Anyway, here is an excerpt from Chapter 3
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF STEPHEN
Scholars have what they call the law of first mention. Basically this means that the best way to get the fundamental meaning of a particular doctrine or event in Scripture is to look at its first occurrence in the biblical story.
With that in mind, what are we to make of Stephen being the first follower of Jesus to die for his faith in Christ? Is there anything significant about that?
Think about it: Until Stephen appeared on the scene (Acts 6) most of the Jesus-followers in Jerusalem were held in high esteem. Granted, the Nazarenes adhered to a strikingly different way of life which led most of the city’s residents to remain at a safe distance, but despite the oddity of their lifestyle they were regarded mostly with favor by the people.
The religious rulers were a different matter, of course. The men who plotted the death of Jesus had little tolerance for this new, radical sect which had sprung up around his name, and they butted heads with the apostles on a number of occasions because of it.
So there had been some conflict between the Jewish authorities and leaders of the Jerusalem church prior to Stephen. The apostles had been arrested, charged, even beaten for proclaiming the message of their crucified and resurrected Rabbi. But none of them had yet been killed.
No doubt there were those on the council who wanted to kill the twelve, but up to that point some obstacle had always served to mitigate their rage, whether it was fear of the people or the wise counsel of a seasoned rabbi.
Ask yourself, then, what it was about Stephen’s testimony that effectively tipped the scale of the Sanhedrin’s rage, consequently earning him the privilege of being the first ever Christian martyr.
The answer is simple enough, if you are willing to swallow it.
The twelve had preached Christ. They boldly announced his resurrection without fear, even going so far as to charge the Jewish leaders with their Rabbi’s murder.
Stephen did the same, but added an extra note.
Stephen dared to touch the temple.
“The Most High does not dwell in temples made by human hands!”(Acts 7:48)
The result of his proclamation was swift and severe, for the charges against him had been unequivocal: “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 that Moses delivered to us” (Acts 6:13,14).
Of course the witnesses were false, but the essence was true nonetheless. Stephen announced a Christ whose coming brought an end to the old Jewish order. In effect he was saying, “Brothers and sisters, God has left the building, therefore so should we.”
The apostles had yet to go this far. It is debatable whether they even saw this far into the significance of Christ at the time. Surprisingly, Stephen’s position was somewhat in advance of those who had known Jesus in the flesh.
OLD VERSUS NEW
Two men stood head to head that fateful day: Stephen and Saul. One man was filled with the Spirit of God; the other was consumed with zeal for the traditions of his fathers. One man had understanding while the other was blind with hatred. And though they held different vantage points, both men clearly grasped one thing:
The new way represented by Stephen was entirely incompatible with the old order championed by Saul. There was no way in the world the two could peacefully co-exist, not for long.
And so began the trail of blood which runs all throughout church history. The heavy stones of opposition continue to be brought down on anyone who would dare venture outside the camp of the conflicting religious, economic, and political systems of this world in search of a better way.
Read the book of Hebrews with this thought in mind. Or ignore the implications and pray that you never clearly see just how deep the rabbit trail runs. But whatever you do, brothers and sisters, never touch the temple.
Not unless you’re willing to pay the price.