“After forty years had passed, an angel appeared to Moses in the flames of a burning bush in the desert near Mount Sinai. When he saw this, he was amazed at the sight. As he went over to get a closer look, he heard the Lord say: ‘I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.’ Moses trembled with fear and did not dare to look. “Then the Lord said to him, ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground. I have indeed seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their groaning and have come down to set them free. Now come, I will send you back to Egypt.’ “This is the same Moses they had rejected with the words, ‘Who made you ruler and judge?’ He was sent to be their ruler and deliverer by God himself, through the angel who appeared to him in the bush. He led them out of Egypt and performed wonders and signs in Egypt, at the Red Sea and for forty years in the wilderness. This is the Moses who told the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your own people.’ He was in the assembly in the wilderness, with the angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our ancestors; and he received living words to pass on to us. – Acts 7:30-38
Today’s passage recounts Stephen bearing witness at the Sanhedrin through the Holy Spirit. Apparently the Sanhedrin was sort of the Jewish version of the United States Supreme Court. A group of learned rabbis, priests, and elders would arbitrate and rule on religious matters and questions.
Stephen had been brought before this body of rabbis or elders because he was speaking about Jesus. The Jewish leaders felt threatened by this so they accused him of blasphemy against Moses “We have heard Stephen speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.” (Acts 6:11)
Stephen responds to this charge by recounting the history of the Jewish people and making connections from Abraham to Moses, and eventually to Jesus. The water reference comes when Stephen gets to the part about parting the Red Sea, “He led them out of Egypt and performed wonders and signs in Egypt, at the Red Sea and for forty years in the wilderness.”
When I reflected on the account of the Red Sea parting back on August 2, 2014 it struck me that this miraculous event actually took some time and was part of a pattern of God standing between the enemies of Israel and the Israelites. Stephen is building the case that Jesus coming to share about the Kingdom of God was the fulfillment of these early promises to have our back in times of trouble and when we are facing enemies. God did the same thing through sending Jesus. He is protecting His people from an enemy, in the case of Jesus the ultimate enemy, the deceiver, Satan, and death itself.
Well needless to say the elders were not very receptive to being schooled by Stephen an “uneducated” follower of the radical and resurrected Jesus. I can practically see the steam coming out of their ears like in a cartoon. In the passages that follow Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit, lays out the case for how these religious leaders have missed the long awaited Messiah. This pushed them over the top and they take Stephen out and stone him to death for his supposed blasphemy.
From a secular perspective it might seem like they won by stoning Stephen, but what appeared to be a victory was in fact part of God’s plan and a big win for God. Looking on as Stephen is stoned to death is a young man named Saul who will later convert to the way of Jesus, take the name Paul, and become one of the most radical and effective witnesses for Jesus that have ever existed. Big things can take time but in the end God wins.
Prayer: God thank you for sending your Spirit to help us be a witness to Your Son and His impact in our lives.