This is the photo I would have used on the 25th had the internet been working 🙂
The narrative of chapter six continues into chapter seven without interruption despite the chapter break: Stephen stands falsely accused before the Sanhedrin, and these false accusations have been made against him, probably at the prompting of his judges. The fateful question is asked in 7:1, “Are these charges true?”
Any lawyer would tell you that the only possible responses to such a question are: yes, no, I can’t recall or I don’t know, for this is not the time for a speech. Stephen, not being a cautious man, made a speech instead…
His speech is recorded in 7:2-33. In it, he recounts the long history of Israel, beginning with Abraham and the Patriarchs, and continuing through the Prophets and ending with charges of his own leveled directly at the very Sanhedrin before whom he stood: They, like their ancestors, had murdered the One whom their God had sent to them, for they did not care to hear God’s message and they went mad with rage.
Scholars, teachers and preachers have told this story in many ways, some focusing on the academic aspects of Stephen’s words and theology, others centering on the presence and work of the Spirit in the story, and many others have taken various other tacts to suit the present needs of their students or congregations, and I would not presume to criticize any of these approaches. Yet it strikes me that there is something at work in this case that deserves mention and which is often overlooked, which is the fact that Stephen, in his speech, that was so unwise by human standards is actually playing a divinely inspired role as a prophet, as he leveled God’s indictment upon the very men who were responsible for the murder of His Son.
As a reminder, the prophets of old were sent to the people to bring God’s message; they were His messengers. Those minor and major prophets of the Old Testament were bringing a message of indictment, playing the role we might say, of a prosecuting attorney, letting the people know just exactly what God saw that was objectionable in their conduct of His Nation; they were not merely there to predict the future, as many today seem to think. Thus, if we look at Stephen’s words in Acts 7, we cannot help but recognize a prophet at work, and just as with the prophets of old, the leaders of the people who were at fault for what was going on, went out of their minds with rage.
There is nothing new under the sun.
We might also note that nobody in this august group of great men even stopped to consider that their Roman overlords might object to their execution of Stephen without Roman approval, for they were so desperate to silence the truth he had spoken to them, and with this, the persecution of the Church began, and along with it, the rising of political tensions between the Jews and the Romans that would ultimately result in the complete destruction not only of the their beloved Temple, but of the ceremonial practices of the Old Covenant that Jesus had already made utterly obsolete. In the process, the preaching of the Gospel would also be forced out of Jerusalem, and it would spread to the far corners of the earth, just as God had planned it, with the eternal irony that the very Jewish leaders, who were acting to silence it, caused its spread.
Make no mistake, dear reader, the excitement is only just getting started, as you will see when we get back together next time.
…when the words simply do not come, and your humble correspondent is no different from anyone else. Most of the time, we just write any old thing; gibberish if necessary, and then the words begin to flow, yet even that old writer’s trick doesn’t work every time.For this particular writer, the past few weeks have been “writer’s block” in the extreme, and when coupled with internet service interruptions during the day, I finally shut my computer down, and went outside and launched an all-out offensive against weeds and snakes.
No doubt you’ll be happy to know that the weeds mounted fierce resistance while loosing significant ground, as the snakes encountered high casualties and are in headlong retreat, while this reporter suffered nothing more than a few cuts and scrapes from hidden thorns and thistles…
The battle for the flower beds will rage throughout the summer, with the weeds launching endless counter attacks, but the snakes are definitely on the run as their cover is more and more sparse… and finally the ability to focus on writing has returned (I think).
We’ll get back on track with Acts… and I have a few other little things rolling around my head that will most likely find their way onto the blog this week, as long as the internet keeps working… and I have lots of new photos to add along the way.
Until then, sorry for the unplanned interruption, and I’ll see you next time!
Speaking in Love: What is that exactly?
About 20 years ago, I heard a man say to his brother, “F*** you! And I mean that in love!” It struck me at the time that his definition of love might be an unusual one. Other people almost hide the truth so that they are speaking in love; is that really love?
Paul made an interesting comment:
f I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
1 Corinthians 13:1
Love is clearly a big deal for the Christian because Jesus has commanded that we love one another. (John 13:34). In the next chapter, Jesus tells His disciples that if they love Him they must obey His commands. (14:15); therefore since He commanded that we love one another, and if we love Him we must obey, we must love one another if we love Jesus. If we don’t love one another then we don’t love Jesus: Tough spot!
Love in the Biblical sense is not an emotion; it has nothing to do with romance. It is a commitment to put others ahead of ourselves in service to God. If we love God and we are His servants, then we must put others ahead of ourselves: this is what godly love looks like!
As love relates to speech, it looks like someone who will tell the truth, never speak rashly or in anger, and someone who always speaks in a manner that is uplifting, empowering and in truth. If our brother has fallen into sin, then love requires that we speak to that brother in a manner that helps him to see his error and that brings him back to God. Of course this is done not as a rebuke, but as an encouragement. Speech that is not in love is just noise; speech that is in love is a life-giving thing.
Funny isn’t it… Biblical love always seems to come back to self. Serving God and serving self just don’t go together very well.
When things are going along well, we are able to take of routine maintenance and keep up with the necessary repairs, but in rough times these things can get away from us. When it comes to a house, we might end up with peeling paint, a sagging roof or floors and even a few broken windows. If this trend continues unchecked, a house can become a ruin.
Houses are not the only things that can suffer when the owners don’t keep up with regular maintenance. Spiritually the same thing can take place.
When things are right, we spend time in God’s Word, we have time each day for prayer; time to spend with the Lord. When we are doing this, we will probably have no problem serving others, giving or going to classes or small groups at church… These kinds of things are the regular maintenance of a spiritual life. Every so often, however, we might let some aspect of spiritual maintenance slip, and then another area, then another. Before we know it, our spiritual lives become ruins…
Houses can be renovated and restored and so can we. Don’t skip church! Take time for God every day and get back into His Word; better yet don’t let any of these things slip!
I know, some times these things require some effort, but that’s normal enough for Jesus told us to “make every effort to enter through the narrow door…” (Luke 13:24)
A little effort can go a very long way in keeping our spiritual houses in order.
Having mentioned his name for the first time in the previous section as one of the seven to be placed over the widows’ ministry, Luke now turns to the story of Stephen. It would appear that Stephen had been doing great work in his ministry, even including wondrous signs among the people, and a certain group of Jews became unhappy with his God-inspired work. Here, for the first time, Luke tells of opposition that had not come from the priests or the Sadducees, but this time from among the people.
The source of the opposition was certain members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen, which in those days was a center of Jewish social, educational and cultural life. The Freedmen were emancipated slaves, or their descendants from provinces in North Africa and Asia Minor, thus they were Hellenistic Jews. The synagogues were largely influenced by Pharisees rather than Sadducees, who were usually more interested in temple operations than synagogic operations.
From the text, it would seem that these people had interpreted Stephen’s teaching about salvation coming from Christ alone as a repudiation of the temple and the Law… which in a certain sense it is. They debated with Stephen on these themes, and Stephen more than held his own, surprising them with the knowledge that the Spirit had given to him. So, in the end, these good folk did what any God-fearing and righteous person would do, they accused Stephen before the Sanhedrin, and gave false testimony against him.
As this criminal behavior on the part of the good and righteous men of the Synagogue of the Freedmen was taking place, everyone who looked at Stephen saw a man without a care in the world, so unconcerned was he about the proceedings, for he appeared to them to be in the very presence of God; in the realm of angels.
Next time, it will be Stephen’s turn to speak, and what happens is one of the greatest addresses of the entire book of Acts; see you then!