The Stoning of Stephen
54 Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. 55 But he, 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 he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together1 at him. 58 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
Saul Ravages the Church
8:1 And Saul approved of his execution.
And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. 2 Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. 3 But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.
Philip Proclaims Christ in Samaria
4 Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.
Or rushed with one mind
The Sadducees and Pharisees comprised the ruling class of Israel. There are many similarities between the two groups, but there are important differences between them as well.
First, the Sadducees: During the New Testament era, the Sadducees were aristocrats. They were wealthy and held powerful positions in society, including that of chief priests and high priest; they held the majority of the 70 seats of the ruling council called the Sanhedrin. Israel, at this time, was under heavy Roman rule. This made the Sadducees very politically motivated and it affected their religious priorities. Because of their power and position, they did not relate well to the common man nor did the common man hold them in high regard; this is much of the way we feel about our elected officials today. The common man related better to those who belonged to the party of the Pharisees. Though the Sadducees held the majority of seats in the Sanhedrin, the Pharisaic minority was very influential, because they were more popular with the masses.
While the Pharisees gave oral tradition equal authority to the written word of God, the Sadducees held more to the word of God as their authority. The Sadducees preserved the authority of the written word of God, especially the books of Moses (Genesis through Deuteronomy). The problem was they were still very misguided in their doctrine and practices because of many unbiblical positions they had formed and by which they lived.
The Sadducees played a major role in the arrest and murder of Jesus as He brought major political and religious threat to their ways of life (John 11:48-50; Mark 14:53; 15:1). They ceased to exist in approximately A.D. 70. Since this party existed because of their political and priestly ties, when Rome destroyed Jerusalem and the temple in A.D. 70, the Sadducees were also destroyed.
The Pharisees: In contrast to the Sadducees, the Pharisees were mostly middle-class businessmen and, therefore, were in more contact with the common man. They participated in the Sanhedrin and held positions as priests. While they accepted the written word as inspired by God, they also gave equal, or even higher, authority to oral tradition. The oral tradition was man-made laws and governing traditions that the Pharisees majored on and to which they held the people. Even though they knew Deuteronomy 4:2, which says, “You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you,” they did it anyway. Some of the examples of the Pharisees treating these traditions as equal to God’s word are found throughout the gospels (Matthew 9:14; 15:1-9; 23:5; 23:16, 23, Mark 7:1-23; Luke 11:42).
While the Sadducees ceased to exist after the destruction of Jerusalem, the Pharisees, who were more concerned with religion than politics, continued to exist. In fact, the Pharisees were against the rebellion that brought about Jerusalem’s destruction in A.D. 70, and they were the first to make peace with the Romans afterward.
Both the Pharisees and the Sadducees earned numerous rebukes from Jesus. Perhaps the best lesson we can learn from the Pharisees and Sadducees is to not be like them. Unlike the Sadducees, we do not look to man-made politics as our driving influence on the culture, but we look to the gospel of our Lord Jesus and His living word. Unlike the Pharisees, we are not to treat traditions as having any kind of equal authority as Scripture, and we are not to allow our relationship with God to be reduced to a legalistic list of rules and rituals. We are desperate for the gospel of Jesus Christ to be our power and salvation.
I want to highlight a few things related to the Pharisees and Sadducees that help us not only have a right view of them in our Bible reading but help us avoid falling into the same traps they did.
Matthew 5:17-20 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
To understand this, we must first start by asking: What is the law?
The word “law” in the New Testament has at least three different meanings when used in different contexts.
- It can refer to the whole Old Testament.
Romans 3:19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.
This is in reference to the entire Old Testament, because the preceding quotations come from the Psalms and prophets.
- It can refer to the particular commands of the Old Testament given to Moses.
In Matthew 5:17 Jesus says, “I have not come to abolish the law and the prophets.”
Here, the reference is to the law separate from the prophets. Specifically, the law here refers to that part of the Old Testament written by Moses, the first five books, called the Torah—the Hebrew word for law, commandment, or statute.
- It can refer to “works of the law” that the Pharisees added to build their man-made religion.
Romans 6:14 … you are not under law but under grace.
So, whenever we read the word “law” in the New Testament, we must ask: Is this a reference to the entire Old Testament, to just the writings of Moses (the Torah), or to the legalistic distortion of the Pharisees (the works of the law)?
The law of God is meant to give knowledge of sin by showing us our need for pardon and our danger of damnation, in order to lead God’s people, at God’s appointed time, into repentance and faith in Christ.
So, when Jesus says He came to fulfill the law, He is not saying He came to do away with it, but to be the central agent we need to survive the condemnation that the law rightly brings. Our inability to fulfill it requires someone to stand in obedience on our behalf. Praise God for the promised One, Jesus Christ!
What we must understand is that the moral law still stands today as God’s will and command for mankind to honor Him and live rightly. In this regard, the fact that the Pharisees were very devout in their obedience to God’s law is to be commended. In our Matthew 5:19-20 text, Jesus goes so far to tell us, “Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Here, we see the part of the Pharisees that was good. They were a very right-living, obedient group. They were the most righteous of men, the most devout rule-followers. For this, they were highly respected. God demands our obedience and wants us to honor Him with our days and our ways. We need to not throw out the command on us to live righteously when speaking of the failure of the Pharisees. Here, Jesus Himself says this is something we all must strive to do better—better than the Pharisees. That’s a tall order.
Now, with that said, where the Pharisees got into major trouble, and why they were a lost people in the end, was they went beyond God’s law and added their own rules and regulations. Even worse, the most damning fact was that they looked to their self-righteous adherence to the laws for their identity and for their salvation.
While we are called by God to obey His law, our utter failure to do so on our own should make us utterly desperate for one who can, in our place. This is the good news.
Only Jesus fulfills the demands of the law which called for perfect obedience under threat of a “curse”.
Galatians 3:10 and 13 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.”
While the Pharisees were good, they were not perfect and that is what the law demands—to have a right relationship with the holy God. Jesus took on what we deserve and gave us His righteousness to be reconciled to God.
Only Jesus fulfills the law, in that He releases His people who were once held captive by the law.
Galatians 3:23-26 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.
Trying to make their own way by right-living and religion is the lostness in which many are stuck today. Well, even the best of the best (the Pharisees and Sadducees) were damned and accused of falling short because they lacked the most important thing—perfection! We only have perfection in Jesus Christ. In opposition to self-righteous living and empty religion, we need the gospel. We need Jesus to be our righteousness and our power for living.
The Pharisees say, “Obey so that you can be accepted.” The gospel says, “You are accepted so that you can obey.”
This is the final takeaway I want to give you today. Many times, we say someone is being Pharisaical when they uphold the law of God—let’s be very careful here. We all are called to uphold and obey the law of God. Grace doesn’t mean we stop being obedient. What the Pharisees and Sadducees got wrong was they added to God’s law, rejected Christ as Savior, and instead tried to obey the law on their own. This we cannot do, nor must we try to do. We are desperate for Jesus alone.
Romans 1:16-17 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
By His grace and for His glory,
Pastor Joshua Kirstine
You Must Be Born Again
3:1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus1 by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again2 he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.3 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You4 must be born again.’ 8 The wind5 blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you6 do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.7 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.8
For God So Loved the World
16 “For God so loved the world,9 that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
John the Baptist Exalts Christ
22 After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing. 23 John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized 24 (for John had not yet been put in prison).
25 Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification. 26 And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” 27 John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. 28 You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ 29 The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.”10
31 He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all. 32 He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony. 33 Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. 34 For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. 35 The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. 36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.
Or from above; the Greek is purposely ambiguous and can mean both again and from above; also verse 7
The same Greek word means both wind and spirit
The Greek for you is plural here
The same Greek word means both wind and spirit
The Greek for you is plural here; also four times in verse 12
Some manuscripts add who is in heaven
Some interpreters hold that the quotation ends at verse 15
Or For this is how God loved the world
Some interpreters hold that the quotation continues through verse 36
Paying Taxes to Caesar
13 And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to trap him in his talk. 14 And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone’s opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances,1 but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?” 15 But, knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius2 and let me look at it.” 16 And they brought one. And he said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to him, “Caesar’s.” 17 Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at him.
The Sadducees Ask About the Resurrection
18 And Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection. And they asked him a question, saying, 19 “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife, but leaves no child, the man3 must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 20 There were seven brothers; the first took a wife, and when he died left no offspring. 21 And the second took her, and died, leaving no offspring. And the third likewise. 22 And the seven left no offspring. Last of all the woman also died. 23 In the resurrection, when they rise again, whose wife will she be? For the seven had her as wife.”
24 Jesus said to them, “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God? 25 For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 26 And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 27 He is not God of the dead, but of the living. You are quite wrong.”
The Great Commandment
28 And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. 33 And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.
Whose Son Is the Christ?
35 And as Jesus taught in the temple, he said, “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? 36 David himself, in the Holy Spirit, declared,
“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
until I put your enemies under your feet.”’
37 David himself calls him Lord. So how is he his son?” And the great throng heard him gladly.
Beware of the Scribes
38 And in his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces 39 and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, 40 who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
The Widow’s Offering
41 And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny.4 43 And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. 44 For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
Greek you do not look at people’s faces
A denarius was a day’s wage for a laborer
Greek his brother
Greek two lepta, which make a kodrantes; a kodrantes (Latin quadrans) was a Roman copper coin worth about 1/64 of a denarius (which was a day’s wage for a laborer)
Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit
22 Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. 23 And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” 24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” 25 Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. 26 And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? 27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. 30 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. 31 Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.
A Tree Is Known by Its Fruit
33 “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. 36 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
The Sign of Jonah
38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” 39 But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41 The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. 42 The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.
Return of an Unclean Spirit
43 “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. 44 Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. 45 Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.”
Jesus’ Mother and Brothers
46 While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers1 stood outside, asking to speak to him.2 48 But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49 And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”