Text: Acts 7:1-53, Genesis 15:13-14, Deuteronomy 18:15
Dragged before the Sanhedrin, Stephen’s platform was a courtroom packed with men determined to put an end to the shockwaves caused by Christ’s resurrection. He’d endured a trial shored up by false witnesses and fabricated stories. And now, staring down the barrel of a trumped-up guilty verdict, perhaps knowing he’d be sentenced to death for his faith, Stephen went for the spiritual jugular.
“Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They even killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become. You received the law under the direction of angels and yet have not kept it.”
Standing before them, Stephen mapped out the long history of idol worship among the Jews. He didn’t have to bribe witnesses or plant evidence to prove that God’s people chronically looked to idols instead of turning to the one true God. The Jews were prone to put their hope in:
Their promised land instead of the God who created it (vv. 2-3).
Their house of worship instead of the intended object of worship (vv. 43).
Their law instead of the God who handed it down (vv. 53).
When we look at Scripture through a rearview mirror, it’s easy to adopt a posture of chronological snobbery. We read stories like Stephen’s and see the religious leaders through the lens of “us vs. them.” They are the villains of the New Testament. Perhaps when we read Stephen’s sermon, we imagine ourselves in his place, preaching our guts out for the glory of God. But it’s good to remember that we could easily swap places with the judges who condemned him to death.
Idols have a gravitational pull on our hearts too. There is a tendency among God’s people in every generation to worship something or someone other than the one true God. And we still have a nasty habit of throwing stones toward those who remind us that our own idol worship is futile and sinful.
But read Stephen’s sermon again. Let it marinate. Stephen’s words map out Israel’s rebellions, but there’s a parallel trajectory telling the story of God’s remarkable faithfulness.
He was faithful to Abraham, and to Joseph, too (vv. 2-6, 9-10).
He never turned His back on Jacob, the deceiver (vv. 12-16).
He remained with Moses (vv. 17-36).
The Israelites may have rejected their human leader as they wandered around in the desert, but God never did. He never has. He never will.
Stephen was sharing this key truth with the Sanhedrin: all of humanity—every last one of us—is prone to reject God’s gifts and worship idols instead, prone to hide from the God who made us. That’s been true in every generation since the Garden of Eden.
Before a call to repentance pierced our own hearts, we also rejected the Truth that Jesus is the Promised Savior we desperately need. But even so, God is faithful and merciful in every season. Therefore, we ought to repent and believe, because Jesus, the Righteous One, was murdered to pay the penalty for all our sins for all time.
Our hope is built on Christ alone—not land, or temples, or laws. The religious leaders may have covered their ears and tried not to listen, but they couldn’t change the truth Stephen died telling: God is faithful. He was with Stephen that day, and He is present with us now. Looking back we see His grace and forgiveness. Looking forward we see His coming rescue.
Erin Davis is an author, blogger, and speaker who loves to see women of all ages run to the deep well of God’s Word. When she’s not writing, you can find Erin chasing chickens and children on her small farm in the Midwest.