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Stephen’s Speech to the Sanhedrin June 5, 2016

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on Acts 7:1-53.

Summary: In this passage, Stephen addressed the charges that the Jews had brought against him – namely, advocating the:

  • destruction of the temple in Jerusalem
  • abolition of the Mosaic law.

To this end, he rebuked the Jews, asserting that they:

  • focused on external things (e.g. the Mosaic law, the temple) – yet God wanted them to focus on spiritual things (e.g. the spirit of the law, His temple in heaven); Abraham was a paragon in this regard
  • hewed to the negative paradigm of their forefathers in resisting God’s call for them to focus on spiritual things; in particular, they consistently rejected those whom God sent to rebuke them – including 1) Moses, 2) the prophets, and 3) the final prophet – Jesus of Nazareth.

Thoughts: Here, Stephen furnished a lengthy response to the charges that the Jews brought against him. Calvin offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 1:

Stephen’s answer may at first seem silly. He began at the beginning, then went on and on making almost no mention of the matter in hand; there can be no greater fault than to say a lot but wander from the subject. But whoever studies this long speech carefully will find nothing superfluous in it…

…The main point concerned the temple and the ceremonies, and so the introductory part of his speech argued that their fathers were chosen by God to be a special people before there was any temple and before Moses was born. In the second part he told them that all the external rites God gave them through Moses were made to a heavenly pattern, and those who ignore the truth and go no further than the signs are being foolish.

When I first read this passage, I also thought that Stephen was rambling; thus, I failed to grasp the main point of his response. After re-reading it, I actually focused on a secondary point – i.e. the Jews consistently rejected those whom God sent to call them to genuine worship. In particular, they rejected:

  • Joseph, as his brothers were fueled by jealousy when they sold him into slavery
  • Moses, whom they rejected at least twice (even after he had delivered them from bondage to the Egyptians)
  • the prophets who predicted the arrival of the Messiah
  • the Messiah Himself – Jesus of Nazareth.

Thus, reading Calvin’s commentary was invaluable for my understanding of this passage, as his thoughts compelled me to focus on the distinction between external worship and spiritual worship.

In verses 21-23, we see that Moses was raised by Pharaoh’s daughter and spent about forty years in a privileged state before he went to his people. If I had been in Moses’ position, I doubt that I would have willingly surrendered my privileged status. In particular, I would have likely clung to the following temptations:

  • a fantastic education, especially in terms of engineering; the pyramids are a paragon of Egyptian knowledge in this regard
  • opulence; Egypt enjoyed the advantages of its geography, especially the presence of the Nile River
  • a plethora of beautiful women.

Somehow, though, God compelled Moses to surrender his privileged status and seek out the Israelites. How did Moses know that he was an Israelite by birth? Did he bemoan his fate while he lived as a foreigner in Midian? Did he long to return to Egypt and the inherent luxuries of Pharaoh’s household? I hope to meet Moses in the next life and ply him with these queries.

In this passage, we see that God called the Israelites toward genuine, spiritual worship. Calvin offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 49:

In short, when we receive the promise in faith, that causes God to listen to us and to reveal his power in the sacraments, as if he were present; but unless we rise up to him by faith, we shall not have his presence.

This caused me to ponder why believers often place undue value on external worship. I believe this stems from the fact that we rely on our senses; thus, our worship is shaped by our desire to quantify the world around us. We apply this principle in the following contexts:

  • evaluating our singing during worship services
  • determining the number of Gospel tracts that we have distributed during an outreach event
  • accounting for positive feedback after we have completed a service project.

Yet we cannot quantify genuine, spiritual worship of God; how, then, can we determine if God is pleased by our worship of Him? One thought is that God gives us a “warm, fuzzy feeling” if He is pleased with our worship of Him. While this feeling may be indescribable, God still chooses to communicate with us in this regard; thus, we need to be attuned to His Spirit at all times and respond to His internal feedback.

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