I know he’s not the most famous Bible hero, but I have a soft spot in my heart for Stephen. I don’t think I’ve shared this before, but I’ve planned for some time to name one of my children Stephen or Stephanie. The name is a Greek one which means “Crown.” He was appointed to help stave off a major division in the church before it became any more destructive, but apparently his major calling was in evangelism. As you know if you’re familiar with the story, Stephen was the first official martyr of the church.
The pattern’s one we’ve seen before: As soon as there’s an evangelistic movement, the Enemy moves in to squelch it. I’m sure he hates to hear the sound of true worship, and the sight of Christians trying to live in obedience disgusts him. But what really gets him riled up is the threat of losing some of his property, namely lost souls. So he inspired the religious leaders to haul Stephen into court.
What follows is a speech/sermon which Stephen delivered in front of the Sanhedrin. It’s pretty clear what happened at the end of it, but there’s a mystery which has produced some debate among Biblical scholars: What was the point he was making? Well, it’s obvious that his goal was to A) defend the Message and B) defend his teaching. But why is he bringing up these O.T. stories?
Please keep in mind that he’s delivering this sermon in front of the Sanhedrin. These men knew the Old Testament Scriptures backwards and forwards. Did Stephen really need to rehash the story of Abraham, Jacob, Joseph and Moses?!
In order to see his point we need to pick out the pattern of the stories. What did these characters have in common? What was the link that connected them?
I’ve done some research, and I’ve found two theories which seem to fit the facts. Today we’re going to focus on one, and then tomorrow we’ll look at the other one. Since the sermon takes up 53 verses, I thought it might be wise to split it up over two days.
Theory Number One is that Stephen was actually answering the charges against him. Twice in the official accusation they mention that Stephen was somehow speaking against “this holy place,” which was referring to the Temple. It’s hard to overestimate just how important the temple was to 1st century Jews. It was the center of their religious universe.
So what did Stephen point out? God appeared to Abraham in Mesopotamia. The Lord looked after, provided for and protected Joseph while he was in Egypt. The God of Abraham first appeared to Moses while in Midian. The Almighty took care of Israel while in the wilderness, and “Our forefathers had the tabernacle of the Testimony with them in the desert.” They had contact with the God of the Universe.
Do you see the pattern? The Jews had an idea that the land of Israel was the main place where God met his people. The Temple in particular was where men and the Lord met. It might've been special in some ways, but to think that the Lord was limited to the Holy Land betrayed a very small view of God. He’s the God of the entire universe, not just the God of Israel.
So how does this apply to us today? Do you have the idea that God is limited to a certain building or a certain people group or a certain nation? Maybe you don’t say it openly, but by your actions and focus it might as well be true.
He’s the Lord of all creation, and every person and every square inch of this universe is claimed by him. Have you forgotten about it?
Lord Jesus, how small is my view of you? What can I do to expand it?
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