Hello and welcome to Monday’s Foundations podcast. My name is Liam and I’m part of the team here at STC. It’s great to be looking at the Bible together with you this week.
We’re continuing our journey through the book of Acts as we read again the stories of the early church, these Spirit-filled disciples– how they lived, what they said and did and how this community through the power of the Holy Spirit became a movement which went on to change the world. It’s exciting and important to remember that this is a movement we and many millions of other Christians around the world are now a part of! This is our heritage, our story and we now get to take our steps into the next chapters of it.
Our focus throughout the podcasts this week is centred on what it means to be a witness. As we heard from Mick a few weeks ago, to be a witness is to tell our story of who God is and how he has impacted our lives– no matter the cost. So, this week we’re going to focus our attention and thinking around what it means to do just that. Practically what does it look like wherever we find ourselves today, this week – be it in a lecture theatre, in the staff room, at home looking after the kids or out with mates – what does it mean to be a witness for Jesus this day?
Today’s reading is Acts 7:35-53; we are going to focus on verse 39:
But our ancestors refused to obey him. Instead, they rejected him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt.
Today’s reading sees us pick up where Alan left us last week – in the middle of Stephen’s speech before the Sanhedrin. Just to quickly summarise if you’re joining us here: Stephen, one of the key leaders in this early church movement, is on trial. He is falsely accused of blasphemy, of speaking against God. What we read today is the final part of what is in effect his defence statement. And in his defence Stephen tells the powerful religious authorities a story – a story they know well.
Stephen takes this group of renowned and influential religious leaders on a tour of the Old Testament and as he pulls out different people and points throughout their history he essentially highlights a running theme of God’s people consistently turning their back on Him. We see that in today’s focus verse, where Stephen talks about Moses and the people’s refusal to obey him. He effectively ends by saying – this what our people have done throughout the course of time and this is what you are still doing now. It’s pretty strong stuff and we see the escalation of all this in tomorrow’s reading.
But for now, let’s focus our attention on Stephen. What can we learn from him about what it is to be a witness for Jesus?
Picture the scene. Stephen is lined up, perhaps even encircled by the Sanhedrin. They are all seeking to bring him down, waiting for him to make a mistake, hoping to undermine him at every turn. He’s under attack! In the face of all this opposition, Stephen’s response is pretty remarkable. He stands.
And as he stands he speaks of who God is. He speaks of a God who is faithful, who is mighty to save. He speaks of his majesty – of a God who cannot be contained. Under immense pressure and in the face of hostile opposition the Holy Spirit enables Stephen to stand firm and to tell the story of who God is and what he has done. He is so many ways the ultimate example of what it means to be a witness.
As we look at our day, our week ahead – where do we feel like we might face challenge or opposition? Maybe it’s a difficult performance management meeting we’ve got coming at work? A child who’s not responding to our current parenting strategy? A friend who’s let us down or spoken badly of us? A long term illness we or a member of our family is facing?
As we read God’s word to us today, what is our response when we are faced with challenges, when situations/people seem to oppose us? Will we, like Stephen, turn to God this day? Will we stand on the truth of God’s promises that he speak to us through Bible? Will we remember his faithfulness when we have been unfaithful? Will we remember times of provision when we have been in need? Will we remember his saving grace when we have fallen short? Will we stand for Him and rely upon him when we face opposition today?
Because it seems as we read scripture, what it shows us is that to witness is to stand – knowing that God is with us in all situations and that he is faithful.
Lord, you know our hearts. You know what we each face this week – the blessings and the battles that are before us. Fill us with your Holy Spirit this day and enable us to stand firm. May our story be marked by faithfulness to you. Help us to stand with you and for you this day Lord. Amen.
READING: Acts 7:35-53
‘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.
‘But our ancestors refused to obey him. Instead, they rejected him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt. They told Aaron, “Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who led us out of Egypt – we don’t know what has happened to him!” That was the time they made an idol in the form of a calf. They brought sacrifices to it and revelled in what their own hands had made. But God turned away from them and gave them over to the worship of the sun, moon and stars. This agrees with what is written in the book of the prophets:
‘“Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings for forty years in the wilderness, people of Israel? You have taken up the tabernacle of Molek and the star of your god Rephan, the idols you made to worship. Therefore I will send you into exile” beyond Babylon.
‘Our ancestors had the tabernacle of the covenant law with them in the wilderness. It had been made as God directed Moses, according to the pattern he had seen. After receiving the tabernacle, our ancestors under Joshua brought it with them when they took the land from the nations God drove out before them. It remained in the land until the time of David, who enjoyed God’s favour and asked that he might provide a dwelling-place for the God of Jacob. But it was Solomon who built a house for him.
‘However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands. As the prophet says:
‘“Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me? says the Lord. Or where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things?”
‘You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: you always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your ancestors 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 given through angels but have not obeyed it.’