You Stiff Necked
Acts 7:51 "You stiff necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. 52 Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers, 53 who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it." 54 When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth. 55 But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, 56 and said, "Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!" 57 Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; 58 and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." 60 Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, "Lord, do not charge them with this sin." And when he had said this, he fell asleep. (NKJV)
The time is the early days of the New Testament Church, in A.D. 30 or 31. The disciple Stephen has been brought before the Jewish religious leaders that made up the Sanhedrin Council.
Stephen is being falsely accused of blaspheming the temple and the law of Moses (also known as the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible) while preaching the gospel in a synagogue. The false witnesses testified that Stephen had said that “Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs which Moses delivered to us.”
The High Priest questions Stephen asking "Are these things so" (v. 1)? Stephen responds with a lengthy sermon which covers Acts 7:1-53, of which this passage concludes his sermon and tells of the verdict.
Stephen has come to the end of his sermon. It is time for his closing remarks and they are judgmental of the religious leaders. He judges them as being “stiff necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears” (v. 51a). The term “stiff necked” is a reference to how a horse or a donkey stiffens its neck when it refuses to go on. It depicts a stubbornness to obey.
In this case, Stephen is accusing the religious leaders of not obeying, specifically stubbornly resisting, the “Holy Spirit” (v. 51b). He is also accusing them of being “uncircumcised”, not in the flesh but in their readiness to hear and accept God’s word (v. 51c).
Stephen compares the disobedience of the Jewish religious leaders to the disobedience of their forefathers (v. 51d). He accuses their forefathers of persecuting and even murdering the prophets, and the religious leaders themselves of being “betrayers and murderers” of the Just One, Jesus (v.52).
Stephen concludes his sermon by accusing the religious leaders of not keeping “the law” (v. 53). They had accused Stephen of blaspheming the law and now Stephen accuses them of not obeying that same law.
The religious leaders could not believe their ears. They considered themselves to be the final authority on the law and to be accused of not following that law was unthinkable. “They were cut to the heart” and there was “gnashing” of teeth (v. 54).
Stephen was filled with the Holy Spirit (v. 55a). He was square in the middle of God’s will. As he looked to His Lord, the Lord showed Himself to him through the opening of the heavens (v. 55b). The Lord was with him in his time of need. Stephen declared to the religious leaders: "Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!" (v. 56)
The religious leaders would hear no more (v. 57). This was the last straw. This man was lifting Jesus, “the Son of Man”, to the level of their Messiah Himself. This man was indeed guilty of blasphemy.
The religious leaders were enraged. They rushed Stephen and took him outside the gates of Jerusalem (v. 57). There they stoned him, as punishment for blaspheming God (v. 58a). The Romans gave the religious leaders great discretion when it came to temple matters. Witnessing all of this was Saul, later to be named Paul (v. 58b).
As he was being stoned, Stephen cried out "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit" and then "Lord, do not charge them with this sin", just as had Jesus when He was on the cross, (Vv. 59-60a). Stephen then “fell asleep” (v. 60b). His physical body died and his spirit and soul ascended to Heaven to be with Jesus.
Stephen accused the religious leaders of being stiff necked, always resisting the Holy Spirit. This is a dangerous place to be in life. The Lord comes to us in many shapes and forms. He uses people, circumstances, and that still small voice called our conscience to get our attention.
He is hard to ignore. We do so at our own peril. Each time we resist His calling, He hardens our hearts a little. The longer we resist Him the harder it is to accept Him. At a point He leaves us to our own devices, those “idols” we have created to avoid the Lord.
Even through all of this, the Lord loves us too much to give up. When we come to the end of ourselves, when we are totally broken, when we do not know where to turn, He is there. He is at the end of our rope. That is the love of God.
Online Bible Commentary