ACTS 7: Religious Aggression
One of the first things for anything in life, is not to believe what you see, hear or read without checking it out carefully first. We seem to know this instinctively when it comes to our money! At the time of writing this, we were in the middle of a refugee crisis in Europe. ISIS killings added to the huge disruption, civil unrest and poverty. Adding to it all, many ‘sharks’ out there were offering refugees boat rides to European beaches for a tidy sum of money! With harrowing newspaper pictures, the public started to take matters into their own hands.
One Britain, living on a Greek island, was raising money to fund his maverick endeavours. He tried frantically to provide basic needs for the homeless as they flooded in daily, along with the tides. Giving money via his website couldn’t be done, however, without checking to see if he was for real! My inner reservations, before believing what I was hearing, isn’t uncommon. These second level checks are considered natural for making an informed decision. And, many would agree to checking out this man’s story to find out more, before parting with their money.
It’s interesting then, that we’re considered wise, if we ‘do our homework’ when it comes to our money. Yet many of us completely skip this basic wisdom when it comes to hearing stories from the Creator God’s Handbook. The last thing we want to do is check it out, go deeper, and find out more, before we write it off. However, it’s only as we go to that next level (by giving it a second thought, and checking out what we’re hearing), that we can make an informed decision.
At face value, for example, we can look at today’s story in Acts 7 and write it off as yet another incident of religious aggression. At the very least it’s a load of boring information to wade through, when you’re too busy to bother with it. After all, what has all this information about ancient Israel got to do at all with modern day life?
If you do want to give it a second thought, however, the Creator God has woven into HIStory golden threads that lead to buried treasure, which has been stored up in secret locations.[a] He’s done this to show you that HIStory isn’t a useless fairy tale. It is instead, the Master Weaver’s Plan. So, here’s some thoughts for you from Stephen’s seemingly boring rendition of a nation’s history…
When our Maker said that His people will be enslaved and mistreated and that He’ll “…punish the nation they serve as slaves…” [v7], you may remember that much of humanity is living in slavery to Planet Earth and being mistreated, even to this day.[b] One day, by a display of His wonders, the whole earth will be judged and, afterwards, the blameless will come out and worship their Creator in His dwelling place.[c]
By giving Joseph wisdom, the Creator God enabled him to gain favour with Pharaoh, King of Egypt. [v10] Today, we need God’s Holy Spirit to give us wisdom – at least enough to look up, which is often all what it takes[d] – in order to find favour with our Lord and King, our Father God.
The bodies of Abraham and Sarah, along with the next three generation down, were buried in Shechem. [v16] This isn’t incidental/useless information. It’s not random that Abraham’s seed (his body) was planted in the ground there. All scripture is God-breathed and profitable for our understanding and walk with our Maker.[e] Shechem as in the hill country of Ephraim – within the boundaries of the Palestinian West Bank today. Ephraim’s prophetic future was to become a “multitude of nations”.[f] Therefore we can say: “…as the time of the promise was approaching, which God had assured to Abraham, the people increased and multiplied on the earth…” [v17] Our Father’s MasterPlan is global, and these are the hidden clues.
Moses, who was born as no ordinary child in the sight of God. [v20] He thought that his own people would realise that God was using him to rescue them. [v25] They didn’t. Instead, they pushed him aside [v27,40], just as they did (and what we continue to do today) to Jesus who was also no ordinary child, sent to save. [v51]
And so, Father God’s 3D puzzle board (that has inter-connecting pieces that straddle whole millenniums), is still relevant in a Masterplan that’s being fulfilled today. The reason that the Creator God had it recorded so carefully, before He miraculously preserved it these 3,500+ years, is so that we’ll learn from history’s mistakes. Most especially, to see that our Maker can, and will, turn away from us if pushed too far. [v42]
Without looking too deeply, we may just see a guy pushing his point in an unstable environment. He’s stirring up trouble, instead of towing the line and keeping the status quo, in a bid to foster religious tolerance. On the other hand, there’s a group of religious zealots whom the average person today can’t understand, and don’t want to understand. At face value, we’d read this story in today’s chapter, like another newspaper article. Then say that Stephen caused his own death, by not keeping quiet!
Unless we give this chapter a second thought and go deeper, we’ll probably never fully understand why it’s been miraculously preserved for us to read today. What we’re often not told about stories of religious aggression, is the real story behind the story. If we understood the story behind the story, we’d have a better chance of making an informed decision, with the additional information we’ve found.
Weirdly enough, Stephen wasn’t killed for his speech. He died because he suddenly saw something that King David had predicted[g], and the ancient prophet Daniel saw in a vision[h] 700 years earlier. [v56-58] Everything was going fine up until v50. Stephen’s rendition of their national history was tolerable. However, the moment that the spotlight fell on his listeners to change their ways, all hell broke loose!
Most of us are happy today to tolerate the existence of our Maker’s ancient storyline. We tolerate and ignore it, so that we can get on with minding our own business. Things change dramatically, though, when the Creator’s message reflects on us; when we’re under the spotlight; and/or a personal response is required in light of the new information that we now can’t escape – when we’re left with no excuse.[i]
Stephen’s listeners may have been furious but not murderous. [v54] Had the story ended at the impersonal historical rendition, Stephen may have ended up with a beating for being different – just as the prophets had been. [v52a] But what caused the axe to fall, was not the past but the future. The content of Daniel’s vision 700 years earlier, was what cost Stephen his life. [v56]
This “dividing issue” hasn’t changed in two thousand years since the day Stephen was killed for what he saw, and what he testified to. The issue hasn’t changed in 27 centuries since Daniel first told us about our future. The dividing line comes when we choose to believe what we’re told …or not…
“…In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a bar enash (a son of man, like a human being) coming with the clouds of heaven.[j] He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into His presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power[k]; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and His kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” [Daniel 7:13-15]
CLICK to return to today’s “Daily Breadcrumbs”
[a] Isaiah 45:2-3
[b] Genesis 3:16-19
[c] Joel 2:30-32 and Acts 2:17-21
[d] Daniel 4:34
[e] 2 Timothy 3:16-17
[f] Genesis 48:8-20 (Referring to v19)
[g] Psalm 110:1
[h] Daniel 7:13
[i] John 15:22; Romans 1:20
[j] Matthew 24:30 and 26:64; Mark 14:62; Revelation 1:7
[k] Isaiah 9:6-7