“And the patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him 10 and rescued him out of all his afflictions and gave him favor and wisdom before Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who made him ruler over Egypt and over all his household. 11 Now there came a famine throughout all Egypt and Canaan, and great affliction, and our fathers could find no food.12 But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent out our fathers on their first visit. 13 And on the second visit Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and Joseph’s family became known to Pharaoh. 14 And Joseph sent and summoned Jacob his father and all his kindred, seventy-five persons in all. 15 And Jacob went down into Egypt, and he died, he and our fathers, 16 and they were carried back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham had bought for a sum of silver from the sons of Hamor in Shechem.
17 “But as the time of the promise drew near, which God had granted to Abraham, the people increased and multiplied in Egypt 18 until there arose over Egypt another king who did not know Joseph. 19 He dealt shrewdly with our race and forced our fathers to expose their infants, so that they would not be kept alive. 20 At this time Moses was born; and he was beautiful in God’s sight. And he was brought up for three months in his father’s house, 21 and when he was exposed, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him and brought him up as her own son. 22 And Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds. – Acts 7:9-22
Early on in ministry, and early on Sunday mornings, I would go into the sanctuary, up into the chancel, and into the pulpit. There I would rehearse my sermon for an audience of whatever church mice or other spectators might have happened onto the scene. If someone else came in, I would stop. Self-conscious and a bit embarrassed, I didn’t want others to hear my preparation. I needed to get used to the space and the sound of my voice, and think through how this sermon thing was going to unfold. Over time I’ve abandoned that practice. I’ll rehearse in my mind, thinking about where I believe God wants me to end up with the message – or better yet, where I believe God want to move his people through his word through me.
As Stephen is rehearsing the story of God’s people, it has nothing to do with figuring out the sound of his voice or getting a feel for the space. Those are all very self-conscious things. In fact, this unrehearsed telling of the story of God’s people from Abraham through Jesus of Nazareth is for all to hear. And it is far from a children’s Sunday school lesson retelling. Not only is there meat on those bones, but there is an effort on God’s part, through Stephen, to bring people along in God’s story of salvation.
Some Christians focus on God’s sovereignty as the centerpiece of all God is and does. While God is sovereign – he rules over all things in heaven and on earth – I believe a more centered understanding of the nature and character of God is his grace and love shown in Jesus and intended to bring us to faith and give us eternal life. I believe the key to the meaning of the universe is found in a phrase in Ephesians 1:6, “to the praise of his glorious grace…in Jesus Christ.”
God is not just ruling the world in his sovereign power (though he is doing that!). God is writing a story of which he wants us to be part. These events of the Old Testament are not just boring flannel-graph events, they are the epic events of a divine drama which had culminated in Jesus’ life, suffering, death, resurrection and ascension. They would be consummated at the end of all time when Jesus comes to judge the living and the dead, and raises our bodies to eternal life.
In Hebrew thought the idea of remembering is not a matter of finding data on the hard disk of our lives. Nor is it a matter of bringing the past into the present time. Remembering is putting yourself back into the story and taking your place in it along with those who have gone before. Stephen is inviting the people who are there to do just that: put yourself into the story, see where you belong. Be part of God’s grand story of redemption, life and hope.
Take a run again at these verses (above) of Stephen’s sermon. Where are you in that story? How does that connect with you today? We are often better able to seethe hope of the gospel from a perspective farther back in time than we can see it in the forest of our current plight.