Acts 7:51-53 “You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him – you who have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it.”
Stephen, one of the deacons recently appointed by the Apostles, was being interrogated by the Jewish Sanhedrin on a trumped up charge of speaking ‘words of blasphemy against Moses and against God’ (Acts 6:11). Providentially, this gave him the opportunity in his defence to outline the whole history of God’s dealings with his covenant people from the time of Abraham, thus demonstrating his faithful, whole-hearted commitment to the absolute truth of God’s revelation in the Jewish Scriptures.
But perhaps the main feature of his perspective on OT Biblical history was the repeated FAILURE of God’s chosen people to grasp the REAL meaning of God’s revelation of his character and purposes through words (‘propositional revelation’) and events (‘salvation history’): God’s Covenant People had persistently misunderstood Moses as God’s rescuer (7:25, 35); they had ignored the implications of the Ten Commandments (7:39-43); they had misinterpreted the true significance of the Tabernacle/Temple (7:44-50); they had not only resisted the divine message of the prophets sent by God, they had repeatedly ‘shot the messenger’ (7:51-52a).
And now, to top it all off, their descendants had disobeyed the Law, their ‘Torah’ which was the very essence of their religion, by betraying and murdering the ultimate ‘Prophet’ predicted by Moses (Deuteronomy 18:18-19) and the ‘Righteous One’ predicted by all the other prophets (e.g. Jeremiah 23:5, 33:15) (see Acts 7:37, 52b)!
Because of Man’s inherent sinful nature it is possible to have access to all the information God desires us to have, both through his written Word, the Bible, and the outworking of his providence in the events of our lives, and even to participate in regular religious observances, and yet MISS the whole point of what the Holy Spirit is saying to us through them. Do we pray for, and expect, the Holy Spirit’s ministry in the depth of our hearts and minds (Hebrews 4:12-13) as we read the Scriptures, which are ‘the sword of the Spirit’ (Ephesians 6:17)? Does our regular religious observance lead us into an ever-deepening understanding of the purposes of God in our lives, or does it have the opposite effect of desensitising our ears to his voice? Let us all be conscious of the subtle, hidden dangers exposed in Stephen’s powerful speech!
– Bruce Christian