St. Stephen's Witness

Acts of the Apostles Chapters 6-7

By Fr. Gregory, December 26, 2020

Acts of the Apostles 6:8-7:5, 47-60 In those days, Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and Asia, arose and disputed with Stephen. But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke. Then they secretly instigated men, who said, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” And they stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council, and set up false witnesses who said, "This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law; for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place, and will change the customs which Moses delivered to us." And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel. And the high priest said, “Is this so?” And Stephen said: "Brethren and fathers, hear me. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, and said to him, ‘Depart from your land and from your kindred and go into the land which I will show you.’ Then he departed from the land of the Chaldeans, and lived in Haran. And after his father died, God removed him from there into this land in which you are now living; yet he gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot's length, but promised to give it to him in possession and to his posterity after him, though he had no child.

[today’s reading skips 7:6-7:46, the middle of Stephen’s speech]

“But it was Solomon who built a house for him. Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made with hands; as the prophet says, ‘Heaven is my throne, and earth my footstool. What house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest? Did not my hand make all these things?’ "You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.” Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth against him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, "Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God." But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together upon him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him; and the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And he knelt down and cried with a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

Jesus himself had said that with his message of the kingdom “something greater than the temple” had come (Matt. 12:6). The inauguration of the new order meant the supersession of the temple order by a new edifice not made with hands, that spiritual house of living stones described in 1 Pet. 2:4–10 where spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God, are offered up through Jesus Christ by a holy priesthood.

A TENT OF TESTIMONY. BEDE: Since they were saying that he [Stephen] was acting against the holy place, he showed from this [Old Testament parallel] that the Lord does not place a high value on dressed stone but rather desires the splendor of heavenly souls. From this he wanted them to understand that just as the tent was forsaken when the temple was built, so also they should understand that the temple itself would have to be destroyed when a better dispensation came to take its place, as Jeremiah long before had prophesied saying, “Do not trust in words of falsehood that say, ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.”2 And a little later he says, “I will treat this house in which my name is invoked, and in which you put your trust, just as I treated Shiloh, where my name had its dwelling from the beginning, and I will drive you from my sight.”3 COMMENTARY ON THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES 7.44.4

JESUS STOOD AS HIS HELPER. AMBROSE: Jesus stood as a helpmate; he stood as if anxious to help Stephen, his athlete, in the struggle. He stood as though ready to crown his martyr. Let him then stand for you that you may not fear him sitting, for he sits when he judges. . .