2016 1-24 “Going Somewhere” Acts 7:17-37

“Going Somewhere”

Acts 7:17-37

  1. Introduction

Last Sunday morning we began a journey that will ultimately take us through fifty-three verses of Scripture in the Book of Acts.  We started in Acts 7:1 where Stephen, who had been accused of blasphemy against God, His Word, and Moses, was arrested and brought before the Jewish authorities where he was challenged to defend himself.  He was asked, “Are these things so?”  The question was, “Tell us!  Are you guilty or innocent of these charges against you?”

Stephen’s answer would begin in Acts 7:2 and not be completed until Acts 7:53.  In the pro-cess he would most certainly defend himself.  Yes, Stephen would declare his innocence, but he would do far more than that.  He would defend the faith and proclaim the Messiahship of Jesus.  And in doing those two things, he would indict the very same men who had been trying to indict him.  Stephen would do these things so thoroughly and so well, that when he was finished, there would be nothing left to say except, “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God (v. 56), after which he would be ushered into His presence.

Today, we’ll continue on that journey we began last week.  But there remains a great deal of ground for us to cover, so we won’t be arriving at our destination today either.  Last Sunday we “started somewhere.”  Next Sunday we’ll finally be “getting somewhere.”  But today we’re still in the process of “going somewhere.”  Stephen has much more to say both to the Jewish leaders and to us.

So this morning we’ll pick up the narrative at Acts 7:17 and work our way through to Acts 7:37.  We will hear more of the history of Israel and the Jews, and in Stephen’s review of that history, we will come to see how he uses his knowledge of it to defend himself against the false charges of blasphemy, indict the religious leaders for failing to understand and be-lieve their own Scriptures, and present Jesus as God’s own Messiah.

All of that is classic apologetics – the defense of the faith.  As Bible-believing Christians we all want our friends and loved ones come to saving faith.  So we do our best to tell them about Jesus and present the gospel.  But problems often arise when they ask us questions we can’t answer.  As a result of our inability to explain why we believe what we believe, their arguments against the truth sometimes seem to overwhelm our arguments for the truth.

The sad fact is that too many Christians are simply incapable of defending their faith.  Last week I said, “If you think it through, you’ll quickly come to realize that you cannot effective-ly present the gospel if you cannot effectively defend the faith.”  It’s one thing to tell some-one what you believe, but it’s another thing entirely to tell them why you believe it.

Scripture commands us to be able to do that.

1 Peter 3:15               

15 …sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.

Listen, please.  There are two questions that you and I must be able to answer.  The first one is, “Are you a Christian?”   The second one is, “Why?  Why are you a Christian?”  How do you begin to clarify and order your own thinking so that you can begin to defend your faith?  You must begin with a basic working knowledge of your Bible.  What is it all about?  What are the most elemental and fundamental things the Bible declares to be true?

Francis R. Beattie (1848-1906), a Presbyterian theologian and professor of apologetics, said…

“There is an infinite, all-wise, all-powerful, all-loving God who has revealed Himself by means natural and supernatural in creation, in the nature of man, in the history of Israel and the Church, in the pages of Holy Scripture, in the incarnation of God in Christ, and in the heart of the believer by the gospel.”      

Don’t you already believe that?  Those facts lay the foundation for your defense of the faith.  If you’ll take the time to absorb them, you’ll have your starting point.  Then commit yourself to spending time in your Bible.  Ask the Holy Spirit to teach you by opening your eyes, your ears, your mind, and your heart.  You will be amazed at what you will learn, and what the Lord will bring to your remembrance when you need it.  But there is a word of caution here – you will never remember something you never knew!

In last week’s passage in Acts 7, as well as in today’s text, and next Sunday’s as well, we’ll see that Stephen didn’t have that problem.  He knew the truth.  He knew why he believed what he believed.  Therefore, Stephen was able to confirm the gospel and defend the faith.  He was well-prepared and able to do both.  He is an example for you and for me.


  1. Review

Stephen was one of the seven men the apostles appointed to care for the day-to-day needs of the church in Jerusalem.  In Acts 6 we saw that he was a man of God.  He was described as a man “…of good reputation, full of the Spirit, and of wisdom (v. 3),” and “…full of grace and power (v. 8).”  He knew who Jesus was, he knew who he was, he knew what he was called to do, and he set about to do it.

 Stephen preached the gospel and proclaimed Jesus as the Jewish Messiah.  But that was the last thing the religious leaders wanted to hear.  How could He be their Messiah?  Hadn’t they just killed Him?  Some of the more learned Jews argued with Stephen.  But Acts 6:10 says that, “…they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speak-ing.”  They couldn’t attack Stephen’s words, so they attacked him.

They dragged him before the Sanhedrin (the Jewish Council).  This was the same group of men who had illegally tried, condemned, and had Jesus crucified.  It was the same group of men who had Peter, John, and the other apostles whipped for preaching Christ.  Once they had Stephen standing before them, they made their accusations of blasphemy against him and demanded that he defend himself.

In Acts 7:1, when the high priest (probably Caiaphas) said to Stephen, “Are these things so?”  Stephen’s answer was like nothing the Council expected to hear.  They were looking for a plea of guilt or innocence.  But what they got was a history lesson.  And in that history les-son they heard not only Stephen’s defense of himself, but his defense of the faith, his indict-ment of them and their false religion, and an opportunity to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah in front of the leaders of Israel.

Stephen began his defense by referring to Abraham’s faith in the promises of God.  Abraham believed God when He promised that his descendants would inherit the land and through them (starting with Isaac) all the nations of the earth would be blessed.  That blessing would come in the Person of the Jewish Messiah.  “Then (Abraham) believed in the Lord; and He counted it to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6).”  Stephen’s less than subtle point was that if father Abraham believed, why didn’t they?

Then Stephen shifted his focus to Jacob and his sons, the Patriarchs, those men who would become the fathers of the twelve tribes of Israel.  In Genesis 37 God had singled out one of those sons, Joseph, for a special blessing.  But rather than rejoicing with Joseph, his brothers became jealous, rejected him, and sold him into slavery.  But God rescued Joseph from sla-very and ultimately gave him great power and authority in Egypt.

It was here in Stephen’s history lesson that he began to zero in on his indictment of the Jew-ish leaders.  By Acts 7:9-10 the parallels he was making between what the Patriarchs did to Joseph and what the Jews did to Jesus were becoming very clear.

Finally, in Acts 7:11-16 Stephen, using the example of Joseph’s kindness and mercy to his brothers, prophesied Jesus’ Second Coming, when national Israel would recognize her sin of rejecting Christ, confess it, repent of it, and receive Him as their Lord and Savior.  But Ste-phen isn’t finished with his accusers yet.  And that bring us to this morning’s text in Acts 7.


III. Text

Stephen now turns to the story of Moses.  He will spend quite a bit of time on Moses.  Why?   Back in Acts 6:11 he was accused of speaking “…blasphemous words against Moses…”

*Acts 7:17-37

17 “But as the time of the promise was approaching which God had assured to Abraham, the people increased and multiplied in Egypt,

18 until there arose another king over Egypt who knew nothing about Joseph.

19 “It was he who took shrewd advantage of our race, and mistreated our fathers so that they would expose their infants and they would not survive.

20 “And it was at this time that Moses was born; and he was lovely in the sight of God; and he was nurtured three months in his father’s home.

21 “And after he had been exposed, Pharaoh’s daughter took him away, and nurtured him as her own son.

22 “And Moses was educated in all the learning of the Egyptians, and he was a man of power in words and deeds.

23 “But when he was approaching the age of forty, it entered his mind to visit his brethren, the sons of Israel.

24 “And when he saw one of them being treated unjustly, he defended him and took vengeance for the oppressed by striking down the Egyptian.

25 “And he supposed that his brethren understood that God was granting them deliverance through him; but they did not understand.

26 “And on the following day he appeared to them as they were fighting togeth-er, and he tried to reconcile them in peace, saying, ‘Men, you are brethren, why do you injure one another?’

27 “But the one who was injuring his neighbor pushed him away, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and judge over us?

28 ‘You do not mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday, do you?’

29 “And at this remark Moses fled, and became an alien in the land of Midian, where he became the father of two sons.

30 “And after forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilder-ness of Mount Sinai, in the flame of a burning thorn bush.

31 “And when Moses saw it, he began to marvel at the sight; and as he approached to look more closely, there came the voice of the Lord:

32 ‘I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.’  And Moses shook with fear and would not venture to look.

33 “But the Lord said to him, ‘Take off the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.

34 ‘I have certainly seen the oppression of My people in Egypt, and have heard their groans, and I have come down to deliver them; come now, and I will send you to Egypt.’

35 “This Moses whom they disowned, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’ is the one whom God sent to be both a ruler and a deliverer with the help of the angel who appeared to him in the thorn bush.

36 “This man led them out, performing wonders and signs in the land of Egypt and in the Red Sea and in the wilderness for forty years.

37 “This is the Moses who said to the sons of Israel, ‘God shall raise up for you a prophet like me from your brethren.’”

One of the charges against Stephen is found back in Acts 6:11 where he was accused of speaking “blasphemous words against Moses…”  In this portion of Stephen’s defense, he will turn that accusation back onto his accusers.  He isn’t in rebellion against Moses; they are!  Not only that, the thrust of Stephen’s argument is that the whole nation of Israel has been in rebellion against Moses throughout their history.  He reminded them of that rebellion in the text we just read.  In v. 35 he quoted Exodus 2:14 where the Jews disowned Moses and his God-given authority when they said, “Who made you a ruler and a judge?”

The religious leaders accusing Stephen had already ignored an earlier reference to Moses when Peter preached his second sermon.  He was quoting from Deuteronomy 18:15 where Moses had said, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him.”  Later God spoke to Moses saying…

*Deuteronomy 18:18-19

18 “I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.

19 “And it shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I myself will require it of him.”

This is one of the clearest Messianic prophecies in the OT.  It is a prophecy of type.  That is to say, that within the context of Deuteronomy 18, Moses is a picture of Christ.  He is not Christ; he is merely “like” Christ.  Consider just three of the ways Moses was like Jesus.

  • Pharaoh wanted to take Moses’ life when he was a baby (Exodus 2). Herod wanted to take Jesus’ life when He was a baby (Matthew 2).
  • Moses made intercession for the sins of his people (Deuteronomy 9). Jesus made inter-cession for the sins of His people (Hebrews7).
  • Moses was the mediator of the Palestinian covenant whereby his people would enter into the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 29). Jesus is the mediator of the new covenant whereby His people would enter into heaven (Hebrews 9).

So in Acts 7:17-37 Stephen is using Moses the same way he used Joseph in Acts 7:1-16. Joseph was also a type of Christ in that he was rejected by his own people and left for dead.  But “God was with him (v. 9),” and when Joseph had a chance to exact revenge, he chose to exercise grace, and saved his people.  This is what Jesus did for you and me (the church) at His First Coming, and it is what He will do for the Jews (Israel) at His Second Coming.

In Acts 7 the Jewish religious leaders who are accusing Stephen of blasphemy against Moses are totally blind to the fact that they are the ones blaspheming Moses.  They claim to vener-ate Abraham, Joseph, and Moses, and all of the prophets, but the fact is that they don’t have the slightest idea of what those men meant by what they said.  And when a true man of God tells them, they refuse to hear it, and reject them too.  Jesus said as much.

*Matthew 23:29-33

29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! 

29 (cont.) For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous,

30 and say, ‘If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’

31 “Consequently you bear witness against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets.

32 “Fill up then the measure of the guilt of your fathers.

33 “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how shall you escape the sentence of hell?”  

These are the very people who are accusing Stephen of blasphemy.  How ironic is that!  So in today’s text he lays it out for them.  The “time of the promise” Stephen refers in Acts 7:17 is that time when God chose to fulfill the His promise to Abraham for the land.  But by that time the Pharaoh whom Joseph had served was dead.  A new Pharaoh who knew nothing of Joseph had risen to power.  He became fearful that there were too many Jews in Egypt and that they might side with an invader.  So he had them enslaved.  This is where the Book of Exodus begins.

*Exodus 1:11a, 12, 14-17

11a So they appointed taskmasters over them to afflict them with hard labor.

12 But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and the more they spread out, so that they were in dread of the sons of Israel.

14 and they made their lives bitter with hard labor in mortar and bricks and all kinds of labor in the field, all their labors which they rigorously imposed on them.

15 Then the king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah, and the other was named Puah;

16 and he said, “When you are helping the Hebrew women to give birth and see them upon the birthstool, if it is a son, then you shall put him to death; but if it is a daughter, then she shall live.”      

17 But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt had com-manded them, but let the boys live. (“Does the statement ‘We must obey God rather than men [Acts 5:29]’ sound familiar?”)

But the midwives’ disobedience was exposed, and all of the Hebrew male babies were or-dered to be drowned.

*Exodus 1:22

22 Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, saying, “Every son who is born you are to cast into the Nile, and every daughter you are to keep alive.”

It was into that world and under those conditions that Moses was born.  He was not drowned.  Rather, he was set adrift in a basket, found by Pharaoh’s daughter, taken into her home, and raised as an Egyptian, although she did not conceal his true identity from him.

In Acts 7:22 Stephen says, “Moses was educated in all the learning of the Egyptians, and he was a man of power in words and deeds.”  J. Vernon McGee had a very interesting and in-sightful comment on this verse.  In his commentary on Acts he said…

“Moses was brought up in the wisdom of the Egyptians.  The wisdom of the Egyptians is not despised even in our advanced day when we feel that we know about everything.  Too often we do not give the Egyptians full credit for what they did know.  They had developed mathematics, chemistry, engineering, architecture, and astronomy to a very fine point… Look at the pyramids.  Look at the colors we find in the tombs, colors which have stood the test of the centuries.  They understood about embalming.  They had calculated the distance to the sun… They had a highly developed culture and were not an ignorant people.”

Mc Gee goes on…

“Moses had all the advantages of that day, being raised as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.  He was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians… Yet he was not pre-pared to lead God’s people.  All the learning of the world of that day did not equip him to lead God’s people.  All the wisdom that men have today is not enough for them to understand the Word of God.  It is too difficult.  Why?  Because ‘…a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised (1 Corinthians 2:14).’”

This is the reason that unbelievers, regardless of their level of worldly intelligence, do not understand God’s truth.  Their spiritual eyes have not been opened.  The Council before which Stephen stands is made up of some of the most brilliant men in Israel.  (The great rabbi Gamaliel is among them.)  But they cannot see what Stephen is showing them.  They cannot see that what God told Moses in Deuteronomy 18 was all about Jesus.  Listen to it once more.

Deuteronomy 18:18-19

18 “I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.

19 “And it shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I myself will require it of him.”

They do not believe Jesus can be the One prophesied by Moses and sent from God because they have already rejected Him.  The men accusing Stephen of blasphemy cannot see that what their fathers did to Moses, they have done to Jesus.  So, in Acts 7:35, Stephen reminds them of Exodus 2:14 when the Jews said to Moses, “Who made you a ruler and a judge?”

They cannot see that the signs and wonder Moses performed before Pharaoh were precursors to the miracles Jesus had performed before them.  So, in Acts 7:36, Stephen reminds his accusers of Exodus 7:3 where God gave Moses that power.

And Stephen’s accusers certainly cannot see that Jesus is God’s prophet whom He sent to be Israel’s ruler and deliverer.

So, in Acts 7:37, Stephen reminds them of the messianic prophecies in Deuteronomy 18.

*Acts 7:37

37 “This is the Moses who said to the sons of Israel, ‘God shall raise up for you a prophet like me from your brethren.’”

In all of this Stephen is telling the rulers of Israel that the prophecies of the Messiah that have been so clearly seen in Abraham and Joseph and Moses have been fulfilled in their sight, but just as their fathers were spiritually blind in the past, so too are they spiritually blind in the present.  Stephen is telling them that history is repeating itself.

Do you remember when the Patriarchs, the sons of Jacob (Israel) finally realized who Joseph was, confessed their guilt, and were saved from starvation?  They didn’t get it the first time they came before Joseph.  It wasn’t until the second time they came before Joseph that his people came to their senses.  It took two trips.

Do you remember when the nation finally realized that Moses had come from God to deliver them from physical slavery and death?  They didn’t get it the first time he came to them.  They said, “Who made you a ruler and a judge?”  It wasn’t until God sent Moses to them a second time that they came to their senses and they followed Moses out of slavery in Egypt and into the Promised Land.  It took two trips.

If you’re detecting a pattern here, you should be.  Jesus, like Moses before Him, had come to deliver the Jews from spiritual slavery and death.  But they didn’t get it the first time He came.  And the nation of Israel is suffering for it to this day.  But God is faithful!  He will come a second time.  Then they will understand.  Then their suffering will come to an end.  But it will take two trips.

Can you see what a masterful presentation Stephen is making here in Acts 7?  In defending himself against the Council’s charge of blaspheming God, Stephen recites their history – thereby holding their attention – and indicts them for committing the very crimes of which he is innocent and they are guilty.

Next Sunday we will continue with Stephen’s defense of the faith as he speaks to the last of the accusations against him.  Back in Acts 7:13 the religious leaders had brought false wit-nesses who said of him, “This man incessantly speaks against this holy place (the temple) and the (Mosaic) Law.”

Stephen will recite more of Israel’s history by speaking of Aaron, Joshua, David, Solomon, and the temple itself.  Only then will he conclude with his devastating indictment against the unbelief of his accusers.


  1. Conclusion

I want to end this morning by saying pretty much the same thing I did last week.

It was only because Stephen understood his faith that he could defend it.  It was only because of that faith that he could answer charges against him.  He wasn’t guilty of blasphemy; his accusers were.  He wasn’t guilty of undermining the Law of Moses; his accusers were.  He wasn’t guilty of murder; his accusers were.  They had already killed Jesus, and they would soon kill him.

In Acts 7 we are seeing Stephen defend himself as a man who truly knows and loves God, and in the process, we are seeing him indict men who claim to know and love God, but in reality, neither know nor love Him.  The fact is that they hate Him.  Next time we will see Stephen present Jesus as He is, the Son of Man, the Jewish Messiah, in heaven at the right hand of God.  And if you think they hate Stephen for what he has said up until now, just wait.  But you know that it’s the Lord Jesus they hate, don’t you?

*John 15:18-21           

18 “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated me before it hated you.

19 “If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.

20 “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’  If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.

21 “But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me.”

Listen, no one will ever know God until they know Jesus.  We are in the last days.  We need to tell others about Him.  And when we are asked, we need to be able to tell them why we believe what we believe about Him.

Let me close with the words of the Apostle Peter.  He said, sanctify (revere) Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you (1 Peter 3:15).”


~ Pray ~