Reader: “You stubborn people!”
Response: “You are heathen at heart and deaf to the truth.”
Scripture: Acts 7:44-56
“Our ancestors carried the Tabernacle with them through the wilderness. It was constructed according to the plan God had shown to Moses. Years later, when Joshua led our ancestors in battle against the nations that God drove out of this land, the Tabernacle was taken with them into their new territory. And it stayed there until the time of King David.
“David found favor with God and asked for the privilege of building a permanent Temple for the God of Jacob. But it was Solomon who actually built it. However, the Most High doesn’t live in temples made by human hands. As the prophet says,
‘Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
Could you build me a temple as good as that?’
asks the Lord.
‘Could you build me such a resting place?
Didn’t my hands make both heaven and earth?’
“You stubborn people! You are heathen at heart and deaf to the truth. Must you forever resist the Holy Spirit? That’s what your ancestors did, and so do you! Name one prophet your ancestors didn’t persecute! They even killed the ones who predicted the coming of the Righteous One—the Messiah whom you betrayed and murdered. You deliberately disobeyed God’s law, even though you received it from the hands of angels.”
The Jewish leaders were infuriated by Stephen’s accusation, and they shook their fists at him in rage. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand. And he told them, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand!”
Reader: “The word of the Lord.”
Response: “Thanks be to God.”
Today we come to the climax of Stephen’s defense. He continued the history review from Moses and the Law on through the account of the Tabernacle in the wilderness to the building of the Temple under Solomon. (Remember the false charges against Stephen had to do with the Law of Moses and worship at the Temple.) At this point, Stephen delivered the truth that exploded the situation! He simply applied the truth of the case he had been building to the current situation. He equated their repudiation of Christ with the Israelites rejection of Moses and the prophets. The Israelites’ killing of prophets and their killing of Jesus were equal acts of unbelief and rejection of the Holy Spirit. After all, Moses had prophesied of the coming of the Messiah. Like the Israelites 1400 years before them, they were not only rejecting Christ, they were also rejecting Moses’ prophecy! At this point, The Jewish leaders went catatonic. Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit, gazed heavenward and saw the glory of God. In his expression, he used the phrase, “Son of Man,” standing at the right hand of God. Other than Jesus, this is the only time this apocalyptic title was used. The significance here lies in the truth that for the first time since the dawn of creation, the Messiah, the Son of God, was on the throne of the universe interceding on behalf of all people. The earthly mission of redemption was completed and functioning. Stephen saw that glorious sight as he was martyred. What do we see in this man? Graciousness, wisdom, unwavering conviction, courage, boldness, serenity, self-control, no, Holy Spirit control, knowledge, humility, compassion, and great faith. Let’s aim for those things today.
Music: “Once to Every Man and Nation” Fountainview Academy
Once to ev’ry man and nation
Comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth and falsehood,
For the good or evil side;
Some great cause, some great decision,
Off’ring each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever
‘Twixt that darkness and that light.
By the light of burning martyrs,
Christ, Thy bleeding feet we track,
Toiling up new Calv’ries ever
With the cross that turns not back;
New occasions teach new duties,
Ancient values test our youth;
They must upward still and onward,
Who would keep abreast of truth.
Then to side with truth is noble,
When we share her wretched crust,
Ere her cause bring fame and profit,
And ’tis prosperous to be just;
Then it is the brave man chooses
While the coward stands aside,
Till the multitude make virtue
Of the faith they had denied.
Tho’ the cause of evil prosper,
Yet the truth alone is strong;
Tho’ her portion be the scaffold,
And upon the throne be wrong;
Yet that scaffold sways the future,
And, behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow,
Keeping watch above his own. ―James Russell Lowell 1845, leading up to the Civil War
O Lord, Thy hands have formed us, and Thou hast sent us into this world, that we may walk in the way that leads to heaven and Thyself, and may find a lasting rest in Thee who art the Source and Center of our souls. Look in pity on us poor pilgrims in the narrow way; let us not go astray, but reach at last our true home where our Father dwells. Guide and govern us from day to day, and bestow on us food and strength for body and soul, that we may journey on in peace. Forgive us for having hitherto so often wavered or looked back and let us henceforward march straight on in the way of Thy laws, and may our last step be a safe and peaceful passage to the arms of Thy love, and the blessed fellowship of the saints in light. Hear us, O Lord, and glorify Thy name in us that we may glorify Thee for ever and ever. Amen.
―Gerhard Tersteegen 1697-1769, from Prayers Ancient and Modern, p.100