God’s Word for You
Acts 7:51-53 You always resist the Holy Spirit
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, January 1, 2020
51 “You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. You are just like your fathers. 52 Which of the prophets did your fathers fail to persecute? They even killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, 53 you who received the law handed down through angels, but you did not keep it.”
In this final part of his apology, Stephen quotes God’s original assessment of the Jews: “You are a stiff-necked people” (Exodus 33:3,5). Their stubbornness was not just a trait, it was evidence of doubt and unbelief. He says that they have uncircumcised hearts and ears. They were circumcised in the flesh, but they believed and responded to God as if they were pagans constantly demanding proof of God’s existence.
“You always resist the Holy Spirit.” What does Stephen mean? The Holy Spirit is the one who brings faith and creates it in the heart. The only true freedom left in man since the fall into sin is the freedom to resist God, to choose sin rather than be led by the Holy Spirit. This was not a new accusation. “By the water of Meribah they angered the LORD, and trouble came to Moses because of them; for they rebelled against the Spirit of God, and rash words came from Moses’ lips” (Psalm 106:32-33). And Isaiah said: “The angel of his presence saved them. In his love and mercy he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old. Yet they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit. So he turned and became their enemy and he himself fought against them” (Isaiah 63:9-10). This state of freedom only to sin is completely wretched. Bernard of Clairvaux said: “We are burdened with a yoke, yet it is none other than a yoke of a voluntary servitude. Thus we are to be pitied do to the slavery, but are without excuse due to our will because, though the will may be free, it has made itself a slave to sin.”
“Which of the prophets did your fathers fail to persecute?” The Jews knew very well what reception each one of the prophets had during his lifetime. Moses was even opposed by his own brother and sister (Numbers 12:1). Jeremiah was imprisoned more than once. Isaiah was murdered for his faith. “Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were put to the test; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground” (Hebrews 11:36-38). The Scriptures have enough evidence to prove Stephen’s point (Genesis 4:8; 2 Chronicles 24:20; Jeremiah 38:6, 41:7), but many of the other writings of the Jews elaborated on this. There is a well-documented tradition that Isaiah was the one “sawed in two” by the orders of King Manasseh (see also 2 Kings 21:16), and that after Jeremiah was kidnapped and forced to go down to Egypt (Jeremiah 43:4-7) he was stoned to death by the Jews there.
“They even killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One.” This is a direct reference to the murder of John the Baptist. This also means that the condemnation Stephen preached was not just on the fathers of the Jews, or on the Jews in general, but on the men of the Sanhedrin themselves. They hated John as much as they hated Jesus. But, “they feared the people, for everyone held that John was really a prophet” (Mark 11:32). They were guilty of everything their forefathers had done; they were the ones who were guilty of idolatry, of rejecting Moses, and of blasphemy against God, his word, and his temple. They had personally murdered Jesus Christ the Son of God.
Some readers will question what Stephen means when he says that the law was handed down through angels (vs. 53). Angels are not mentioned in the Hebrew account of Mount Sinai anywhere in the Pentateuch, but there are three other references that may help. In Galatians 3:19 Paul says that “the law was put into effect through angels by a mediator.” Paul says this to contrast the promise God made to Abraham directly without any such mediator. Then, in Hebrews 2:2, we are told that the law “was spoken through angels.” Finally, in the Greek translation of Deuteronomy 33:2, we read that “[The Lord] came with tens of thousands from Kadesh who were angels with him at his right hand.”
What Moses and the Israelites received from angels we have received from the Son of God himself and his apostles. This was no choice of our own, just as our conversion has nothing to do with any choice in man. Jesus says: “He who sins is a slave to sin” (John 8:34). The only choice fallen man can make is to sin; he is dead in his sins. Then, Ezekiel reports God’s words: “I shall take away the heart of stone” (Ezekiel 36:26). And Paul explains: “We were dead in our sins” (Ephesians 2:1). A stone and a corpse have this in common: Neither is alive and neither makes any choices, but if God changes them, they are no longer stone nor dead. God says: “I revive the spirit of the lowly and the heart of the contrite” (Isaiah 57:15). He also says: “I have seen (man’s) ways, but I will heal him; I will guide him and restore comfort to him” (Isaiah 57:18). Through faith in Christ, we have the new life of faith, the eternally new home of heaven, and a place with God there forever.
Pastor Timothy Smith