Reading for Monday, April 16: Acts 7
The Stephen saga continues in this chapter. Most of the chapter is Stephen’s sermon, the longest discourse recorded in Acts. His address functions as selective OT History. To rebut his accusers — who have claimed that Stephen opposes the law of Moses, the OT customs, and the presence of the Temple — Stephen argues from the life of Father Abraham. God was at work in the land long before the Temple even existed, Stephen says (v5), making promises of inheritance to Abraham. These promises are fulfilled through Isaac and Jacob, culminating in the twelve tribes. But the story pivots at their exile in Egypt during the life of Joseph.
Stephen transitions into the story of Moses, educated at the hand of the Egyptians (v22), which would’ve been the best education in the world at the time. I was really struck by verses 24&25 (no pun intended): “And seeing one of them being wronged, he defended the oppressed man and avenged him by striking down the Egyptian. He supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand.” It seems that in his younger days, Moses actually dreamed of liberating his people from Egyptian bondage. Surely his education helped him concoct elaborate schemes and movements to bring about this result. In the end, a moment of rage wins out over logic and Moses pummels an Egyptian, putting him at odds with the empire. Thinking this might be his time to strike, we can picture Moses trying to rally the people. But they did not understand. Maybe Moses was still a little too “upper crust” for the common Israelite. Maybe they were distrustful of his education. I’m not sure I’d follow a guy who grew up in Pharaoh’s palace either. Whatever the case, Moses assumed his people would be able to recognize this as a God-given opportunity for salvation. But this is not the case. Moses, now a refuge, flees to the mountain country of Midian, presumably to marry and raise his children.
But God has other plans for him…
In HIS timing, God raises up Moses for precisely the job he wanted earlier. What’s changed? A lot. 40 years for one thing. Moses isn’t quite the young man he used to be, full of spit and vigor. By the time God is ready for him, our well-educated “hero” is an 80-year-old shepherd, the modern day equivalent of a Princeton Ph.D. bagging your groceries.
But the connection to Moses is enlightening, for Stephen stands as the latest in a long line of God’s prophets to be rejected by their own. The crowd, frenzied by Stephen’s comments, move forward to stone him for his message.
Three things stand out about the final verses of this chapter.
- Stephen looks into heaven and sees “the glory of God” (v55). We’re not entirely sure what this might be, but we can imagine Stephen beholding something of the beautiful nature of God.
- Stephen sees Jesus standing at the right hand of God (v55). Much has been made of Jesus standing, rather than sitting, in this scene. The image of the standing Christ implies a readiness for action. The Lord does not sit idly by, watching while His people suffer. He stands ready to act. And one day, He will. (Romans 12.19)
- Stephen prays for his killers. As they murder him, Stephen turns again to the Father, this time praying for forgiveness, reminiscent of the prayer of Jesus as He was being nailed to the cross.