Read Acts 7:1-16

[1] Then the high priest asked Stephen, “Are these charges true?” [2] To this he replied: “Brothers and fathers, listen to me! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Harran. [3] ‘Leave your country and your people,’ God said, ‘and go to the land I will show you.’ [4] “So he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Harran. After the death of his father, God sent him to this land where you are now living. [5] He gave him no inheritance here, not even enough ground to set his foot on. But God promised him that he and his descendants after him would possess the land, even though at that time Abraham had no child. [6] God spoke to him in this way: ‘For four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated. [7] But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves,’ God said, ‘and afterward they will come out of that country and worship me in this place.’ [8] Then he gave Abraham the covenant of circumcision. And Abraham became the father of Isaac and circumcised him eight days after his birth. Later Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob became the father of the twelve patriarchs. [9] “Because the patriarchs were jealous of Joseph, they sold him as a slave into Egypt. But God was with him [10] and rescued him from all his troubles. He gave Joseph wisdom and enabled him to gain the goodwill of Pharaoh king of Egypt. So Pharaoh made him ruler over Egypt and all his palace. [11] “Then a famine struck all Egypt and Canaan, bringing great suffering, and our ancestors could not find food. [12] When Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent our forefathers on their first visit. [13] On their second visit, Joseph told his brothers who he was, and Pharaoh learned about Joseph’s family. [14] After this, Joseph sent for his father Jacob and his whole family, seventy-five in all. [15] Then Jacob went down to Egypt, where he and our ancestors died. [16] Their bodies were brought back to Shechem and placed in the tomb that Abraham had bought from the sons of Hamor at Shechem for a certain sum of money.

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.

Meditate

Consider

“Everybody has to decide what he or she believes constitutes winning and losing in life” (John Ortberg). What do you think?

Think Further

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.

Apply

What does this say to us and our churches in a world where power, prestige and status are the measures of success?