The First Martyr – Stephen

Chapter 7 of the Book of Acts

When Stephen was brought to trial before the Sanhedrin – the Jewish religious council – his life was hanging in the balance.  Yet, Stephen did not make excuses for his actions nor try to defend himself.  Rather, he used this opportunity to proclaim the mercy and grace of God to the Jewish nation.  In essence, he indicted his accusers.  He told them they were displaying the same spirit of unbelief that their ancestors had done in the past as they resisted the work of God in their nation.  He did this by illustrating God’s hand in the past history of Israel.

Abraham – the founding father of Israel.  To Abraham had been given the call to go to a land which God would show him – and someday give to his descendants.  Stephen shows that from the very beginning of their nation, God was the one in control. 

God (the God of Glory – ho theos tes doxes) – the God who possess and manifests glory.  God of the outward and visible glory.  It is the glory, radiance, brilliance of God’s Person which bursts forth from His Supreme Being.  The idea is that God appeared and revealed His glory to Abraham) appeared to Abraham – while he was still living in Mesopotamia.

God promised him a land – if he would “get out” of his present country and life.  The land was to be one of God’s choosing, not Abraham’s.  The land was to be an inheritance to his descendants.

Today, God has appeared to us while we were yet in sin (Romans 5:6-8; John 3:16), calling us to “get out” of our present country and life (Acts 2:40; 2 Corinthians 6:17-18; Ephesians 5:11; 2 Thessalonians 3:6; 1 John 2:15-16). 

Romans 5:6-8 – For when we were still without strength, in due time, Christ died for the ungodly.  For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die.  But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

2 Corinthians 6:17-18 – Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord.  Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you.  I will be a Father to you and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the LORD Almighty.

God has promised us a special relationship with Him now and a future home in heaven (John 14:19-21; John 15:9-11; John 14:1-4; Hebrews 11:10; Hebrews 13:14). 

John 14:19-21 – A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me.  Because I live, you will live also.  At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.  He who has my commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me.  And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.

John 14:1-4 – Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believer also in Me.  In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you.  I go t prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.  And where I go you know, and the way you know.

Our relationship with God is something we need to pass on to our children as an inheritance Ephesians 6:4; Deuteronomy 6:1-9; 2 Timothy 2:2).

Ephesians 6:4 – And you fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and the admonition of the Lord.

Joseph – a type of Christ. 

Joseph was chosen by God, but rejected by his brothers (Genesis 37). 

Joseph suffered for years, but gained ultimate victory. 

God had a plan (Galatians 4:4-5).  Man may try to stop it because of envy, because of rebellion, but God will always work out His plan regardless of what man does to try to stop it. 

Galatians 4:4-5 – But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.

Moses – the great deliverer.  The time came for God’s people to receive the promise made to Abraham (Genesis 15:1-7; Genesis 15:13-14).  But they had forgotten the promise – it was not the focus of their lives.  They had grown comfortable in Egypt.  God had to act to cause them to want deliverance and then to bring about that deliverance.  They were powerless to make the promise come true. 

Moses was stirred into action by God.  However, he apparently sought to do God’s will his way. 

Moses was originally rejected also. 

Again, it was God who appeared to Moses, it was God who called him to save the people, it was God who sent the miracles and brought Israel out of Egypt. 

Charges Against Israel

The people worshipped false gods rather than the One True God.    God turned away from them (Romans 1:21-28).

The people carried the tabernacle of false gods in their hearts.  Again, God turned away from them (2 Kings 17:5-18). (Molech was the sun god to whom children were often sacrificed.  The idol had the head of an ox and arms that stretched out.  There was a hollow place underneath the arms where a fire was built.  The fire consumed the sacrifices lying in the outstretched arms above.  Molech was the god of the Amorites.  Remphan was a god of the Egyptians, Arabs and Phoenician.  It is thought to have been the worship of the planet Saturn.)

The people had no excuse.  God had given them the tabernacle, great leaders, the temple.  Still they chose the world instead of God.

The people did not understand the temple.  They did not understand that God was not limited to one place (1 Kings 8:27; 2 Chronicles 6:18; John 4:24).

The present generation of Israelites were rejecting God just as their fathers had done.  They were “stiff-necked” (sklerotracheloi) – hard necked, obstinate, stubborn.  They were “uncircumcised in heart” (aperitmetoi kardiais) – idolaters, false worshippers, ungodly.  They “resisted” – deliberately opposed or rushed against God, actively struggled and fought against God. 

The people persecuted all the prophets – the very ones who predicted the coming of the Messiah  (2 Chronicles 36:14-16).

Acts 7:54-60 (The Amplified Bible) – Now upon hearing these things, they [the Jews] were cut to the heart and infuriated, and they ground their teeth against [Stephen].  But he, full of the Holy Spirit and controlled by Him, gazed into heaven and saw the glory (the splendor and majesty) of God, and Jesus standing at God’s right hand; and he said, Look! I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at God’s right hand!  But they raised a great shout and put their hands over their ears and rushed together upon him.  Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him, and the witnesses placed their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.  And while they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, Lord Jesus, receive and accept and welcome my spirit!  And falling on his knees, he cried out loudly, Lord, fix not this sin upon them [lay it not to their charge]! And when he had said this, he fell asleep [in death]. 

Do I have the faith and courage of Stephen?

Is my testimony so great that I could possibly take some sort of physical torment by unbelievers?

Stephen was totally innocent of wrong doing in his life according to the Scriptures.  Could we fit that category – totally innocent?

Have we ever cried out in a loud voice about the goodness of God?  Is our testimony so great and persuasive that some might stop their ears?

When we are receiving verbal or possibly physical abuse for our stand for the Lord will we have the same forgiveness as Stephen?

Unlike Achan in the Old Testament who deserved punishment for his sin, Stephen did not deserve the treatment he received.  How do we respond to harsh treatment by others?  How do we respond to verbal abuse or criticism concerning our faith?

Names of God – God All Powerful and All Sufficient

Philippians 2:5-11

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

EL SHADDAI – God All Powerful and All Sufficient

This name for God is used seven times in the Old Testament.  The first usage is in Genesis 17:1

Genesis 15:1-6 – After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.”  But Abram said, “Lord God, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” Then Abram said, “Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!”  And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.”  Then He brought him outside and said, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”  And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.

Genesis 17:1 – When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless.

Abram (Abraham) – “I know Lord, you are El Elyon, the Creator and Possessor of all things.  So where is my child?  Where is the one to be born in my house from out of my loins?  You told me I would be the father of many nations.  Well, I’m getting old God.  I’m still childless after all these years.”

Years before Abram had been confronted with another crisis.  After years of trying Sarah was still unable to have children.  At that point Abram gave up waiting on God and took matters into His own hands.  He had a child by Hagar, Sarah’s maid. 

Abram thought he was helping God out but it only caused problems.  He hoped the child by Hagar would be the promised heir to Abram.   He was not in God’s eyes.  This child was illegitimate because he was not the child of faith and promise.  The Lord told Abram “this shall not be your heir.”

  • Any time you began to doubt the promise God gave you – you are headed for trouble.
  • Any time you take matters out of God’s hands and do your own planning, you are in trouble.
  • Any time you try to get ahead of God, you are asking for trouble.
  • An illegitimate answer to your dilemma as a result of your manipulation of the situation will result in calamity.

Descendants of Hagar and Abram – the Arabs/Palestinians.  Abram’s solution to God’s promise is still causing problems today.

  • Short cuts do not work
  • Your answers are not always the right answers

There was no sign that Sarah would ever bear a child.  And Abram was just getting older.  By the time Ishmael turned thirteen, Abram was ninety-nine years sold.  This man had to be on the verge of losing all hope that God’s promise would ever be fulfilled.  Once again, his faith was being tried.

Scripture makes a point here to everyone who has chosen to follow Jesus.  It says that God uses our crises…the most difficult, trying times in our lives…to give us hopeful revelations of who he is.  Each revelation is like a separate beam reflecting out of a diamond.  It reveals a different aspect of our Lord’s nature, giving us fresh views of his character and power toward us.

As Abram faced yet another crisis, the Lord decided once again to give his servant a fresh revelation of Himself.  He wanted Abram to be fully persuaded of His faithfulness.  So, scripture says, “When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am Almighty God (El Shaddai); walk before Me and be blameless.”

El is another name that is translated as “God” and can be used in conjunction with other words to designate various aspects of God’s character. Another word much like Shaddai, and from which many believe it derived, is shad meaning “breast” in Hebrew (some other scholars believe that the name is derived from an Akkadian word Šadu, meaning “mountain,” suggesting strength and power). This refers to God completely nourishing, satisfying, and supplying His people with all their needs as a mother would her child. Connected with the word for God, El, this denotes a God who freely gives nourishment and blessing, He is our sustainer.  What an incredible revelation for Abram to receive at this time.  God was speaking very personally to his servant here, saying,

“Abram, you already know I have power over every condition in your life.  I’ve convinced you that I’m in control of all things…that there are no accidents in your life, no situations that are merely fate or luck.  I am the head, the chief, the boss of all creation…and my word is eternal.  Now I’m going to tell you something else about my nature that you need to understand to continue in faith.

“I am not only in control of all things…but I also keep my word.  No obstacle can keep my word from coming to pass.  I’m not bound by the laws of nature or fettered by any man.  I can do anything at any time.  There are no mountains too high for me, no valleys too low, no rivers or oceans too wide.  I’m supreme above the power of all nature, men and devils.  When I say something is going to be done, it’s already done.  Nothing can keep my promise.  I am El Shaddai…all-powerful, all-sufficient keeper of my promises.  I guarantee my word.”

God saw that Abram was focusing on all the impossibilities of his situation.  Abram simply could not see past his age, his dried up body, Sarah’s dead womb.  So the Lord specifically revealed Himself to Abram as the God who gives life to the dead.  He opened Abram’s eyes to the part of His nature that performs the impossible, that calls into existence things thought to be non-existent.

Once Abram received this revelation, he believed God was who He claimed to be.  And, afterward,

Romans 4:20-21 – He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform.

This godly man knew that God could not lie.  The Lord had sworn to make him a father of all nations.  Surely God would do what He said He would do.

Abram’s newfound faith eventually brought forth the child of promise.  Your faith in God who always keeps His word will cause you to see the promises of God.

May God help us to discover the secret that Abraham knew about walking uprightly before the Lord.  Here is the secret to a godly walk; we are to receive…to acknowledge, believe, embrace and act upon…the revelation God gives us of who He is.  That is the secret, plain and simple.  We are able to walk uprightly before the Lord…not because we have willpower, knowledge, or even a covenant promise in hand; we walk uprightly because we are fully persuaded that El Shaddai will keep His promises to us.

Are you fully persuaded?

Names of God – El Elyon

Philippians 2:5-11

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

EL ELYON – God Most High

A name of God used in a number of OT books but especially in Genesis and the Psalms.   

 It first is used in Genesis 14.

Genesis 14:10-20 – Now the Valley of Siddim was full of asphalt pits; and the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled; some fell there, and the remainder fled to the mountains. Then they took all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their provisions, and went their way. They also took Lot, Abram’s brother’s son who dwelt in Sodom, and his goods, and departed.  Then one who had escaped came and told Abram the Hebrew, for he dwelt by the terebinth trees of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol and brother of Aner; and they were allies with Abram. Now when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his three hundred and eighteen trained servants who were born in his own house, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. He divided his forces against them by night, and he and his servants attacked them and pursued them as far as Hobah, which is north of Damascus. So he brought back all the goods, and also brought back his brother Lot and his goods, as well as the women and the people.  And the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley), after his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him.  Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said:  “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; And blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.”  And he gave him a tithe of all.

How is that God always reveals Himself mightily in our distress, in times of trials, in times of hardship or sickness?

Let me say this:

  • I am not always happy and content in times of distress.
  • I am not always happy and content in times of trial.
  • I am not always happy and content in times of hardship
  • But I sure do love it when God shows Himself great and mighty.

Let’s face it – we grow most in difficult times.  Let us take a closer look at what has happened in the passage we just read in Genesis.

Background in chapter 13 shows that Lot and Abraham separated because of strife…strife will lead to separation, but often separation will lead to a greater problem. 

Verses 11-18 in chapter 13 show us how quickly living in close proximity to sin will put in danger.  Stay away from sin; as far away as possible.

God had just given Abraham a great promise and Abraham worshipped God.  If and when God gives you a great promise, it will cause you to want to worship Him.  Well, that is what Abraham did.

All of heaven is yours, eternal life is yours, ruling and reigning with Christ is yours, reunited with loved ones is yours in heaven.  But, as great as all that is and will be, kneeling at the feet of Christ our Savior will be the greatest experience yet.  So worship Him now.  Why wait until you get there?  We can be rejoicing on our journey.

Chapter 14 tells us about a war between several different city states; four kings against five.  Sodom and Gomorrah and three smaller kingdoms lost the battle.  Some were captured.  Some killed.  The people ran for their lives.  The victors took the spoils of war and went their way.  They also took Abraham’s nephew, Lot, and departed.  At the time of this war Lot was living in Sodom.  Remember, this all started back when Lot and Abraham and their workers and families could not get along.  Strife of any kind causes division; between individuals, families, clubs, nations, and worse yet, churches.

At one point, Lot was only in close proximity of Sodom…now he is in Sodom.  He first looked toward Sodom and thought it would looked like a pleasant and pleasing place.  Then he moved in that direction.  Finally we find him sitting in the gates of the city along with the leaders of the community.  There is a logical and sure progression to falling into sin.  You do not just wake up one morning and decide to sin that day.  Something proceeds your fall.

Abraham went after and won the release of his nephew all the people of Sodom and Gomorrah and all the spoils of war with only 318 trained servants.  It appears guerilla tactics at night were used.

Note this:  Abraham and his 318 servants defeated the men of the four cities.  Some of Abraham’s men pursued their enemies as far as Damascus, nearly 150 miles north.  When you are on God’s side, do things God’s way, and have the blessings of God on your life, God will give you the victory.  You may be outnumbered, but God will see you through.  Why did God allow Abraham to rescue Sodom and Gomorrah, very sinful cities, when He was going to destroy it later?

You know the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah.  If those people had been allowed to become captives and remained in the city states they had been captured by, they would have spread their sin.  God used Abraham to bring them back to one location and later destroyed the cities.

In Abraham’s return from battle he was met by two kings, the king of Sodom and he king of Salem (later renamed Jerusalem).

In the first part of chapter 12 Abraham had been blessed by God; now he is blessed by Melchizedek, the king/priest of the Most High God.  This dual title and description is a type of Christ.  As priest, Melchizedek served Abraham a covenant meal of bread and wine and blessed him.  He then told Abraham God was just not God…He is the “God Most High”  He is the Creator of the universe.  Everything belongs to Him – all the wealth, cattle, and possessions.  He is in control of everything you see around you.  In the Hebrew He is El Elyon which means “God Most High, Creator and Possessor of Heaven and Earth.”  WOW, what a title!

After this blessing, the King of Sodom, who had fled the battlefield in the face of war told Abraham, “Just give me my people, and keep the spoils.”  Abraham’s response was “El Elyon is my God…I don’t need your possessions.  I’ve got all the promises of God”

We do not need the possessions of the world has to offer.  We have the promises of God.

In verses 22-23 Abraham said, “I want nothing from you.  I have raised my hand to the Lord God Most High…I’m on His side…nothing you have to offer is going to influence me…I won’t settle for second best.”  Abraham was convinced.

We must be convinced that God is on our side and He can and will supply our every need.

Never accept, even if it looks good to the eye, even if it looks good to the touch, even if it is flattering…never accept what Satan has to offer.  God’s promises are so much better.

God Most High or LORD Most High means there is no idol, god, or created being that should be worshiped or exalted over the Lord because He is superior in every way.

In the New Testament we see that Jesus has been given this place of honor.

Philippians 2:9-11 – Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Names of God – Jehovah Jireh

Philippians 2:5-11

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Jehovah Jireh – The Lord Who Sees and Who Provides

Jehovah reveals God as the eternal, self-existent one, the God of revelation, the God of moral and spiritual attribute, of righteousness, of holiness, of love, and most of all redemption.  Jehovah stands also for the special covenant relationship to Israel.  To Israel He is Jehovah.  To all other nations He is Elohim, a more general name for God and His relationship to them.  Jehovah with additional names is a compound name further revealing Him in specific ways.  When Jireh is added, we see this eternal God revealing Himself to Abraham as the Lord who sees and who provides.

This name, Jehovah Jireh, brings up a message and revelation to us.  He is not just a God who sees our need; but He is a God who, after seeing our need, provides.  This name, Jehovah Jireh, is probably the most misunderstood and misused of all the names of God.  There are so called “faith teachers” who tell you to claim what you want and God, who is Jehovah Jireh, will give it to you.  God is not some puppet on a string. 

The man to whom Jehovah-Jireh is first revealed was a man who walked with God in integrity, in holiness, in obedience.  God does not reveal Himself to men because of some superficial whim of the moment.  We must be women and men of integrity, of holiness, of obedience.

  • Integrity – a firm belief and practice of moral incorruptibility.  In other words, you do not get down in the pig pen of life and wallow with the hogs.  Your word is true.  You are undefiled in your relationships with others.
  • Holiness – holy, upright and pure as God would have you to be.  Not some set of rules man would have you obey.  Not some dress code, etc. but Christ-like.
  • Obedience – putting into practice what the Word of God says to do. 

Genesis 22:7-14 – But Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!”  And he said, “Here I am, my son.”  Then he said, “Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”  And Abraham said, “My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.” So the two of them went together.  Then they came to the place of which God had told him. And Abraham built an altar there and placed the wood in order; and he bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, upon the wood. And Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.  But the Angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!”  So he said, “Here I am.”  And He said, “Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.”  Then Abraham lifted his eyes and looked, and there behind him was a ram caught in a thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up for a burnt offering instead of his son.  And Abraham called the name of the place, The-Lord-Will-Provide; as it is said to this day, “In the Mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”

For three days Abraham, his only son, Isaac, and two servants had journeyed to the place where an offering was to be made.  Isaac was to be the sacrifice.  What do you think was going through Abraham’s mind?  He did not comprehend, but he trusted God’s provision. 

The answer is in verse 8 – My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.  This God Abraham spoke of was the El Elyon that had been revealed to him earlier.  El Elyon, the God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth.  He was also the El Shaddai that had been revealed to him, the God All Powerful and All Sufficient.  He recognized now, finally in his old age, that this God who had revealed Himself over and over, again and again, was who He said He was.  This was his child of promise, the child long waited for.  He did not know how, he did not know when, but he believed God and obeyed Him without questioning.

  • How long does it take us to get to that point in our lives?
  • How many times do we have to go through the same exercise before we finally get the message God is God and He will provide?  He is the great Creator, Possessor of Heaven and Earth – El Elyon.  He is the All Powerful and the All Sufficient – El Shaddai.  He is the God who sees and the God who provides – Jehovah-Jireh.
  • When will we get that in our heart and mind?

Philippians 4:19 – And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.

He did not say “all your wants.”  However,

Psalm 37:4 – Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.

If you delight yourself in the Lord in obedience, in integrity and holiness, you are not going to ask for frivolous things.  God will delight also in you for your walk with Him and bless you as you live for Him.

The greatest thing about this story is that God, like Abraham, did not flinch at giving His only Son.  Jesus provided that example as the “lamb caught in the bush.”  Jesus was the sacrifice for our sins on the cross.  Just like this lamb took the place of Isaac, Jesus took our place.  He provided atonement.  He saw our need and He provided the remedy.