Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Romans 12:2
So that you may discern the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect, renew your mind through Christ by abiding in His Presence. Sometimes we all have pain and sorrow, fear and negativity, anxious moments, and hopeless thoughts– Jesus rescues you from these. In His living Presence He resets your mind to a faith view.
Jesus is the best thing to ever happen to you. Rely on His compassion with your faith. Your assurance that Christ is powerfully moving to align your mind in God’s best gives you spiritual maturity. Trust Christ. Expect Him to transform your mind– it is His anointing, again and again, of the Holy Spirit. Discern Jesus’ holiness.
People who gathered around Jesus were ready to get on with right living. Roman government was violently overbearing and Yahweh had seemed far off and silent. Yet with Jesus, the living presence of God personalized, near Him those yearning people found their hearts cleansed and their minds cleared. In Jesus’ Presence, while listening to His teachings and seeing the miracles, life was right and good again. Let us enjoy His living Presence in our midst, together, too.
Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice. “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died. Acts 7:58-60
Stoned unjustly for his Spirit filled words about the Israelites turning away from God and rejection of God’s only begotten Son Jesus Christ, the witnesses who were legally required to cast the first stones at the offender (Deut. 17:7) murder Stephen. Our hearts are filled with sadness as the first martyred believer is treated so cruelly. We may blame this on mob mentality or closed minds yet the Scripture alerts us that the stoning is a direct result of uncircumcised hearts and ears, rejection of the Holy Spirit.
Those on the council would not bow their necks to God’s yoke nor draw near to the Word of God. The miracle of extreme extraordinary assistance, like Ezekiel 8:1-4, lifts Stephen’s suffering to the throne of God as both Christ and God stand ready to receive him. Before any sentence is passed they rush at Stephen, laying their cloaks at the feet of Saul– Saul who Jesus would later knock off his high horse and speak redeeming Grace, this Saul who cannot guess right now that he too would be stoned for the same cause of Christ.
“Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,” as Stephen prays aloud, worshipping Christ in the very manner in which Christ worshipped our Heavenly Father on the Cross. “Lord, do not hold this sin against them,” as Stephen like Christ requests that our Heavenly Father continue to pursue the hearts of unbelievers even in the midst of their unrighteous unspeakable evil ways. Look to the Crosse then also use, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them,” as the blessed Holy Spirit enables us to draw the lost ones to Christ in all ways we can and at all times we can.
When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into Heaven and saw the Glory of God and Jesus standing at the right Hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see the Heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right Hand of God!” But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Acts 7:54-57
Stephen is completely filled with the Holy Spirit as he speaks to the council, so much so that when he looks up into Heaven he sees the Glory of God and Christ. This was not his imagination nor a emotional event prompted by the tense situation he was in for this is the fullness of his witness in Truth. In reaction, the men on the council cover their ears not wanting to hear about Resurrected Jesus standing at the right Hand of God. They cover their ears as their hearts are vacant of all faith, causing them to grind their teeth in anger.
Some may think ‘poor Stephen, he is about to be murdered because he was just one person standing against so many angry men.’ Yet Stephen would say, “Not poor me; please rejoice with me for I stood fast in faith in our Resurrected Christ and witnessed to these unbelievers and murders of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit was and is victorious!” Even if you are just one person speaking the right things for our Resurrected Christ stand fast and strong in the Holy Spirit and fear nothing of this world that may hurt you.
Each witness for Christ receives the victory! We do not fear death. Our fear is that our witness will shrink us into background-people because when we are put to the test-of-our-faith by anyone in this world we choose to be afraid to stand firm in our faith and rise to the challenge set before us. Take Stephen as your template to witness for Jesus and speak boldly about Jesus Christ. “Be not afraid,” Jesus says, “I have overcome this world.” He has and this world cannot harm our faith in Him anywhere, anytime, or any believer.
“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. Which of the Prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become His betrayers and murders. You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it.” Acts 7:51-53
These men were physically circumcised but not circumcised in their hearts and ears. In other words, they would not listen to God nor to the Son of God. They missed much of what God gave them because of their stiff-necked self serving ways even though the Prophets had given them every opportunity to expect Jesus Messiah Savior. Empowered by the Spirit, Stephen speaks before this cold hearted council and they hear not by their own choices.
Choice can lead to you Jesus or lead away from Jesus. What choices are you making my friend? By that I mean is your heart stayed in the Holy Spirit and your ears filled with Jesus Christ’s words from Scriptures? Is prayer to Him your first thought when you listen to others tell you of their struggles. Prompted by the Spirit of Truth (John 14:15-17) do you take action to do what Spirit prompts you to do to help, to answer with support and encouragement, and to give of yourself to the lost, lonely, and the ‘least of these’ children?
To be circumcised in heart and ears is to experience New Birth in Christ (John 3:1-21) and become a Holy Spirit Baptized Christian. This is the glorious beginning for then the Spirit of Truth will guide you in all things as you yield yourself to Spirit. Filled with the Spirit, Jesus Christ has come to fulfill the law, show us God Almighty, and and give us Spirit. Filled with the Spirit, Jesus allowed evil to put Him to death and then burst evil’s grip of destruction on our hearts and ears by His Resurrection as the angels rejoiced. Spirit shows the one way to God through Jesus Christ is open and stays open.
But it was Solomon who built a house for Him. Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made with human hands; as the prophet (Isaiah) says, ‘Heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool. What kind of house will You build for Me, says the Lord, or what is the place of My rest? Did not My Hand make all these things?’ Acts 7:47-50
With the power of the Holy Spirit and the face of an angel Stephen points out that the Prophets have tutored that God dwells within our hearts, our souls, and is the center of our being. The Holy Presence of God is within believers through Jesus Christ. God Most Holy originated the news that He does not require a temple building in which to reside (Isaiah 66:1-2).
What does Almighty God want? Jesus tells us that our Heavenly Father wants our Holy Spirit-circumcised hearts and ears, our humbled lives, heartfelt obedience, and desires believers love Him dearly. Stephen is one of the best examples in Scripture of a bold response to what our Heavenly Father wants. He gives himself fully to the Holy Spirit and so much so that he appears to be all of Jesus Christ standing before the council speaking.
It is interesting that the Spirit takes the peaks of the council member’s historical memories yet does this not to give a timeline as such, but rather shows these men before Stephen that their habit has been to turn away from Almighty God and refuse to follow. They have killed the Prophets whom God’s Handiwork directed. They have killed the Author of Salvation Jesus Christ who offered love, mercy, justice, and uncomplicated redemption
Whom our fathers would not obey, but thrust him (Moses) from them and in their hearts turned back into Egypt, Saying to Aaron , Make us gods to go before us; for this Moses, who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we know not what is become of him. And they made a calf in those days, and offered sacrifice to the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their hands. Acts 7:39-42
Sitting before Stephen are a group of father and brothers on the council who disrespect Stephen. Stephen points to a group of our heritage fathers with Moses who stirred up some of the people when Moses was on Mt. Sinai with God –they were impatient, self-serving, and had determined to return to the Egypt slavery-oppression. Preparing for the journey back they made a golden calf to worship then make god figurines. God can get angry and He did. God turned from them in anger.
Sitting before Stephen are a group of father and brothers stirring up trouble for Stephen. They do not want him to succeed in leadership, refer to Christ Resurrected, nor do they want Stephen to refer to their faith failings. These are proud self-loving men who sit before Stephen. They are ‘suits’– what they show outwardly is not what they are inwardly. Jesus knows and cares. Jesus is the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Heavenly Father except through our Savior Jesus Christ.
You have given yourself to Jesus and He gives you the same Holy Spirit which is within Stephen. Stephen’s witness in Acts 7 is awesome. Holy Spirit is not a spirit of cowardice but a Spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. Stephen shows you how to use faith, speak with power, and to love even the toughest to love by relying the self-discipline of union with Holy Spirit. And sitting before Stephen are a group of withered hearted souls who anger God again.
This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, ‘God will raise up a prophet for you from your own people as He raised me up.’ He is the one who was in the congregation (Church) in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our ancestors; and he received living oracles to give to us. Our ancestors were unwilling to obey him… Acts 7:37-39
Stephen speaks now about the One within the history of the Israelites where Another has been woven into important heritage events. This One is our Messiah Jesus our Lord and Savior; Jesus is always where God is! Jesus Resurrected is in the Holy Spirit through Stephen as Stephen reveals Jesus Christ to these stiff necked listeners on the council. Stephen wants to convert them.
Stephen refers to the living oracles (v. 39) which are the Ten Commandments. Moses met God on the mountain top and later Moses met Jesus, with Elijah, on another mountain top at the Transfiguration. Where God spoke to one man Moses, now through belief in Christ we hear Him speak within our hearts. We are a blessed generation! Jesus Christ is the Word of God our mediator; our heartfelt desire to be used to convert others is lifted to Jesus who elaborates and purifies these for God to respond.
Jesus Word of God, can discern all secret intentions of your heart. ‘Indeed the Word of God is living and active …’ Hebrews 4:12. In other words, you have absolutely no secrets from Jesus Christ. This activity of Christ’s allows Him to love you completely and fully, and use you for His spiritual purposes done by the Holy Spirit (like invite a stiff necked listener to yield to Christ). The living oracles of the Spirit are within the living Word of God Jesus Christ. As with Stephen, your dear Holy Spirit enlivens your eyes, rejoices your heart, converts souls, and raises you from the dead.
When he (Moses) was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his relatives, the Israelites. When he saw one of them being wronged, he defended the oppressed man and avenged him by striking down the Egyptian. Acts 7:23-24
Stephen points out that by an impulse from God, Moses visits his Jewish family and sees a task master is mistreating an Israelite man. Moses’ all encompassing love for his people is extremely strong fuel although he has been raised and has been working in Pharaoh’s household, groomed in how to act with authority. Yet out of intense anger Moses strikes the task master down and murders him to avenge the wrong done to the Jewish man. Because of this event Moses is demeaned, then flees yet to find himself working for an Israelite family with whom he finds loving companionship through the Heavenly Father and unity in the One True God.
Through Spirit inspired words, Stephen directs the council to grasp the understanding that faith is based on following and listening to God instead of self-driven actions and thoughts. By the Spirit, Stephen is fighting the good fight of faith right now– using his words. Throughout his dialogue Jesus Christ is anointing these words about God’s chosen people so that Stephen might present to them His Chosen One Messiah and Lord.
For Moses, it is another 40 years before the burning bush ignites his heart with great desire to serve the Heavenly Father. On Mount Sinai Moses receives the, ‘You shall not murder.’ (Exodus 20:13) Murder is on the minds of those in the council as they listen to Stephen defend himself against a half-truth. Stephen has the Holy Spirit– who gives us everything when tests of faith occur, when persecution comes at us, and where on our own we would fail. Faith is the Spirit powerfully moving in situations to shield your heart as your words speak volumes for our Lord and Savior.
At this time Moses was born, and he was beautiful before God. For three months he was brought up in his father’s house; and when he was abandoned, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him and brought him up as her own son. Acts 7:20-21
On trial before those he has called his fathers and brothers, Stephen launches into his sermon. His foremost desire is to draw them into the Holy Presence of Christ as he stands in heavenly anointing to preach. He is before them hoping to connect with their (and our) common history of faith. With his first words the Holy Spirit takes hold of his thoughts, guides his believer’s witness, and he senses with beautiful conviction that he is to lay out the Grand Plan of God in His Son Jesus Christ before these council folks.
First lifting up Abraham with his words, then weaving in Moses, he next says, “So Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in his words and deeds.” v. 22. Stephen has already pointed out that Abraham was not raised in a holy household; his family worshipped idols and yet God gripped his heart for sacred purpose within the Grand Plan. They agree with this. Stephen points out that Moses too was raised in a foreign household yet Almighty God is solidly right there directing him in beautiful holiness.
You are beautiful before God too. As you were born into this world He supplied your strength to draw your first breath of holiness; God’s loving holiness. The family you were born into, the marriage and children you have now, the work life you participate in now are all influences. Yet, the greatest influence overriding all of these is God’s influence to draw you into His Grand Plan to receive the Holy Spirit and love Jesus Christ continually, all the days of your life. You are living in beautiful holiness, directed by the Spirit, and like Stephen God consumes you with beautiful conviction to use.
The God of glory appeared to our ancestor Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Harlan, and said to him, ‘Leave your country and your relatives and go to the land that I will show you.’ Then he left the country of the Chaldeans and settled in Harlan. After his father died, God had him move from there to this country in which you are now living. He did not give him any of it as a heritage, not even a foot’s length, but promised to give it to him as his possession and to his descendants after him, even though he had no child.
And God spoke in these terms, that his descendants would be resident aliens in a country belonging to others, who would enslave them and mistreat them during four hundred years. ‘But I will judge the Nation that they serve,’ said God, ”and after that they shall come out and worship Me in this place.’ Then he gave him the covenant of circumcision. And so Abraham became the father of Isaac and circumcised him on the eighth day; and Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob of the twelve patriarchs. Acts 7:2-8
Stephen begins his sermon by showing great reverence for God and his respect for Moses. As the Israelites have shown faith and obedience to God, Stephen accentuates the places where God is worshiped. While Abraham’s father Terah was alive Abraham lived partly with him and partly in Canaan. While in Egypt, God did not give him land but he had to buy it. After the covenant was given to Abraham it was sealed with the circumcision of Isaac.
Abraham had to leave his father’s home because it had idol worship. Abraham waits in faith for God to give him land and children who will build a Nation of believers. Although many believed and some did not have faith, Abraham fully trusts God. Our Gospel of Matthew traces Jesus Christ’s genealogy back to Abraham and Luke’s Gospel traces His lineage back to Adam. Your heritage is Christ’s heritage because you are His. Jesus is the Messiah Savior to whom we are obedient as we place our faith, trust, and lives in Him.
Then the high priest asked him (Stephen), “Are these things so?” And Stephen replied: “Brothers and fathers, listen to me.” Acts 7:1-2
Stephen’s situation takes nerves of steel and eagle eyed faith. He is standing before those in authority and onlookers, who are watching and anticipating his downfall. It is his faith which is fully powered by the Holy Spirit by which he receive the Peace of God to speak righteousness and Christ’s Truth. It is a large group of people and they are against him.
He does not begin with ‘my friends’ because they are not. He does not begin with ‘honorable council and holy onlookers’ since he does not view them as such. He does not begin his sermon with ‘Thank you for asking me to speak here today’ since he stands before them as they demand and explanation to the half-truths he is being accused of and is persecuted for his faith.
He addresses them as ‘brothers and fathers’ though brothers in the Jewish faith and fathers of agedness. He first asks that they will unstop their ears. “Listen to me,” Stephen requests. Then as he speaks our Lord quells his nervousness with the fullness of His Peace. We remember at Jesus’ Transfiguration God said, “This is My Son whom I love; with Him I am well pleased. Listen to Him!” Matthew 17:5. Stephen has listened and is listening to our Lord Jesus Christ and his words are orchestrated by the Holy Spirit.