Indictment of Religious Phonies — Acts 7:51-53

Stephen had been charged with a number of very serious offenses – against God, against Moses, against the temple, against the law, against the whole Jewish system of worship.  Now he concludes his defense by leveling very similar charges against the religious leaders of the Sanhedrin.  He shows how they are nothing but a bunch of hypocrites – religious phonies who should be exposed and called to repentance.  Your standing is actually worse than that of ignorant pagans who make no bones about their denial of the one true God.  You actually claim to be following in the footsteps of Jewish men of faith; to be upholding and promoting the law of God; to be offering up worship according to God’s direction.  In actuality, you are a bunch of fakes.  Stephen doesn’t pull any punches here; not trying for the diplomacy award; not interested in being politically correct or popular; in the face of his own execution he offers up these words that stung the Sanhedrin to the core.

3 CHARGES DIRECTED AGAINST RELIGIOUS PHONIES FOR RESISTING THE HOLY SPIRIT

I.   (:51a)  YOU ARE RELIGIOUS PHONIES BECAUSE YOU OPPOSE GOD’S RULE

A.  Root Problem is Stubborn Pride and Rebellion

You men who are stiff-necked”

stiff-necked” — figuratively, of resistance against changing one’s behavior, stiff-necked, headstrong, stubborn; obstinate

Problem of physical stiff neck – very limiting; try to turn around to back up the car; approach of chiropractor – takes very violent manipulation therapy to try to restore the full range of motion; most difficult patients are those who fight the therapy; situation tends to get worse over time, not better

Ex. 32:7-10 involves a corruption of self; turning aside from the way which God commanded; substituting idols for the one true God; an obstinate people – makes God very angry; puts them in danger of judgment

MacArthur: Deut. 9:6 – “a stubborn people” – lit. “hard of neck.”  An expression for the stubborn, intractable, obdurate, and unbending attitude of Israel.

Jer. 17:23Yet they did not listen or incline their ears, but stiffened their necks in order not to listen or take correction.”

Stott: an epithet which both Moses and the prophets had applied to Israel (Ex. 32:9; 33:3, 5; 34:9; Dt. 9:6, 13; 10:16; 31:27; 2 Ch. 30:8; Je. 17:23)

Remedy: Deut. 10:12-22 – Get back on the path of fearing and obeying God who loves you so deeply and has your best interests at heart; “So circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer” – show your repentance by works of justice and righteousness to the needy

B.  Heart and Mind Closed to God

and uncircumcised in heart and ears

they don’t want to hear the truth of the Word of God because their hearts don’t want to put it into practice; they love their wicked lifestyle in chasing after the pleasures of this world; they look with contempt on those pagan Gentiles in the surrounding nations who do not have the physical sign of circumcision; but they are far worse – despite their election and privilege they have despised the covenant relationship and closed their hearts to God

What are we doing to remove the wax of sin from our ears so that we are in a position to hear the Words of God?

What are we doing to prepare our hearts to be open and receptive to what God has to say?

Wiersbe: Their ears did not hear the truth, their hearts did not receive the truth, and their necks did not bow to the truth.  As a result, they killed their own Messiah!

Lenski: bearing the covenant sign only outwardly and not inwardly in its intended force

Jeremiah 6:10To whom shall I speak and give warning that they may hear?  Behold, their ears are closed and they cannot listen.  Behold, the word of the Lord has become a reproach to them; they have no delight in it.”

What type of delight do you take in the Word of the Lord?

How developed are your listening skills?

Do you heed the warning of God’s Word or do you foolishly choose to stubbornly rebel and face the consequences of God’s judgment?

Indictment: Jer. 5:20-31

Leviticus 26:41I also was acting with hostility against them, to bring them into the land of their enemies– or if their uncircumcised heart becomes humbled so that they then make amends for their iniquity,

(Dt. 10:16; 30:6; Je. 6:10; 9:26; Ezk. 44:7)

not physical Israel who will inherit the promises but those who are circumcised in heart

Kent: Their hardness of heart showed them to be no better spiritually than uncircumcised gentiles.

1 Cor. 7:19Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God.”

C.  Will Opposed to God’s Direction

are always resisting the Holy Spirit;

Not only oppose God in your attitudes … but also in your actions – this is a strong word

resisting, opposing – strong word = fall against an enemy

Bock: The third hapax in this verse is antipiptete.  This present-tense verb means to oppose or resist something continually, a point emphasized even more with the adverb aei, always.  The verb’s force here is iterative; they are opposing God again and again (Wallace).

full of the Holy Spirit means being fully under His control; direction; guidance – very sensitive and submissive

In what ways can we resist the Holy Spirit?

-          Doing things which our conscience informs us are against the path of holiness;

o   Welcome the tugging of the Spirit upon your conscience; don’t let your conscience become hardened or calloused

-          Not doing what the Holy Spirit prompts us to do – speaking a kind word; helping someone and showing practical love, taking opportunities to boldly witness, developing and using our spiritual gift

Positive command: walking by the power of the Holy Spirit

Walvoord: The ministry of the Spirit, however, is not automatic and is not effective without cooperation on the part of the individual, hence the command in 1 Thessalonians 5:19, “Quench not the Spirit.”  . . .  Quenching is a concept used in relation to extinguishing or suppressing a fire . . . Hence, it may be concluded that quenching the Holy Spirit is to suppress, stifle, or otherwise obstruct the ministry of the Spirit to the individual.  In a word it is saying no and replacing the will of the Spirit with the will of the individual.  This, in brief, is the whole issue of morality – whether man will accomplish what he wants to do or whether his life is surrendered and yielded to the will of God. . .  Ephesians 4:30Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.”  This command directs our attention first of all to the fact that the Holy Spirit is a person who has intellect, sensibility (feeling), and will.  The Holy Spirit has feelings and is sensitive to the presence of sin in the life of a believer.  Rebellion against the direction of the Holy Spirit in the life constitutes an offense to His holy character and can result in great loss to the individual believer.

How sensitive and submissive are you to the Holy Spirit?

II.  (:51b-52)  YOU ARE RELIGIOUS PHONIES BECAUSE YOU OPPOSE GOD’S REPRESENTATIVES –

THOSE CONVICTING MESSENGERS REJECTED AFTER THE PATTERN OF YOUR FATHERS

A.  Condemned by Your Religious Heritage – How Ironic – they boasted in that heritage

you are doing just as your fathers did.

We would hope that our fathers would set a godly example and that it would be to our advantage to live after their role model; but in this case then nation of Israel has a very poor track record – in a very specific area of conduct: How did they respond to the prophets sent by God to bring a word of conviction and warning?

Constable: Note that Stephen had previously associated himself with “our fathers” (vv. 2, 11-12, 15, 19, 39, 44-45), but now he disassociated himself from the Sanhedrin by referring to “your fathers.” “Our fathers” were the trusting and obeying patriarchs, but “your fathers” were the unresponsive apostates. The Jews’ ill treatment of their prophets was well known and self-admitted (cf. 2 Chron. 36:15-16; Neh. 9:26; Jer. 2:30). They had consistently resisted God’s messengers to them, even killing the heralds of God’s Righteous One (cf. 3:14; 1 Kings 19:10, 14; Neh. 9:26; Jer. 26:20- 24; Luke 6:23; 11:49; 13:34; 1 Thess. 2:15; Heb. 11:36-38).

B.  Consistent Pattern of Persecution

1.  Persecution of all of the OT Prophets

Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute?

(repeating charge made by Jesus; Matt. 23:31; Lk. 6:23; 11:49ff; 13:34)

Bock:  (1 Kings 18:4, 13; 19:10, 14; Jer. 2:30; 26:20-24; 2 Chron. 24:20-21) . . . Jewish tradition held that Jeremiah was stoned to death and Isaiah was sawn in two.

Bruce: But did not the Jews of later days reprobate their ancestors’ behavior towards the prophets?  Yes indeed; “If we had been in the days of our fathers,” they said, “we should not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets” (Matt. 23:30).  They paid tribute to the prophets’ memory and built monuments in their honour.  But Jesus assured them that even so they were still true sons of their fathers, maintaining the same hostility to the messengers of God (Matt. 23:29-37); and Stephen now repeated the charge.  Their fathers had killed the messengers in days gone by who foretold the advent of the Righteous One; they themselves had gone still farther and handed over the Righteous One Himself to violent death.

2 Chron. 36:15-16

Neh. 9:26 —  “But they became disobedient and rebelled against You, and cast Your law behind their backs and killed Your prophets who had admonished them so that they might return to You, and they committed great blasphemies.”

Not a very cushy job to be a prophet in the OT; not easy to be a faithful preacher today; why do we expect to be rewarded in this life for faithfulness???  Not a biblical concept; we think we deserve better from God; look at the path of our Master

Moses – rejected his leadership

Elijah1 Kings 19 – depressed to the point of wishing to be dead after his confrontation with King Ahab; fleeing from Jezebel and hiding in the cave – lamenting the reward of a faithful prophet – God asks him why is he hiding there?  19:10I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword.  And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.

Elisha – probably had it better than most – when the young lads mocked him: “Go up, you baldhead; go up, you baldhead” he called down a curse upon them and two female bears came out of the woods and tore up forty-two lads of their number” – 2 Kings 2:23-25 – when you mess with God’s messengers sometimes you get your punishment sooner rather than later

Isaiah – Tradition says he was martyred in the reign of Manasseh; sawed him in half

Jeremiah – spent a lot of dark days in the pit

Tenney: In his call to service Jeremiah was also prepared for the fact that he would need to withstand much opposition.  He was warned that the kings of Judah, the princes, the priests, and the common people would be against him as the Lord’s messenger.  Not only was he promised divine protection, but he was assured that God would make him like a fortified city to stand successfully against them.  This divine assurance must have taken on realistic significance during the period from 609-586 B.C. when he was subjected to persecution and suffering as others were martyred or exiled.

2.  Persecution of those Announcing the Coming of the Promised Messiah

And they killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One,

Example of John the Baptist – King Herod served up his severed head on a platter at the request of his wife Herodias

Example of treatment of Stephen and the Apostles – about to get stoned

A flood of persecution is about to be unleashed on the leaders of this new Christian movement

C.  Condemned by Your Own Opposition to Jesus Christ Right Now

whose betrayers and murderers you have now become;

In step with Judas Iscariot – lays murder of Jesus right at their feet; not very diplomatic

Lenski: By hiring the traitor Judas the whole Sanhedrin made itself “betrayers” of the Righteous One; and by forcing Pilate to crucify him they became his “murderers.”

How do you respond to those who preach divine words of conviction and repentance?

III.  (:53)  YOU ARE RELIGIOUS PHONIES BECAUSE YOU OPPOSE GOD’S REVELATION –

HIS HOLY STANDARDS AS REVEALED IN HIS WORD

A.  Publicly Professing to Receive and Value God’s Word

you who received the law as ordained by angels,

Highest possible commendation of the law

“angels” = messengers of God – rejected as well

B.  Blatantly Disobeying and Disrespecting God’s Word

and yet did not keep it.

Lips profess obedience but heart is far from God

James 1 – hearers of the Word but not doers

Matt. 15:6-9 they had substituted their own human traditions for the law of God.

Bruce: And now in these last days, when God had spoken to them through no angel but by the promised Messiah Himself, it had with even greater decisiveness rejected Him.

How do you respond to the holy standards of the Word of God?

CONCLUSION:

Scott Cox: End of sermon – interesting Invitation!  Sang 3 verses of “Just as I am” and there was a great response to the sermon??  No, they killed him.

What is your response to God’s tugging at your heart?

To God’s messengers who bring convicting words of correction?

To God’s Word which sets forth His holy standards?

Are you masquerading as a religious phony or are you genuinely committed to love and respect and obey and serve your Master?  Your Creator?  Your Heavenly Father? Your coming Judge?

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