We travel back to a time in the early church and here in Acts 7 we meet Saul, who would soon become Paul, a driving force in establishing the early church. But on this day we see Saul stand by while the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul…and scripture says,
8:1 And Saul approved of their killing him. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.
The him they were killing was Stephen.One of many who answered God’s call. Stephen is first mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles as one of seven deacons appointed by the Apostles to distribute food and charitable aid to poorer members of the community in the early church. Other than the scripture as a guide in writing this blog I will look to one of my favorite commentaries…DBS, William Barclay. We have met Saul and now we shall meet Stephen, THE MAN WHO ANSWERED GOD’S CALL. The bible tells us that Stephen was full of grace and power and did much good among the people. There were some who argued with Stephen because they did not understand the wisdom and spirit he possessed. They contrived to get some other men to say they heard him blaspheme through spoken word both Moses and God. All of this stirred up the people and he was arrested and put on trial before the High Priest and the council. Stephen then stood up before them and defended himself.
Stephen chose history as a means of defense and cited certain truths as condemnation of his own nation. He reminded them that the people who heard God’s command were a great part of Israel’s history. He pointed to the fact that they, the Jews of their time , now at this time were afraid to step out. Their desire was to keep things as they were and regarded Jesus and his followers as dangerous innovators. Stephen reminded them that people had always worshiped God, even before there was a Temple. Now to the Jews the Temple was the most sacred of all places. Stephen believed that God dwelt everywhere the people would gather to worship and that did not sit well with the Jews. Then he made an astounding statement. All through the ages they had persecuted the prophets and abandoned the leaders whom God had raised up, including Jesus Christ, it was a natural conclusion to a disagreement. They were angered even more for these were hard truths for those people who believed they were chosen by God.
Standing before the High Priest and the Council Stephen proceeds with the history lesson and he starts with Abraham, it is with him that Jewish history began. Abraham was a man who answered God’s summons. As the writer to the Hebrews put it, Abraham left home without knowing where he was to go. Abraham was a man of faith. He did not know where he was going, but he trusted God’s guidance. Even though never seeing God’s promise fulfilled Abraham was a man of hope. As with Abraham we should be a people ready to answer God’s command, to move forward and not cling to the past. Stephen then moves on to Joseph his family which had sold him into Egypt. Joseph did well in Egypt and rose to a position of power there. When the famine struck the land Joseph’s father sent his brothers there to look for food. You know the story when they came before Joseph they were afraid he would kill them because of what they had done to him. He did not. He brought all his family there to be with him and gave them all they needed to live. Stephen sums up the characteristics of Joseph in two words – grace and wisdom. His grace transferred to a generous charm that put their fears to rest. Wisdom simply put for a Christian is the ability to see things as God sees them. It is as if Stephen is saying to these Jews…you are mired in the past and prisoners of your own law. Yours is not the view God sees of the future. Stephen continues on with the example of Moses. This was the man that answered God’s command to go out. It is said that this was a man that literally gave up a kingdom to answer God’s summons to be the leader of his people. Stephen now begins to raise the tempo of his defense….He says there is the continued disobedience of the people. He reminds them that they have been blessed with an abundance of the most amazing privileges. Their condemnation is justified because they had every chance to know better, they continuously rebelled against God. They had limited God to a Temple….his reasoning was they loved the Temple more than God. Their God was a God of all people and his Temple was the whole universe. Now comes the end…You have consistently persecuted the prophets…and then he slams the door in their faces by telling them….you have murdered the Son of God. For Stephen there is the sorrow that sees a people who have refused the destiny that God offered them.
I hope you will read Acts chapter 7 in full. We need a Stephen today to remind us to remember our Christian history, to look back at the courage of those whose willingness to step out gave us hope, courage, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Life is Good