Defending the faith from the Hebrew Bible
Act 7:1-19 NASB - "1 The high priest said, "Are these things so?"
2 And he said, "Hear me, brethren and fathers! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, 3 and said to him, 'LEAVE YOUR COUNTRY AND YOUR RELATIVES, AND COME INTO THE LAND THAT I WILL SHOW YOU.' 4 "Then he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran. From there, after his father died, God had him move to this country in which you are now living. 5 "But He gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot of ground, and yet, even when he had no child, He promised that HE WOULD GIVE IT TO HIM AS A POSSESSION, AND TO HIS DESCENDANTS AFTER HIM. 6 "But God spoke to this effect, that his DESCENDANTS WOULD BE ALIENS IN A FOREIGN LAND, AND THAT THEY WOULD BE ENSLAVED AND MISTREATED FOR FOUR HUNDRED YEARS. 7 " 'AND WHATEVER NATION TO WHICH THEY WILL BE IN BONDAGE I MYSELF WILL JUDGE,' said God, 'AND AFTER THAT THEY WILL COME OUT AND SERVE ME IN THIS PLACE.' 8 "And 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.
9 "The patriarchs became jealous of Joseph and sold him into Egypt. Yet God was with him, 10 and rescued him from all his afflictions, and granted him favor and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and he made him governor over Egypt and all his household. 11 "Now a famine came over all Egypt and Canaan, and great affliction with it, and our fathers could find no food. 12 "But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent our fathers there the first time. 13 "On the second visit Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and Joseph's family was disclosed to Pharaoh. 14 "Then Joseph sent word and invited Jacob his father and all his relatives to come to him, seventy-five persons in all. 15 "And Jacob went down to Egypt and there he and our fathers died. 16 "From there they were removed to Shechem and laid in the tomb which Abraham had purchased for a sum of money from the sons of Hamor in Shechem.
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."
This is the first detailed defense of faith that we find in the books of Acts. A defense like this is called an “Apologetic” in which we strive to answer questions that have been raised about what and why we believe. In this case the questions are about if what Stephen has been teaching is actually what he has been accused of teaching. The following accusations have been made.
Act 6:13-15 NASB - "13 They put forward false witnesses who said, "This man incessantly speaks against this holy place and the Law; 14 for we have heard him say that this Nazarene, Jesus, will destroy this place and alter the customs which Moses handed down to us." 15 And fixing their gaze on him, all who were sitting in the Council saw his face like the face of an angel."
1. Stephen speaks against the temple and the law
2. Stephen says that Jesus will destroy the temple and the customs of Moses
These accusations are the same as someone being charged with committing treason against the United States. They would be the same if someone denounced their U.S. citizenship and formally became a member of ISIS. If Stephen is teaching these things then he has betrayed Israel and the faith of the Jews. This is why everyone becomes so upset.
In response to this Stephen makes clear that he is not against the law or Moses. He begins by showing them that they have common ground in the Scriptures, in the salvation history of Israel, and while in this section we are just getting there, in Moses as well. All that he says here would have built a bridge of communication between him and his Jewish audience. They would not have disagreed with anything that he is expressing concerning the historical roots of the nation and faith of Israel.
Now the story of Joseph is really the story of a messiah (anointed one of God) being one in which his brothers (the founding fathers of Israel) out of jealousy sold him into slavery and reported him dead to his father. Joseph would have perished, but God rescued him and raised Joseph up to rule. By doing this Israel was saved from starvation along with all the nations.
Here we have the death - Symbolic when they take the coat of many colors back covered with blood to report Joseph’s death to his father.
Burial – Legally declared a rapist, though innocent, Joseph the anointed one is buried in a prison.
Resurrected - Because Joseph can interpret Pharaoh’s dream he is raised up out of the prison (the grave) and given authority and honor.
So Stephen is building common ground but also preparing the way for the though that Israel has a history of rejecting those who God had sent to save them. He is preparing a culturally sensitive way to present the gospel while defending himself against these false accusations.
How should we then live?
When people question your faith do you get angry and defensive?
Are you ready to give a calm and careful defense of your faith to those who ask?
If you don’t feel ready to give a calm and careful defense then how could you become ready?
When talking to an unbeliever about the faith look for common ground that God has given you. What do you share in common that could be used to build a bridge of communication about the gospel?
Meditate on this passage
2Timothy 2:24-26 NASB - "24 The Lord's bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, 25 with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will."
Prayer: Lord, help me to know how to share the gospel with people who have questions or are even attacking me. Provide me the filling of the Holy Spirit that I may communicate in bold love to others. Help me to know your Word well enough that I can use it in sharing my faith. Lord have mercy. Amen