Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Acts 7: Message and Martyrdom

Stephen's speech before the Sanhedrin is far more than simply a speech with a climactic denouncement of the Sanhedrin as men who have more in common with those who killed the prophets than with those who followed them. An amazing level of complexity is wrapped into a message which both answers the charges against him (from Acts 6:13-14) and presents a number of important truths along the way. Among Stephen's points are:
  1. God's plan is, and always has been, progressive and changing. Whether in the calling of Abraham or the shift from the Land to Egypt to the desert and back to the Land, or whether in the giving of the Law and the shift from the tabernacle to the Temple, God's concern has been the advancement of His salvific program with His people.
  2. God's blessings aren't limited to the Land and the Temple. God blessed his people in many places and in many ways apart from the Temple and the Land. God desires the expansion of His Kingdom well beyond these narrow borders to the entire world and its people.
  3. Israel's history is one of rejection of what God is doing, and the Sanhedrin of Stephen's own day are in line with that history. By referring to them as "stiff-necked, with uncircumcised hearts and ears," Stephen is drawing on prophetic language to connect his judges to the ones who were judged by God rather than the faithful remnant.
The most stunning part of Acts 7 for me though isn't Stephen's speech, even though it is the major portion of the chapter. What is more arresting for me is the parallels Luke draws between Jesus' death and Stephen's martyrdom. Even more compelling is the fact that Stephen sees the Lord standing in heaven to receive him. When everyone else has abandoned Stephen and his accusers are killing him, Jesus stands in honor of His dying saint. That encourages me on a level too deep for words. What kind of a God does that for those who serve Him with their dying breaths?

1 comment:

stephenwillcox said...

Thanks for that Joe! I was really blessed by this post.