Read Acts 7:1-16
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. All rights reserved throughout the world. Used by permission of International Bible Society.
“Everybody has to decide what he or she believes constitutes winning and losing in life” (John Ortberg). What do you think?
The high priest’s question (1) is, in effect, an invitation for Stephen to mount his defense. His reply doesn’t quite deliver what we might expect. Instead of explaining his actions, pointing out that the whole thing was based on a misunderstanding or undermining the credibility of his accusers, he tells a story going back to Abraham. He is inviting the Sanhedrin to think again about Jesus in the light of the history they so prized and which they thought Jesus and his followers threatened. Like Peter at Pentecost, he starts with the story that shapes the lives and worldview of his hearers.
It is a story of God’s activity. Note all the verbs that have God as their subject. Israel’s story is God’s story: his promise (5), his salvation, his preservation and protection (10). Stephen’s hearers would not have disputed this, but they had not seen the implications. They had made themselves the center of the story. We, too, can assume that the story is ours rather than God’s. We can try to preserve what is familiar, rather than identifying what God is doing and moving on with him. Church is about God and his saving activity in the world, not about us.
It is also a story about suffering. Jacob’s family suffers in Canaan (11) and Joseph suffers at the hands of his brothers and again in Egypt (9,10). It is strange that, with suffering at the heart of their story, the leaders of Jesus’ time completely missed the significance of suffering. Victory was their aspiration and survival the immediate objective, but at the heart of their faith and ours lies redemptive suffering. There is victory, but it is always costly. If we forget this, we lose the heart of God’s work of salvation.
What does this say to us and our churches in a world where power, prestige and status are the measures of success?