LEARNING FROM HISTORY

Opening Prayer

Thank you, Lord God, for the many ways you have proven your trustworthiness to your people, not just in history, but also to me.

Read ACTS 7:1–22

Stephen’s Speech to the Sanhedrin

Then the high priest asked Stephen, “Are these charges true?”

To this he replied: “Brothers and fathers, listen to me! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Harran. ‘Leave your country and your people,’ God said, ‘and go to the land I will show you.’[a]

“So he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Harran. After the death of his father, God sent him to this land where you are now living. He gave him no inheritance here, not even enough ground to set his foot on. But God promised him that he and his descendants after him would possess the land, even though at that time Abraham had no child. God spoke to him in this way: ‘For four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves,’ God said, ‘and afterward they will come out of that country and worship me in this place.’[b] Then he gave Abraham the covenant of circumcision. And Abraham became the father of Isaac and circumcised him eight days after his birth. Later Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob became the father of the twelve patriarchs.

“Because the patriarchs were jealous of Joseph, they sold him as a slave into Egypt. But God was with him 10 and rescued him from all his troubles. He gave Joseph wisdom and enabled him to gain the goodwill of Pharaoh king of Egypt. So Pharaoh made him ruler over Egypt and all his palace.

11 “Then a famine struck all Egypt and Canaan, bringing great suffering, and our ancestors could not find food. 12 When Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent our forefathers on their first visit. 13 On their second visit, Joseph told his brothers who he was, and Pharaoh learned about Joseph’s family. 14 After this, Joseph sent for his father Jacob and his whole family, seventy-five in all. 15 Then Jacob went down to Egypt, where he and our ancestors died. 16 Their bodies were brought back to Shechem and placed in the tomb that Abraham had bought from the sons of Hamor at Shechem for a certain sum of money.

17 “As the time drew near for God to fulfill his promise to Abraham, the number of our people in Egypt had greatly increased. 18 Then ‘a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt.’[c] 19 He dealt treacherously with our people and oppressed our ancestors by forcing them to throw out their newborn babies so that they would die.

20 “At that time Moses was born, and he was no ordinary child.[d] For three months he was cared for by his family. 21 When he was placed outside, Pharaoh’s daughter took him and brought him up as her own son. 22 Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action.

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Footnotes

  1. Acts 7:3 Gen. 12:1
  2. Acts 7:7 Gen. 15:13,14
  3. Acts 7:18 Exodus 1:8
  4. Acts 7:20 Or was fair in the sight of God

New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Meditate

May we follow Stephen’s example in learning from history.

Think Further

In response to the high priest’s question, whether the accusations made against him are true, Stephen launches into a lengthy reply in which he retells the history of the people of Israel. Of course, what matters is precisely how that story is told. In what might be called an apologetic for the gospel, Stephen stresses the experience of a pilgrim people whose history revealed a continuous struggle between faith in the Lord and apostasy.

Today’s reading brings us to the critical point in this sermon. The experience of Moses is described (remember that the accusation against Stephen is that he spoke ‘blasphemous words against Moses and against God.’1) Two things are striking: first, the poignant statement that the Egyptian pharaoh had forced the Hebrews ‘to throw out their newborn babies’ (v. 19) and, second, the description of Moses as being ‘educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians’ (v. 22). Stephen, remember, is a diaspora, Greek-speaking Jew, familiar with Hellenistic culture and so living between two worlds. This is almost certainly a factor in the hostility toward him; so here he finds a parallel between his experience and that of Moses! Far from blaspheming Moses, Stephen knows the reality of his experience in a way that his accusers do not.

Stephen’s speech reminds us that part of the legacy we receive from biblical Israel is the use of the Bible as a means of self-examination. William Willimon asks us to examine ourselves: how do we respond to the story of a Christian church that begins with the martyrs in the early centuries but includes much silence and complicity in Auschwitz and Buchenwald?2

Apply

As you consider the failures of the church, past and present, resolve to live by the gospel.

Closing prayer

Holy Spirit, thank you for your work in me. Please continue to refine me, to give me more of the mind and heart of Jesus, and use me to proclaim the goodness and faithfulness of God.

Last Updated on June 6, 2024 by kingstar

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