Monday, 31 August 2015

Bible Reading: Acts 6v8-13

"Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. 9Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called) – Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia – who began to argue with Stephen. 10But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke.
11Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, ‘We have heard Stephen speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.’
12So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. 13They produced false witnesses, who testified, ‘This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. 14For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.’
15All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel."
In many ways verse 8-15 feels a bit out of place, there is a grinding of gears as we move, from verse 7 "And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith." and the positive response of many to the gospel through Stephen's works through the Spirit to the hatred and opposition that leads to his trial and death.

We see (8-11) the men's jealousy of Stephen, their inability to stand up to his reasoning and spirit empowered reason didn't lead to humility and faith, it led to implacable opposition and a determination to get rid of Stephen.  There is an illogical irrationality to their reaction, they just will not accept what he says, they hate him and his message.  How often we naively expect our arguments to lead to people coming to faith and are surprised when they react with anger to the truth we, by the Spirit, are able to show them.  Acts reminds us again that living and speaking for Jesus will lead to persecution and hatred because we are not of this world and the light of Christ, while it brings life for some, simply causes others to strike out at it longing to go back into the darkness they love.

(11-15)We see the lengths to which that hatred leads them.  Luke highlights for us the underhanded nature of the accusations and the determination to get the verdict they wanted of these men.  There is no justice here.  They "secretly persuaded men", "stirred up the people and the elders and teachers of the law", "they produced false witnesses".  There are, deliberately, strong echoes of Luke's account of Jesus trial.  These men know what they want and they will not let the truth get in the way of it.

And they know the hair trigger to touch with the religious leaders as they bring charges about the temple and its destruction and the place of the Mosaic law.  These words are the equivalent of rolling a grenade into the middle of the Council.  They know exactly the words to use to manipulate and get the council to react.

And yet through all these manipulations and machinations Stephen remains quiet and "his face was like the face of an angel."  This ought to have given them pause, the shining radiant face ought to have reminded them of Moses whose face shone when he met with God.  Stephen is a man full of the Spirit, he knew his God.  They ought to be listening to himont plotting against him.

And Stephen how can he be so calm?  Luke 21v12-19 "But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name.  And so you will bear testimony to me.  But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves.  For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. Everyone will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish.  Stand firm, and you will win life."

He trusted Jesus words which Luke shows us an example of being fulfilled here.  His promise that persecution would come, trial would come and it would be an opportunity to witness with the words Jesus would provide.  Stephen took those words seriously.  It poses the question do we?  Those words are as true for us as they were for Stephen, do we know God, his faithful character, do we trust his word, and his promise of Spirit filled words as we witness to him in the midst of the world's hostility?

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