About the Journey 7 - from Kerry

About the Journey - Acts 7:20-60 - from Kerry Flemington

“At that time Moses was born—a beautiful child in God’s eyes. His parents cared for him at home for three months. When they had to abandon him, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him and raised him as her own son. Moses was taught all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was powerful in both speech and action.
“One day when Moses was forty years old, he decided to visit his relatives, the people of Israel. He saw an Egyptian mistreating an Israelite. So Moses came to the man’s defense and avenged him, killing the Egyptian. Moses assumed his fellow Israelites would realize that God had sent him to rescue them, but they didn’t.
“The next day he visited them again and saw two men of Israel fighting. He tried to be a peacemaker. ‘Men,’ he said, ‘you are brothers. Why are you fighting each other?’
“But the man in the wrong pushed Moses aside. ‘Who made you a ruler and judge over us?’ he asked. ‘Are you going to kill me as you killed that Egyptian yesterday?’ When Moses heard that, he fled the country and lived as a foreigner in the land of Midian. There his two sons were born.
“Forty years later, in the desert near Mount Sinai, an angel appeared to Moses in the flame of a burning bush. When Moses saw it, he was amazed at the sight. As he went to take a closer look, the voice of the Lord called out to him, ‘I am the God of your ancestors—the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.’ Moses shook with terror and did not dare to look.
“Then the Lord said to him, ‘Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground. I have certainly seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their groans and have come down to rescue them. Now go, for I am sending you back to Egypt.’
“So God sent back the same man his people had previously rejected when they demanded, ‘Who made you a ruler and judge over us?’ Through the angel who appeared to him in the burning bush, God sent Moses to be their ruler and savior. And by means of many wonders and miraculous signs, he led them out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, and through the wilderness for forty years.
“Moses himself told the people of Israel, ‘God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from among your own people.’ Moses was with our ancestors, the assembly of God’s people in the wilderness, when the angel spoke to him at Mount Sinai. And there Moses received life-giving words to pass on to us. 
“But our ancestors refused to listen to Moses. They rejected him and wanted to return to Egypt. They told Aaron, ‘Make us some gods who can lead us, for we don’t know what has become of this Moses, who brought us out of Egypt.’ So they made an idol shaped like a calf, and they sacrificed to it and celebrated over this thing they had made. Then God turned away from them and abandoned them to serve the stars of heaven as their gods! In the book of the prophets it is written,
‘Was it to me you were bringing sacrifices and offerings
   during those forty years in the wilderness, Israel?
No, you carried your pagan gods—
   the shrine of Molech,
   the star of your god Rephan,
   and the images you made to worship them.
So I will send you into exile
   as far away as Babylon.’
“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!”
Then they put their hands over their ears and began shouting. They rushed at him and dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. His accusers took off their coats and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul.
As they stoned him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” He fell to his knees, shouting, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!” And with that, he died.
Acts 7:20-60

Who are we in this story? Are we Stephen - truth-tellers at all cost?  Or are we the Pharisees - self-preservers at all cost?
Stephen was one of the seven people selected to oversee the food distribution.  As he fulfilled this task, he continued to speak openly and passionately about Jesus in spite of the many warnings Christ’s followers had been given to stop spreading so-called blasphemous testimony.  Those who opposed him conspired against him, telling the religious leaders that Stephen was not only spreading Jesus’ blasphemous message but that he was speaking against Moses, one of the great patriarchs of Judaism, and the temple.
As Stephen stands before the religious leaders in yet another sham trial, he lays out the history of the Jewish people, starting with Abraham, then Moses, all the way through to David and finally the building of the temple.  He disproves the lies that have been spoken about him.  But he goes a step further.
Interspersed throughout Stephen’s history lesson are insights into the reality of that history that make the coming of Christ so very necessary: the repeated hard heartedness of God’s people toward their God. He not only shows his knowledge of the patriarchs and prophets, but also of his understanding of the human heart left to its own devices.  And as they point their righteous fingers at him, he points right back at them and pierces them with the truth: You! You are the ones who deliberately break God’s laws even though you have received them directly from God’s messengers.  They are so angry, so outraged, that they kill him right then and there.
What are we so fiercely guarding, having wrapped it in a righteous message so as to justify our actions, our way of living, our view of the world?  Stephen’s message is really simple: we were sinners back then, rejecting God, and we’re still sinners now, rejecting God.  Couching it all in Christian activity doesn’t change any of it - we are still fundamentally rejecting Christ even if it doesn’t appear that way.
I think the only way to ensure that we don’t become like the Pharisees, blind to our own fallenness, is through humility.  Daily, we need to check our certainties at the door and come before God, asking him for his perspective, his knowledge and understanding, asking him to illuminate his Word, and asking for his love and grace to flow through us.  On our own, we are not capable of any of this.  We will revert back to self-preservation and rightness at the first opportunity, all the while using God as our justification.  But the goal of Christianity isn’t us and what we want.  We keep putting ourselves in the God position, certain that we know how things are and how they should turn out, quick to correct others when we deem them to be going off-course.  There is nothing of God’s love, God’s grace, God’s goodness in this.  You and I don’t even know what’s going to happen to us in the next moment, let alone understanding the complex interactions that are happening all around us.  We need to stop.  We think Stephen’s fate is awful, and it is.  But the fate of those who stoned him is far worse.  And unfortunately, I think most of us are closer in likeness to them then we are to Stephen.

you can connect directly with Kerry at kerry@arnuthill.com

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