Before Stephen was put to death, he decided to tell the story of the beginnings of the Jewish faith. He focussed on Abraham, Joseph and then spent a large proportion of his time talking about Moses and the Exodus. Stephen highlighted the journey to and then from Egypt and finally rested his story at the Temple, where the people to whom he was talking would have worked, worshipped and devoted their lives. And yet, even with their devotion to God’s temple, Stephen could still turn to them and say ‘You stiff-Necked people’ (v.51).
I believe there is a specific reason why Stephen took his time to frame the story in the way he did. He was not just reminding them of what God had done, but he showed clearly how history was repeating itself again. Stephen’s retelling started with all the good intentions of those generations who had followed God, Abraham was called to follow and off he went (v.3-4) and God created a covenant with his people that promised they would be able to ‘worship me in this place,’ (v.7) the Promised Land where they were currently residing.
But from there things started to go downhill, the famine came and Joseph’s descendants were no longer favoured in Egypt and so God sent someone to rescue His people. Stephen tells us that ‘Moses thought that his own people would realize that God was using him to rescue them, but they did not’ (v.25) and after they were rescued he told the story of how the people’s minds and hearts drifted away and began the idolatrous worship, first of statues and then of the temple itself and not the God who resided there.
The story was told to mirror the sins that the people now found themselves in. They did not realize that Jesus had come to rescue them, they had not noticed that God had just brought them out of bondage to sin and now they idolised the temple were they worshipped neglecting the God who had just walked among them. History had repeated and with his final words Stephen was showing what was there in front of them all the time.
One fear that I have for my own faith is what it looks like many had fallen into as Stephen spoke; complacency and routine. They assumed they knew God’s story and how to approach Him and missed what God was doing there in front of them.
Let’s continue to remind ourselves of what God has done, both through Church history and in our own lives, but also keep our ear to the ground as we do life with the living God too see what He is doing in the here and now.