“This Moses, whom they rejected, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’—this man God sent as both ruler and redeemer by the hand of the angel who appeared to him in the bush. 36 This man led them out, performing wonders and signs in Egypt and at the Red Sea and in the wilderness for forty years. 37 This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers.’ 38 This is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers. He received living oracles to give to us. 39 Our fathers refused to obey him, but thrust him aside, and in their hearts they turned to Egypt, 40 saying to Aaron, ‘Make for us gods who will go before us. As for this Moses who led us out from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ 41 And they made a calf in those days, and offered a sacrifice to the idol and were rejoicing in the works of their hands. 42 But God turned away and gave them over to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets:
“‘Did you bring to me slain beasts and sacrifices,
during the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel?
43 You took up the tent of Moloch
and the star of your god Rephan,
the images that you made to worship;
and I will send you into exile beyond Babylon.’ – Acts 7:35-43
When my sister and I would visit my grandmother who lived in the country, we would often ask her to tell us a story “about the olden days.” She would always agree to our requests, and we heard about a snake found on the path, a remarkable shot by one of our uncles who got a deer on their property, a dangerous encounter with a troublemaker who lived down the road. She even told us about a night when an unidentified car pulled slowly up her long gravel driveway. She was alone but not to be intimidated. She got her 12 gauge shotgun, pointed it heavenward and let loose with two shots! The car quickly fled the scene and she was never bothered again!
Most of those stories were short – 5 minutes or maybe 10 at the most, and she had a knack for spinning a yarn that would hold our attention. They marked us as children and gave us some important family roots and ties with this larger-than-life woman.
I’m not sure that the people who are hearing Stephen’s story are as rapt with attention as he recounts these events from the Old Testament. There may be a very good reason for that: Stephen is making a pointed point with these. I suspect that they are listening to him and realizing at the same time that he is moving closer and closer to their hardened hearts and will soon challenge them to acknowledge their own duplicity in the more recent events of Israel – specifically those surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Stephen’s point here is showing that Jesus’ ministry and place was right square in the middle of Israel’s current expression of God’s rule and reign. Theirs was faulty to a dramatically destructive degree. Jesus’ life, teaching, confrontations of proud religious leaders, mercy to sinners, and teaching of his disciples was the culmination of all that the Old Testament taught.
Two things are worth noting in Stephen’s message at this point. First, the good old days of Moses and Joshua were not all good. There was sin, punishment, failure, and judgment that the nation had to deal with. Second, it never stopped; Israel never got it right. The implied lesson: They had not gotten it right either. But Jesus had come to bring all things together under the loving, faithful, gracious, redemptive rule and reign of God. This is the kingdom of God: Jesus embodies it.
I’ve been thinking about what it means to “be saved” a good bit recently. There is more to this than these few words, but suffice it to say in the end it is simply to be under the rule and reign of Jesus, by his grace, through faith – the gift of the Holy Spirit. I look forward to developing this, but for now, consider this: As these men and women were listening to Stephen (spoiler alert: Saul of Tarsus is among them), all that would be “necessary” is for them to put themselves in the long line of Hebrew people who have sinned and repent and believe the Good News of Jesus’ salvation, and embodiment of the pure, perfect, eternal, and blessed rule and reign of God.
That call will come, but for now, let us all recognize our place in this story – both the Old Testament stories and these events as Stephen’s death approaches. Admitting that we have no answers as to how to right this listing ship, we simply cling to Jesus, and rejoice that God delights to write us into his story of redemption, salvation, grace, and truth.