Lord, help me never to make ‘the way we do things’ and obstacle to seeing what new things you would teach me.
Stephen’s brilliance is seen in the way he reminds his hearers of aspects of their story they have conveniently skated over, or airbrushed. They are God’s people but often by default and never by merit. One thing never changed: they were experts at grumbling, even after deliverance from Egypt. Such a spirit can easily become endemic in a church, so that any initiative is met with open challenge and hostility. it is a tribute to those God raises up that they are not deflected from their task. Moses did set God’s people free, and he led them to the promised Land via Mount Sinai.
Here the law was given, the very law that Stephen accused of speaking against. Stephen’s accusers gave the impression that they were, from day one, guardians of the law. But the facts trip them up. While Moses was still receiving instruction from God the people were already planning to break the law. In one of the most shameful episodes of their history, they pined for Egypt,rejected Moses, and persuaded Aaron to construct a pagan idol for their worship! Indeed, their subsequent history would demonstrate a continuing addiction to idolatry until finally it was purged by their exile generations later.
Here too they were given the blueprint for worship, first in the tabernacle, later the temple. These were to take center stage, both in their journeys and later in the Promised Land, when finally established by Solomon. But both were simply a visual aid, never a structure in which God could be con tainted. The people still rebelled. God raised up prophets to call the people to return to him and get ready for the one who was still to come, but they persecuted the prophets and murdered the Righteous One. Their response, now, to Stephen was the same: ‘Pick up a stone!’ Nothing changes!
It’s better to declare the truth and be rejected than to withhold it just to be accepted.