Stephen tried. He had been seized and accused of blasphemy by the synagogue of the Freedmen. The name of the synagogue has some interesting irony given the story that Stephen is about to tell them…
Anyway, as they took him before the Sanhedrin, the high priest ask Stephen to explain himself, simply asking him whether the charges were true. Instead of responding Yes or No, Stephen begins to tell them the Gospel story, but using the story of Moses, in a way that they should be able to understand.
He speaks of Abraham, then goes to Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, and explains how the Israelites ended up in captivity in Egypt. My sense is that Stephen is showing the long march into slavery so as to show the deliverance that God gave to his people through Moses.
Moses comes onto the scene and is called by God to lead his people out of slavery in Egypt, which, through a process, he does. This is an important part of the Gospel message, that God has seen us in our slavery to sin (represented by Egypt in this case) and then sets His people free through a messianic figure (Moses in this story). In the same way, we have been slaves to sin and have been set free by the true Messiah, Jesus Christ!
Stephen turns the tables at this point and begins to teach. He says:
Moses spoke of one, a prophet, who was to come. Moses said that they must listen to him! This is the same Prophet that the Jews asked about when they spoke to John the Baptist, as recorded in John 1:21. Stephen is starting to lay the groundwork. Jesus is this Prophet that they were supposed to listen to!
“This is the Moses who told the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your own people.’ 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.Acts 7:37-38
Stephen goes on to talk about sin and sacrifices. The Israelites wouldn’t obey God, so God gave them a way to atone for sin through sacrifices. But their hearts don’t, and won’t change. They prefer their sin. They prefer the idols and gods from the other nations around them. They have rejected God as their God, so God will punish them through the nations such as Babylon which will come to destroy them.
Now Stephen is on a roll. Time to go for the jugular. Time to speak about the temple. The temple is the place where God’s presence is supposed to be found. But Stephen points out that God has even told them that they can’t build a house for him. God made it all. He isn’t held by anything that a human would make!
And then he lands the final blow:
Jesus is the Messiah and you killed him!
And what is more, Stephen looks up to heaven and says that he sees Jesus, the Son of Man, standing there at the right hand of God.
Any more questions? It seems clear where Stephen stands. And he is stoned for it. Just like Jesus, who had told almost the exact same story to the Jews, Stephen follows in his Master’s footsteps and is killed for blasphemy because the Jews wouldn’t believe in Jesus as the Christ.
Stephen was attempting to speak to them in a way that they should be able to understand. The Israelites know their history. It is written down. It is celebrated. It is passed on from one generation to the next and is known. But unfortunately, even in the midst of the story that they know, they couldn’t see what God was doing, that God was repeating Himself, foreshadowing the story of Christ through the story of Moses. Let us not make the same mistake, but instead see God working through history to save his people and reestablish His Kingdom here amongst us, even today.