Stephen is Stoned for Being God-Centered
February 25, 2016 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments
Posted in: Pastoral Encouragement
I really like the story of Stephen found in Acts 6 & 7. Here is a man selected to serve as a member of the first “deacon board” and “to serve tables,” as the disciples said (6:2). And yet (hmm… I use the word “yet” as if this is unexpected, unusual, or even inappropriate) Stephen was a man “full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (6:5) and “full of grace and power” (6:8); he performed “great wonders and signs among the people” (6:8); and the people “could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking” (6:10). Acts 7 is a recorded sermon that Stephen gave before the Jewish high priests and Pharisees. Stephen was a remarkable man of God! I pray that I could be, and that our elders and deacons would be, like Stephen.
Stephen’s sermon, though, used to cause me to scratch my head. He was on trial for speaking against the temple and the Mosaic law, as if preaching Jesus would “change the customs that Moses delivered to” the Jews (6:13-14). In response to these accusations Stephen retells the story of Genesis and Exodus for 45 verses, spends 5 verses recounting the rest of the Old Testament, and then concludes by saying, “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you” (7:51). Does he even address the accusations? Why spend so much time retelling the Old Testament story to a group of men who have it memorized? How does he jump to his conclusion in verse 51? Is he looking to be killed?
I have recently come to understand the genius of Stephen’s sermon and how it applies to us.
1. Stephen Centers the Old Testament Story on God’s Activity, not Moses. The accusations against Stephen revealed that the Jewish leaders esteemed Moses as the sovereign administrator of their religious faith and practice. Stephen reminds them, and us, that the stories of Abraham, Moses, and the Exodus are really one story of God forming a people for himself from Abraham. Moses was just a member of the cast in what God was doing. Stephen then briefly touches on Joshua, David, and Solomon to illustrate that this is the consistent thread throughout the Old Testament. God made a promise (covenant) and has been faithfully consistent in fulfilling that promise. Why would it be any different today?
2. Stephen Rebukes the Jewish Leaders for Missing God’s Work in Christ. The other consistent part of the Old Testament story is that the “people of God” often missed God. Stephen highlights this in the story of Moses and the Exodus, and alludes to this when he speaks about the role of the temple. The Jewish leaders before Stephen, the same group that handed Jesus over to Pilate to be crucified, were no different from the Israelites in the Exodus. God was working among them and they miss it.
Stephen’s sermon challenges us to not only read our Bibles with an eye for God and his work at the center of the story, but also to view our lives as a smaller part of God’s bigger story. Consider, for example, how Paul speaks to the Christians at Ephesus. They were chosen by God before the foundation of the world (1:4). God works all things according to the counsel of his will (1:11). God raised them together with Christ (2:6). They were God’s workmanship (2:10). They were to put on the new self, “created after the likeness of God” (4:24) and were to be “imitators of God” (5:1). The concluding challenge was to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (6:10). It is not our story, nor anyone else’s story, in which we are trying to “fit” God. It is God’s story and we are called to awaken to that reality.
In whose story do you find yourself? What role does God play? What is God doing in your life today? Are you missing it?