We considered yesterday the character of Stephen, and saw what kind of hero he was. Today we can think about the message he proclaimed. Luke records Stephen’s address to the Sanhedrin in great detail. Evidently it made a great impression on his listeners, so great that they could recall it and tell Luke about it years later.
There are similarities between the trial of Jesus and the trial of Stephen. Both were accused of blasphemy against the temple, both were accused by false witnesses. Stephen was further accused of saying that Jesus would destroy the temple and the Mosaic requirements.
It is clear from Stephen’s speech that he knew the Old Testament well. His remarks are a summary of what it says. Obviously, Stephen had studied the Scriptures in depth and was able with ease to convey their meaning to the highest court in the land. Here was a man who assessed situations by the teaching of the Word of God.
Further, his speech makes it clear that Stephen fully believed that God was in charge of history. He called Abraham from Ur, used a famine to bring the sons of Jacob into Egypt, raised up Moses as a deliverer from slavery in Egypt, chose David to be the king of his people, Solomon to build a great temple in which they could worship him, and exiled them to Babylon for their sins.
Moreover, Stephen believed that the Lord was very concerned for his people Israel. He had chosen them for himself, and despite their frequent departures from him he forgave them again and again. He placed his special presence among them and offered them all kinds of divine blessings.
In addition, Stephen confronted his listeners with truths about themselves they did not want to hear. Like their forefathers, they refused to hear the voice of God through his messengers, in their case the divine Messenger, Jesus Christ (v. 52). Their fathers had turned to idolatry despite having the tabernacle and later the temple in which to worship God. Their descendants were now imitating them and turning away from God.
Stephen here is condemning his listeners for trusting in an external religion. The proof of their folly was seen in their attitude towards the temple. Despite the fact that Solomon, when he prayed at the consecration of the temple that he had built, stated that God did not confine himself to one earthly building, they had assumed that they were spiritually fine as long as they had the temple. They did not realise that their attitude was the same as that of the false prophets in the time of Jeremiah who assumed that the Lord would not allow the temple to be destroyed. But he did, and the same thing would happen to the temple admired by Stephen’s accusers.
What can we say about Stephen’s words that will cause us to regard him as a hero? First of all, he told the truth. When he arose to speak, this was his intention. Second, he told relevant truth for the situation that he was in. As he faced his accusers, he maintained his courage and told them the exact truth that they needed to hear. It is an essential mark of a true hero that his words speak the truth that people in his immediate environment need to hear. His courage was revealed in the Sanhedrin as well as in the synagogues. When a man speaks the truth rather than escape by telling a lie, I would say that he is a hero.