God had sent to deliver them, how God in turn exalted these prophets, and how God then used these men to deliver His people. Stephen obviously speaks of other people and issues along the way (Abraham in Acts 7:2–8; the temple in Acts 7:44–50), but we will focus on Joseph (Acts 7:9–16) and Moses (Acts 7:33–43) in order to show how Stephen would parallel Israel’s persecution of them with how they had treated Jesus and continued to treat His followers. As Stephen would put it, “As your fathers did, so do you” (Acts 7:51).
First, we consider how Joseph was treated by his brothers, “the patriarchs” (Acts 7:9). They were “jealous of Joseph” and therefore “sold him into Egypt” (Acts 7:9), the beginnings of his sufferings, identified as “all his afflictions” (Acts 7:11). “God,” however, exalted Joseph in that He “was with him and rescued him…and gave him favor and wisdom before Pharaoh…who made him ruler over Egypt” (Acts 7:9–10). Joseph then went on to deliver his family during “a famine” and “great affliction” (Acts 7:11; cf. 7:11–14).
Second, we consider that Moses was treated in a similar way. He was stirred to help his fellow Israelites and even killed an Egyptian in his zeal (Acts 7:23–24). “He supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand” (Acts 7:25). In fact, one Israelite represented the nation when he “thrust him [i.e., Moses] aside” and asked, “Who made you a ruler and a judge over us?” (Acts 7:27). Even after the exodus, Israel again “thrust him aside” and followed idols instead (Acts 7:39). Despite these sufferings, Moses was “sent as both ruler and redeemer,” spoke to the God at the burning bush, led Israel out of Egypt, and was given the Law (Acts 7:35–38). Moses suffered before and after delivering Israel and was exalted in his role as deliverer.
Third, we see that Joseph and Moses bring us to Jesus. In the climactic conclusion to Stephen’s speech and the description that followed, we see the suffering and exaltation of Jesus. “As your fathers did,” Stephen stated (i.e., as they persecuted Joseph and Moses, not to mention the prophets – cf. Acts 7:52), “so do you” (Acts 7:51). Specifically, these Israelites had “betrayed and murdered” Jesus, “the Righteous One” who was prophesied by Moses to come (cf. Acts 7:37; cf. Deut 18:15). Despite His sufferings at the hand of Israel, however, God exalted Jesus. As these Israelites rushed to end Stephen’s life, Stephen testified that Jesus was “standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55–56). And though Joseph and Moses were used to deliver Israel from famine and Egypt, Jesus could bring these Israelites no deliverance at this time—they murdered Him, would murder Stephen, and would continue to persecute Christians thereafter (cf. Acts 8:1–3).
Perhaps we could add Stephen as a fourth in this text as one who experienced suffering and glory. He was obviously not meant to eclipse Jesus in the text, but he does seem to function as an example for Christians in general—like him, they also would be persecuted (cf. Acts 8:1–3). Though he sought to deliver his fellow man by giving them the gospel, his listeners made him suffer instead of receiving this salvation. His exaltation was seen as Jesus gave him a standing ovation, so to speak, to welcome him to glory for faithfully giving the gospel, even to the point of death.
May we all as Christians be like Stephen in that we are willing to suffer as messengers of the glorious gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. And whether the Lord lets us die a martyr’s death or rescues us at His return, our glorification is waiting, which is to “be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).
2018 was a bittersweet year for FBC. We said goodbye to three of our saints—Marilyn Knight, Frank Ewardsen, and Erna Whalen. 2019 has begun with our saying goodbye to Richard Kenders. Though we miss each one, we rejoice in their confessions of Christ. For those who know Him, to be absent from the body is to be present with Him.
We also said goodbye in a different way to Carl and Sarah Conrad, our music director and his wife. While we are always sad to see someone move away from our flock, we rejoice to know that he is attending a good seminary and that they are both getting new opportunities for service and training in the Lord’s work.
Though we had prayed for another intern to fill his shoes, God answered this prayer in an unexpected way. The Lord has brought us several new faces to FBC over the last couple of years, one of the families being the Hockemas. Instead of an intern, the Lord had already providentially arranged for us to add an experienced shepherd from within our own flock. Pastor Hockema has been a source of wisdom and blessing to me and the whole church. We are the richer for every family we receive, and I thank God for a plurality in our pastoral leadership.
Sometimes His ways are different than our ways, but we know that His ways are always better. As Proverbs 16:9 reminds us, “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps” (ESV).
Looking ahead, please pray that the Lord would bless our plans for 2019. We have our upcoming pastor’s conference in May as usual, and other events will be announced, hopefully more evangelistic events than last year, giving a healthy emphasis on outreach. Other plans include evangelistic services during March 15–17, evening services in the summer, and a handful more afternoon services than last year.
The most significant changes for 2019 are the additional services and evangelistic events. As to the evangelistic events, we hope to reach out more to others for the sake of making disciples. As to the additional services, while our Bible Fellowships are beneficial, a service for the gathered church is the greatest means of availing ourselves to the grace of God in a collective setting—grace through prayer, preaching, singing God’s praises, reading Scripture, and observing the ordinances. What serious-minded Christian can object to gathering with God’s people and receiving His grace in all these ways?
My hope and prayer for 2019 is that each of us will take full advantage of the times that the church gathers in order to grow in grace together. As we do, I pray that God will bless the quality of our church, give us a zeal for the lost, and thereby increase the quantity of the church through making disciples for Him. May God bless us in 2019!
Exodus: Rescue & Relationship
400 years after Jacob and his sons traveled to Egypt to be with Joseph, Israel is still there--although no longer as sojourners but slaves. Join us as we study God's amazing rescue of His people and the developing relationship He initiates with them.
May we--with Israel--"know that I am the Lord your God" (Ex 6:7 ESV).
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What did it mean that Stephen’s “face was like the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15), and why did it look this way? We first meet Stephen as a deacon, “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5). He was appointed to coordinate meals for widows (cf. Acts 6:1–7), but he was also an evangelist. He was “full of grace and power…doing great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8). This grace and power go together and describe the boldness of Stephen and God’s confirmation of his witness through wonders and signs (cf. Acts 4:33). The mention of grace likely implies that God extended His saving grace to others through the witness of Stephen (cf. Acts 11:23).
When opposed by others in his endeavors, Stephen refuted his aggressors, and “they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking” (Acts 6:10; cf. Luke 21:15). So, they lied, stirred up the people, arrested him, falsely tried him, and eventually stoned him, making him the first martyr of the church (Acts 6:8–7:60). His story has echoes of the final days of Jesus.
At the outset of his trial, as Stephen prepared to speak once again full of wisdom and the Spirit, the Bible records what everyone saw when looking at Stephen: “And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15). What did this angel-like face mean?
In answering this question, we recall that angels can be brilliant, shining creatures. Remember the angel at Jesus’ empty tomb—“His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow” (Matthew 28:3). If Daniel 10:6 describes an angel (some say the preincarnate Son of God), “his face” is “like the appearance of lightning.” If Revelation 10:1 describes an angel (and again, some say the now-incarnate Son of God), “his face was like the sun.” The angelic creatures who guided the heavenly chariot in Ezekiel’s vision had four faces each, and as to their faces and even their whole beings, “their appearance was like burning coals of fire, like the appearance of torches moving to and fro among the living creatures. And the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning” (Ezekiel 1:13). The point of similarity between the face of Stephen and the face of an angel was most likely this—it was a shining face.
A shining face is seen on other humans in the Bible as well. In descending from Sinai with the tablets in hand, “Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God…behold, the skin of his face shone” (Exodus 34:29). This shining apparently was somewhat frequent at this time. “Whenever” Moses spoke with God while on the mountain, “the skin of Moses’ face was shining” (Exodus 34:34–35).
Consider also the face of Jesus. At the Transfiguration, while Jesus “was praying, the appearance of his face was altered” (Luke 9:29), meaning “his face shone like the sun” (Matthew 17:2). When John saw Jesus in his vision many years later, “his face was like the sun shining in full strength” (Revelation 1:16).
Putting this all together, we can easily conclude that the alteration of Stephen’s face was an act of God to make it shine. The purpose for doing so seems to be along the lines of what took place with Moses—just as the shining of Moses’ face indicated to Israel that Moses spoke on behalf of God because he spoke directly to Him, so also the shining of Stephen’s face indicated to Israel that Stephen spoke on behalf of God as well.
Digging further into the context of Exodus 34 and Acts 6–7, perhaps we could also suggest that, just as Moses gave the law and was confirmed as God’s spokesman with a shining face, so also Stephen’s face indicated that was speaking on behalf of Christ who came to fulfill and thus “change the customs that Moses delivered” (Acts 6:14). A new era had come, and God was giving evidence to this through His messenger’s words and even His messenger’s face.
What a sobering thing it is to see hearts this hard—the Jews rejected the gospel proclaimed from a mouth in the midst of a shining face. While we are not prophets who will speak with shining faces today, may we learn from the example of Stephen to boldly give and defend the gospel by the wisdom and Spirit of God.
Pastor David Huffstutler
Pastor Huffstutler regularly writes articles for our Sunday bulletin. See his bio on our pastoral bio page.