This is “redemptive-historical” preaching at its finest—both from the text itself as Stephen presents his defense before the Sanhedrin and in the sermon preached from the text (linked here and to the right). Like our Lord before him, Stephen has been accused of speaking against Moses, the Law and the Holy Place. And like our Lord before him, Stephen shows his accusers from the Scripture (the OT) that it is they themselves who are actually blaspheming God by not understanding the meaning of Moses, the Law and the Holy Place.
Many people have wondered about Stephen’s defense. Why isn’t he answering their charges? When we read Stephen’s “sermon”, it seems as if he’s just giving the people a history lesson. It doesn’t seem that he’s really answering the question, at least not directly. Ah, but he is! Stephen doesn’t simply give the Sanhedrin a history lesson—a history that they already know (in fact, they base their whole identity as a people on knowing their history). But Stephen takes them through their history to show them that they don’t know the meaning of their history or who they were as God’s people. Just as Jesus warned the people that they were in danger of missing the Kingdom because they didn’t understand the Scripture and what God was really promising, so Stephen is also showing the people that they have misunderstood the meaning of their own history and God’s purpose in it. The nation of Israel itself as well as the circumstances of their history point to Christ!
By accusing first Jesus Himself and now Stephen of blaspheming God by speaking against Moses, the Law and the Holy Place, the people are proving that they don’t know the meaning of their own history; they don’t know their own Scripture. They are the ones who are guilty of blasphemy because they don’t recognize the fulfillment of these things in Christ. Their own history condemns them, as Stephen is pointing out.
The Scripture isn’t concerned with the history of the tribe of Jacob in and of itself. Scripture tells the story of Jesus! Fundamentally, the NT is simply the interpretation of the Scripture (the OT) in light of its fulfillment in Christ—it’s all about Him! Stephen is doing the same thing that our Lord Himself had done, and that His Apostles/Disciples have been doing: they are proving from the Scripture that Jesus is the subject of the Scripture, that He is the promise of God! Stephen is preaching Christ from…the Old Testament!
And we must also preach Christ from the OT because He is what the OT is about! We have a deficient or incomplete understanding of who Jesus is and what He has accomplished if we don’t understand Him from the OT. As we see from the Gospels, the Epistles and the book of Acts (the entirety of the NT), the OT is about Jesus. Before the NT was written, Jesus was preached (to the Jew first, remember) from the Scripture. And this is especially evident in the book of Acts. The message of the OT is the message of the purpose of God in Christ; of the coming of the King—who He is and what He’s coming to accomplish. The OT is not concerned about the ethnic descendants of Abraham and a plot of land called Canaan—they and it are typological. The OT is the story of the King and His Kingdom—the Son of God and Sacred Space. Jesus is the fulfillment of the typological “Israel” and “Canaan”.
All is fulfilled in Christ! Contrary to the popular “Left Behind” mind-set and the false-teaching, judaizing Hagees of the world, the year 1948 means nothing with regard to OT prophecy. The OT (all of it!) finds its fulfillment in Christ Himself—the True “Israel” and Sanctuary of God. If the nation of Israel and sincere but misguided Dispensational Christians want to rebuild the Temple, all they’re doing is dishonoring the God they say they love and serve (as did the Pharisees and Saducees of Jesus’ day). The “Temple” has found its fulfillment; first and foremost in Christ Himself, and then in all those who are joined to Him by the Spirit who form the “house” of God—the Church! In Christ, we are (the Church is) the Temple of God, the dwelling place of God in the Spirit, the Sanctuary where God is present with His people. Jesus, the Lamb of God, was sacrificed once and for all! There will be no more sacrifices (even in “remembrance”) because it is finished in Him. And in Him God has formed one new man consisting of Jew and Gentile so that there are not two peoples of God but only one—those who are joined to Christ by the Spirit.
Stephen’s sermon confronts the Jewish people with their misunderstanding of the Scripture. He’s not speaking against Moses, the Law and the Holy Place. He’s showing the people from their own history that God expects them to understand these things as speaking of and being fulfilled in Jesus, whom they crucified. They refused to believe Jesus. They are the ones speaking against Moses, the Law and the Holy Place. They are blaspheming God.
I encourage you all to take an hour and listen to this sermon (and read the notes here). This is only part-one of Stephen’s defense (so keep following the messages on SermonAudio), but we already have here presented to us an overview of the Sanctuary/Holy Place theme. Kit does a wonderful job explaining the Scripture and showing how it is that Stephen’s defense speaks directly to the accusations brought against him.
If you want more excellent redemptive-historical preaching, visit us on SermonAudio (linked to the right) and listen to all our sermons. We mostly exposit individual books of the Bible, but occasionally we engage in a topical series. I especially recommend our series on Sacred Space (God With Us) which tracks the purpose of God in Christ from the beginning of Creation through Revelation. This series is the absolute best that Biblical Theology has to offer. If you want to know the story of the Bible, what God is trying to tell us in His Word, then check this out. You won’t be disappointed!
As a side note (and the subject of a future post, Lord willing), Stephen’s message, though aimed at the Jewish leaders who refuse to believe God, should also convict the dispensational believer who fails to understand the complete fulfillment of the Temple/Sanctuary motif in Jesus. The similarities between modern Judaism and Dispensationalism should be a cause for concern within the Church.