Then the high priest said, "Are these things so?"
And he said, "Brethren and fathers, listen: The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran, and said to him, 'Get out of your country and from your relatives, and come to a land that I will show you.' Then he came out of the land of the Chaldeans and dwelt in Haran. And from there, when his father was dead, He moved him to this land in which you now dwell. And God gave him no inheritance in it, not even enough to set his foot on. But even when Abraham had no child, He promised to give it to him for a possession, and to his descendants after him. But God spoke in this way: that his descendants would dwell in a foreign land, and that they would bring them into bondage and oppress them four hundred years. 'And the nation to whom they will be in bondage I will judge,' said God, 'and after that they shall come out and serve Me in this place. 'Then He gave him the covenant of circumcision; and so Abraham begot Isaac and circumcised him on the eighth day; and Isaac begot Jacob, and Jacob begot the twelve patriarchs.
The Patriarchs in Egypt
"And the patriarchs, becoming envious, sold Joseph into Egypt. But God was with him and delivered him out of all his troubles, and gave him favour and wisdom in the presence of Pharaoh, king of Egypt; and he made him governor over Egypt and all his house. Now a famine and great trouble came over all the land of Egypt and Canaan, and our fathers found no sustenance. But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent out our fathers first. And the second time Joseph was made known to his brothers, and Joseph's family became known to the Pharaoh. Then Joseph sent and called his father Jacob and all his relatives to him, seventy- five people. So Jacob went down to Egypt; and he died, he and our fathers. And they were carried back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham bought for a sum of money from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem.
God Delivers Israel by Moses
"But when the time of the promise drew near which God had sworn to Abraham, the people grew and multiplied in Egypt till another king arose who did not know Joseph. This man dealt treacherously with our people, and oppressed our forefathers, making them expose their babies, so that they might not live. At this time Moses was born, and was well pleasing to God; and he was brought up in his father's house for three months. But when he was set out, Pharaoh's daughter took him away and brought him up as her own son. And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and deeds.
"Now when he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren, the children of Israel. And seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended and avenged him who was oppressed, and struck down the Egyptian. For he supposed that his brethren would have understood that God would deliver them by his hand, but they did not understand. And the next day he appeared to two of them as they were fighting, and tried to reconcile them, saying, 'Men, you are brethren; why do you wrong one another? ' But he who did his neighbour wrong pushed him away, saying, 'Who made you a ruler and a judge over us? Do you want to kill me as you did the Egyptian yesterday? ' Then, at this saying, Moses fled and became a dweller in the land of Midian, where he had two sons.
"And when forty years had passed, an Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire in a bush, in the wilderness of Mount Sinai. When Moses saw it, he marvelled at the sight; and as he drew near to observe, the voice of the Lord came to him, saying, 'I am the God of your fathers&mdashthe God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. ' And Moses trembled and dared not look. 'Then the Lord said to him, "Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground. I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt; I have heard their groaning and have come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send you to Egypt." '
"This Moses whom they rejected, saying, 'Who made you a ruler and a judge? ' is the one God sent to be a ruler and a deliverer by the hand of the Angel who appeared to him in the bush. He brought them out, after he had shown wonders and signs in the land of Egypt, and in the Red Sea, and in the wilderness forty years.
Israel Rebels Against God
"This is that Moses who said to the children of Israel, 'The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear.' "This is he who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the Angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our fathers, the one who received the living oracles to give to us, whom our fathers would not obey, but rejected. And in their hearts they turned back to Egypt, saying to Aaron, 'Make us gods to go before us; as for this Moses who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him. ' And they made a calf in those days, offered sacrifices to the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their own hands. Then God turned and gave them up to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the Prophets:
'Did you offer Me slaughtered animals and sacrifices during forty years in the wilderness,
O house of Israel?
You also took up the tabernacle of Moloch,
And the star of your god Remphan,
Images which you made to worship;
And I will carry you away beyond Babylon. '
God's True Tabernacle
"Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness, as He appointed, instructing Moses to make it according to the pattern that he had seen, which our fathers, having received it in turn, also brought with Joshua into the land possessed by the Gentiles, whom God drove out before the face of our fathers until the days of David, who found favour before God and asked to find a dwelling for the God of Jacob. But Solomon built Him a house.
"However, the Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands, as the prophet says:
'Heaven is My throne,
And earth is My footstool.
What house will you build for Me? says the Lord,
Or what is the place of My rest?
Has My hand not made all these things? '
Israel Resists the Holy Spirit
" You stiff- necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. 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, who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it."
Let us pray.
This defence of Stephen, as it is called, is his answer to the accusations made against him. To remind you of these accusations which you will have heard of last week let us skip back a few verses we read: ‘Then they secretly induced men to say, "We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God."… "This man does not cease to speak blasphemous words against this holy place and the law; for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs which Moses delivered to us." As we look at this passage we need to remember these accusations so we can understand the response. Up front, we need to be aware of and take note that the accusation was never answered in the response, for we do not to defend ourselves against lies, rather provide the words that tell the truth, that is the Word of God, and how the situation fits with what God has to say. This is what Stephen is doing in this passage, defending the truths of God, as found in Scripture, not defending himself against false accusations. This is the first overall lesson of this chapter. It will do well to remember that both Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed, so it was prophecy Stephen was speaking, not blasphemy, and one cannot blaspheme against Moses, nor against the Law, though one can defame the first, and degrade the second. Technical issues, but worthwhile noting.
I will not be able to go verse by verse, or cover everything that we can find in the passage, but you need to see the whole defence, not part of it, as God gave it to us as a whole. What I hope to be able to do in this brief time is to provide some insight in how members of the Church, the case in point Stephen, as we look at the early Church in this series, provide responses to others who challenge us. This particular passage talks about the opposition from the Jewish Orthodoxy, religious people who rejected Christ, for their own power and glory as leaders in the synagogue and the nation. We can note that Stephen provides three major errors that were prevalent in the old order of religion held by the Jews of the time. First reliance on the teachings of the fathers, rather than God, second, worshipping the objects of religion, rather than God, and third, failure to allow the Holy Spirit to guide their lives. Stephen uses three characters from the Old Testament for this defence - Abraham, Joseph and Moses. This is a fascinating choice, and has many undertones if we look hard enough. One has to remember always that the Bible has meanings in many layers, and those meanings have to be not only sought, but proven through Scripture, for nothing can be interpreted without the backing of Scriptural text. God does not rely on man and commentary to interpret and create understanding in His Word, though He allows man the ability to write commentary. God has given us the greatest gift of the Holy Spirit for: He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. (John 1:13)
Let us begin by looking at the opening text, and what Stephen was getting at when he mentions Abraham and his father Terah. Abraham, whilst in Mesopotamia was called by the Lord to go to a land that he was to inherit. He gets as far as Haran with the extended family, and there he stays until his father dies. Genesis 12 tells us that the Lord said: "Get out of your country, from your family, and from your father's house, to a land that I will show you.“ Here we see that although Terah Abraham's father had left Ur, he only went so far towards what God had promised. God had to come back to Abraham to get him into the Promised Land, he had to go with God, not stay with what the family had. There are a couple of lessons here for us to contemplate. There were also some very subtle hints here to for the Sanhedrin to contemplate as they listened to this potted history of Israel's ancient days.
First, no matter the godliness of parents, they cannot live through our faith. In fact, we are called to grow in faith through our own relationship with God, and the Holy Spirit teaching us through the Word, that is Scripture for All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17. Abraham was not complete in what God desired. His father managed to get him to Haran, but he had to get to the Promised Land - Canaan - with the direction of God. We too can get to a point on the way to the Promised Land with the teachings a Christian parent may provide, the same as you will do for your children. However, as we have seen in the Timothy passage, the equipping of the saints, to be complete in God, is a personal thing, something between the individual, God, the Holy Spirit, and the Word. A parent cannot beat themselves up as to the state of their child's Christianity once they reach an age to self-reason, if they, as parents set the example, lived a Christian life, taught the Scriptures as the Spirit gave them leading, and guided the child in the ways of God. Stephen quite rightly is pointing out that God then takes the child once they are old enough, and pushes them to the Promised Land, however, the person also has a self will, and some will reject God at some stage. We know from various characters in Scripture, most notable of the era in which we are at present; Lot for example, got to the promised land, then drifted to the plains and the cities of the world, with disastrous outcomes.
Back to the days of Stephen: the Jewish Council therefore, had to also learn that they could not rely on the teachings of themselves, and their own rules, to come to God. They relied solely on the foundations given to them by their fathers, as they believed that through keeping the myriad of rules the fathers had created, they would meet the requirements of Scripture. We know this for Paul, himself a Pharisee, one immersed in the culture of the people to whom Stephen was addressing said: Then he said: "I am indeed a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the strictness of our fathers' law, and was zealous toward God as you all are today. Acts 22:2-3. Note the small letter father, he is not speaking of God but rather of the teachers naming one mentor specifically, and the teaching created a view of God found through the teachings, not through Scripture. This had led them down the pathway to not recognising the need for a personal Saviour, a personal relationship with God, in fact, it appears that they had forgotten the original Scriptures, for they did not recognise the Messiah when he came. It had also led them to reject anyone who did not follow their way and view, that is, Jesus, and placed Him on the cross when they were able (that is, when Jesus said that it was time). If they had read Psalm 119 enough times and followed its instructions, they would not have gotten themselves into this state: (15-16) I will meditate on Your precepts, and contemplate Your ways. I will delight myself in Your statutes; I will not forget Your word. Note the emphasis is on the word Your - that is God, not having the other words alone - statutes, precepts, way. Stephen was basically telling the men that they had lived in Haran, and had forgotten the need to go to Canaan.
We need to remember that these two verses have the same instruction for us, and Stephen's defence reminds us to know where it is where God wants us, and it is not where our parents have left us, or those that taught us the Scripture have left us. We have to build a personal relationship with God ourselves, and live for Him as He wants us to do. In all reality, we should have greater knowledge than our forefathers, as each generation should build on the wisdom taught by the previous; add to this, what the Holy Spirit through the Word teaches us, and for each of us to grow. Now, I recognise that not everyone will get the same understanding, for we are taught as we are able to understand, yet, through God all things are possible, so we need not stall at any point as James tells us (1:5-6) If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. The Jewish Council had stalled years before and were blind to this. In fact their ship had sunk.
Let us ponder further as to why Stephen uses Abraham, Joseph and Moses as his counter examples as to why the Jewish Council needed to reconsider their condition. There are a few reasons, and the examples Stephen uses have different messages for different people. However, the principle overarching lesson for us as a church, and the Church in general, is the whereabouts of God. You may say that this is simple, God is all around us, or, God is in heaven. But the real question is this, where is God, or what is God to you? This was the sin the Stephen was showing the Jewish Council, for God was no longer the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to them. The key words used by Stephen are these: "However, the Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands, as the prophet says: 'Heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool. What house will you build for Me? says the Lord, or what is the place of My rest? Has My hand not made all these things? 'The Jewish religion of the day worshipped the Temple, and worshipped the law - the two charges brought against Stephen - "This man does not cease to speak blasphemous words against this holy place and the law. Where is God in this for blasphemy is normally to speak against God, not against a building, or the law, which was their law, not so much the Old Testament law.
So how do these latter thoughts apply to the statement related to the whereabouts of God? Their God was the temple and their God was the law. Their religion was what was taught by the teachers, and the teachers were the authority. God Himself was missing in their lives; in fact, they had no real interest in God, except for their own purposes in maintaining their power base. So, you may ask, and rightly so, why use Abraham, Joseph and Moses. Let us get these men into their physical and geographical context. Abraham was spoken to by God in all sorts of places, the majority being nowhere near Caanan. Abraham was not a Jew. He was not a part of the covenant, though became the key in the Abrahamic covenant between God and a future nation. Yet God chose him, led him to Israel, that is, Caanan, and made a covenant with him. It was a relationship; the land was only a promise, as was the nation.
Let us move to Joseph. He was sold out of Caanan, the precious and favoured son of Jacob, and spent the rest of his life in Egypt. God was with him every step of the way, and guided him, enabling him to know and understand His ways, and His will, which Joseph followed implicitly, so we see that God's relationship with Joseph was impeccable, therefore, when there was a need to interpret dreams, God spoke through him to the Egyptians, for he had a purpose in mind, and a reason for it. When Pharaoh needed a leader, God pushed Joseph forward, directly from prison, to second in command, for long term and future requirements that God had for Joseph's family, and for the plundering of the wealth of Egypt some 400 years later. Joseph became second in command of all of Egypt, and never once worshipped in a Jewish temple, or followed the Law, for neither were in existence, yet God was there, and Joseph worshipped God without Scripture, a priestly system, pastoral care, or any other props - only God himself.
Finally Moses - the friend of God. Moses first met with God at age 80, after he made a major mistake in life at the age of 40. Exodus chapter 2 tells when he kills an Egyptian, as he was thinking he could be their saviour. However the next day he showed himself unto them as they strove-- Here, not an Israelite and an Egyptian, but two parties in Israel itself, are in collision with each other; Moses, grieved at the spectacle, interposes as a mediator; but his interference, as unauthorized, is resented by the party in the wrong, whom Stephen identifies with the mass of the nation (Ac 7:35), just as Messiah's own interposition had been spurned. The latter comment we will return to, but after this we find Moses living in Midian, marrying a Midianite, and generally being an alien in a foreign land, the same as Joseph had been 400 years earlier. Exodus tells us the story: Chapter 3:1-4 Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father- in- law, the priest of Midian. And he led the flock to the back of the desert, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 And the Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush. So he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, but the bush was not consumed. Then Moses said, "I will now turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush does not burn."
So when the Lord saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, "Moses, Moses!" and he said, "Here I am." then He said, "Do not draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground."
Note that God comes to Midian and speaks with Moses. Note the ground is Holy ground, for where-ever God is on earth, the ground is Holy. It was not in Israel nor in the temple; in fact it was no-where in particular - just the place noted to be Horeb the mountain of God, where the sheep were grazing with Moses. What made this the mountain of God? At this stage in history, nothing had, it is just noted as such by God. Jerusalem is the city God has designated as His - In Judah God is known; His name is great in Israel. In Salem also is His tabernacle, and His dwelling place in Zion Psalm 76:1-2. Yet many miles away in a different part of the world is Horeb is where God talks to Moses.
Stephen was telling the Council that their precious temple, and their precious laws were no more a part of God than anything else. Their worship was not towards God, their relationship was with objects and ideas, and again I emphasise not God. The Jewish religion as it were had moved from being God focused, to focus on what gave them power, that which people had to come to - the temple, and had to follow - the laws, which they the priests could enforce.
Stephen is telling us the same thing. The lessons are there for the modern church. I go back to the original question: Where is God in your life? Is it a personal relationship, or is it an object? We all tend to drift into this very same trap. We worship an idea, or a pet theological argument, to the detriment of God Himself in our lives. We get sucked into building great cathedrals, wearing fancy robes, having set rituals, praying certain prayers, singing certain tunes, having a set music style. Human nature loves symbolism and liturgy. We gather on a Sunday, rather than the Lord's Day, and sing, and read, and pray and preach, and God is out there somewhere, wondering where He fits in, as we absorb ourselves in entertaining ourselves, creating a good program, and meeting the expectations of the audience, who was God in the beginning, but seems to be left down the back somewhere, or out in the chapel, or shining through the stain glass window. You can see why the Council got a little upset, for Stephen was basically saying, you have made your own selves and your stuff, the object of your own worship, therefore, you were blind when Christ came by, for your no longer had Him in your focus.
The final book of the Old Testament, noted these words:
"A son honours his father, and a servant his master.
If then I am the Father, where is My honour? and if I am a Master, where is My reverence? says the Lord of hosts.
To you priests who despise My name. Yet you say, 'In what way have we despised Your name? ' "You offer defiled food on My altar, but say, 'In what way have we defiled You? ' By saying ,'The table of the Lord is contemptible. ' And when you offer the blind as a sacrifice, Is it not evil? and when you offer the lame and sick, is it not evil? Offer it then to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you favourably?" Says the Lord of hosts. Malachi 1:6-7
Compare these verses in Malachi, written several hundred years before the Stephen defence, to the situation on a few years prior to period we are studying:
Then Jesus went into the temple of God and drove out all those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. And He said to them, " It is written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer,' but you have made it a 'den of thieves. '" Matthew 21:12-13
Looking at these verses you can see that the time of Malachi and the time of our Lord were much the same in terms of their relationship with God; their focuses on everything but God. I put to you that the situation today is very much the same as these two periods. In fact Malachi could be the lament of God to a modern Christian ear about the modern Christian church. So we see Stephen is saying the same thing and these scholars would have read Malachi, and not having understood that the passage was directed at them. Perhaps Stephen's words triggered a realisation that this is exactly what Malachi was about, or the other prophets who made similar accusations against the corrupt priests of their day.
Let us move on to Stephen's next comparison. We can see this in the previous quoted passage related to Moses and his original rejection as a messiah to the oppressed people, and we also know that Joseph also is a picture of rejected as well. Moses killed an Egyptian in his enthusiasm to show the people that he really wasn't an Egyptian prince, rather one of them, however he was rejected when he went to mediate. He needed to escape, and then spent forty years in exile. When he returned his relationship with the people was turbulent, always bordering on rejection, and when he was with God those forty days receiving the law, they turned to a golden calf as a god assuming Moses to be dead. Joseph was of course rejected by his brothers and cast into a pit, from whence he was taken as a slave to Egypt. Also in the mix of rejection is the temple as the place to worship God, for Stephen uses their worship of the temple as part of this argument as he says in verses 49-50 'Heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool. What house will you build for Me? says the Lord, Or what is the place of My rest? Has My hand not made all these things?' which we also see Peter writing a similar complaint: 1 Peter 2:4-8 we read: Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, "Behold, I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious, and he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame." Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient, "The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone," and "A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense." They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed.
The words to the Council were that Israel rejected the prophets sent by God, rejecting the chief cornerstone - the stone that that they should have been worshiping, rather than the stone of a temple. The rejection of the prophets, leading to the rejection of Christ is familiar territory. We regularly read Isaiah 53 as part of the communion service: Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected by men. As another example, Amos says that: I raised up some of your sons as prophets, and some of your young men as Nazirites. Is it not so, O you children of Israel?" Says the Lord. "But you gave the Nazirites wine to drink, and commanded the prophets saying, 'Do not prophesy! '12:11-12 Stephen is saying that history just repeated and repeated itself all the way from Abraham to now. "This Moses whom they rejected, saying, 'Who made you a ruler and a judge? ' is the one God sent to be a ruler and a deliverer by the hand of the Angel who appeared to him in the bush. He brought them out, after he had shown wonders and signs in the land of Egypt, and in the Red Sea, and in the wilderness forty years.
Stephen is reminding them in this passage that the Lord Jesus also showed signs and wonders, and Him they rejected was the ruler and judge. They had followed the pattern of Moses; and Stephen does not mince his words in telling them this. He then brings to them words "You stiff- necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears!“ Circumcision was a practice they knew, after all, it was a ritual and rituals were part of their ordered religious lives, again, an action, not God was the object of worship. Stephen uses the word circumcision as being related to their hearts, showing that what they did was empty, for it is the heart that requires change, and chopping off a small body part was not achieving anything of spiritual significance. He tells them that they have not changed spiritually and therefore the ritual of circumcision was pointless. They were deaf to God for they had executed His Son, their hearts were hard and uncircumcised for the teaching of Christ, his grace towards them did not bear fruit, even though he spent much time with them, even in their homes.
This phrase was not only used by Stephen but he echoes, for example, Psalm 78:8 And may not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation that did not set its heart aright, and whose spirit was not faithful to God. The reference to the heart can also be read in the same vein as uncircumcised heart. However Stephen was talking of Moses, and with the golden calf episode the Lord says to Moses as recorded in Scripture the Council had: And the Lord said to Moses, "I have seen this people, and indeed it is a stiff- necked people! The problem had been around for years! Stephen rightly was pointing out that heart change is what was needed.
The lesson for the church today is exactly the same. Are we a stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart? What makes a heart uncircumcised? As, Stephen used the Scripture of the day, the Old Testament, let us too use these books and get an answer: 'But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers, with their unfaithfulness in which they were unfaithful to Me, and that they also have walked contrary to Me, and that I also have walked contrary to them and have brought them into the land of their enemies; if their uncircumcised hearts are humbled, and they accept their guilt&mdash then I will remember My covenant with Jacob, and My covenant with Isaac and My covenant with Abraham I will remember. The end point is confession, and humbling of the heart.
When these two ingredients are missing we have an uncircumcised heart. A right relationship with God cannot come without repentance. Stephen was basically saying to them - you unrepentant people. He was also saying - you lack humbleness! What are the qualities required of the priesthood? "Take the Levites from among the children of Israel and cleanse them ceremonially. Thus you shall do to them to cleanse them:.. Thus you shall separate the Levites from among the children of Israel, and the Levites shall be Mine. After that the Levites shall go in to service the tabernacle of meeting. Numbers 8:6-7,14-15. They were from a specific tribe, they had to be cleansed, they were to separate themselves, and serve the Lord. Cleansing was ceremonial, and part of the ceremony was offering sacrifices for sins, that is repentance. Today is no different for all of us, for we are all kings and priests, therefore, we all are to serve the Lord, and we are all to be repentant and cleanse ourselves to be able to have this same and right relationship with God. We find various Scriptural verses related to this, for example: As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. Revelation 3:19.
The church therefore, can learn from this that Stephen is actually spot on for today's church, as if anything else could be different! If we do not want to be like the Jewish Council, whose hearts were hard, continuing in the sins of their fathers, rejecting the prophets and relying on each other in their rituals and material expressions of religion we need to: Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:19-25) Note the importance of the heart in this passage.
Paul of course was at the death of Stephen (assuming he wrote Hebrews), and he would have heard his defence. He vindicates the words of Stephen by acknowledging that the uncircumcised heart needs to be instead true, sprinkled (repentance), and the confession of hope. Where does our hope come from? The Scripture provides the evidence for the hope, so we must not be like the Council and reject the prophets, rather read, study, and embrace the promises that God provides in His Word so that we can: always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you 1 Peter 3:15.
Finally, we need to take heed of the final words of this portion of Scripture: You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. As the modern church, again nothing has changed, and the Holy Spirit should have the same role in our lives as explained in the New Testament. John 14:26 tells us: But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you. John repeats this information in his letter: But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him. 1 John 2:27
Jesus Christ sent to us the Holy Spirit. He ensured that through His death on the cross, His resurrection, and His salvation through His shed blood, enables us to be holy, righteous in the sight of God, and this comes through Christ cloaking us and the Holy Spirit dwelling within us. In fact we know that: Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are. 1 Corinthians 3:16-17. God has made us habitable for the Holy Spirit, and has provided the Holy Spirit to teach us. He provides His Word needed to lead a life for Christ; in Christ, holy, humble, meek, and godly. He enables us to have the ability to know God himself, having direct access to God provided to us through the death of our Lord, when the veil was torn top to bottom, with Jesus Christ himself as our mediator, and the Holy Spirit to pray for us when we know not what to express.
Each one of us can learn from the prophets, from Abraham, Joseph and Moses. We can have hearts for God, not stiff necked, with uncircumcised hearts. We need to focus our worship on God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ. We need to ignore the bricks and mortar, the rituals and methodologies that infuse the churches in most subtle ways. If we find this hard, we need stop and reassess habitual worship on Sundays, and re-discover worship on the Lord's Day congruent to Scriptural teachings, and remembering the Lord in simple fashion maybe with two or three fellow Christians as mentors to help you break through your hard heart, rediscovering Christ the Saviour, God the omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent, glorious, LORD of all, rediscovering how to reverently fear God, and love Him directly. God wants us to corporately worship Him, to be unified, so I am not advocating forming splinter groups, rather, creating space to rid oneself of bad habits and ways, in order to enhance corporate worship with those that are also living stones, the bride of Christ, with one Head that is Christ, one King, one Saviour, one Scripture and one purpose, all praise to the glory of God.
May we be able to pray a similar prayer to this of A.W. Tozer:
“O God, I have tasted Thy goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. I am painfully conscious of my need for further grace. I am ashamed of my lack of desire. O God, the Triune God, I want to want Thee; I long to be filled with longing; I thirst to be made more thirsty still. Show me Thy glory, I pray Thee, so that I may know Thee indeed. Begin in mercy a new work of love within me. Say to my soul, ‘Rise up my love, my fair one, and come away.' Then give me grace to rise and follow Thee up from this misty lowland where I have wandered so long.“ ― A.W. Tozer
 Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary, Act 7:26 on line at http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/jamieson-fausset-brown/acts/ (accessed 13 October 2013)
 Tozer, A.W. (1948) The Pursuit of God - see Following Hard After God http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1082290.A_W_Tozer