God’s Word for You
Acts 7:54-56 to gnash their teeth
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, January 2, 2020
In larger herds of sheep, some rams known as wethers become dominant leaders as they grow older. They confidently lead the flock out to pastures that may be very far from home. Shepherds often put a bell around the neck of one or more of these wethers, which are called bellwethers. They lead the way. Stephen was a bellwether of the church, showing that the Christian church was moving away from being centered in Jerusalem and onto a new path, to the ends of the earth.
The Stoning of Stephen
54 When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they began to gnash their teeth at him. 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 He said, “Ah! I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
Earlier, the council had noticed how Stephen’s face shone “like the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15). They had listened to his whole apology or defense, apparently without interruption. But now it was too much for them. He had proved through the witness of the Holy Scriptures and their own actions that they had rejected God just as their ancestors did (“You are just like your fathers” vs. 51). But where the Jews of former times had rejected and even killed God’s servants, this time the Sanhedrin—these very men—had rejected and killed the Son of God himself. This fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy about the Savior:
He was despised and rejected by men,
He was a man of sorrows, familiar with suffering.
Like a man that men hide their faces from
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he took up our illnesses
and carried our sufferings.
We thought that it was through God
that he was stricken, smitten, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for the guilt of our sins;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:3-5)
Stephen didn’t need to proclaim the resurrection and ascension of Jesus at this point; he actually saw Jesus in a vision, standing at the right hand of the Father. God blessed Stephen’s witness with this unique and glorious sight. I have known a few and heard of a few other Christians who have reported seeing heaven in their dying hour. One elderly woman who had been all but breathing her last breath sat up in her bed and asked me how her mother and grandmother got there, right there in the room with us. Not all Christians see such things, but we know that Stephen did.
Gnashing teeth is not something we hear about very often. It is such a base, almost animal reaction, that it is caused only by the kind of fury that I don’t think actually occurs among wild animals (it is not the same as growling, barking, or hissing), but only in sinful man when confronted by the fact of his sins against all his deeply-held convictions to the contrary. They couldn’t control their anger any longer. They were going to kill him.
Many Christians today have a fear of defending the faith, especially to those who have been indoctrinated by public universities and have had their childhood faith pulverized by atheists so that they have become, in some cases, outspokenly antagonistic toward Christianity except those very liberal offshoots and tendrils that have given up on a faith based in the Scriptures. We don’t need to be afraid to defend our faith. God does not command us to win every argument. There will always be some charismatic speakers, able to think quickly on their feet, who can sound very convincing and can twist some facts while ignoring others. Jean-Antoine Letronne (1787-1848) and John Draper (1811-1882) were two such men and were largely responsible for the myth of the flat earth to rise up in the nineteenth century. They convinced so many people that the ancient church believed in a flat earth (and opposed men like Columbus) that there are still textbooks in the world that claim this to be true, even though it’s a complete fiction. Any one of us might have paled before their rhetorical skills, but that doesn’t mean that what they spewed wasn’t nonsense. Whatever the outcome of Stephen’s hearing before the Sanhedrin, God showed his approval. Whatever the outcome of any chance you have to show your faith and confess it, God is with you. Your success or failure does not depend on how the ‘debate’ concludes, but on whether or not you are faithful to the gospel.
Pastor Timothy Smith