Stephen presents a short synopsis of God’s interaction with Israel, and Israel’s response to God. Oh, how we wish it was one of God offering nothing but goodness and Israel responding in love and obedience. God certainly offered goodness and rescue at every turn to Israel, but Israel would not respond in love and obedience.
Stephen points out that the history of scripture is that of God promising goodness to his people and fulfilling those promises while Israel seems determined to reject God. Israel had great examples of faithful leaders to follow. Abraham believed the promises of God even though he didn’t get to experience most of them here on earth. Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph also trusted God, as did Moses, and David. And yet, as familiar as Israel was with the stories of these great followers of God, they would not follow in their footsteps of love and obedience. Stephen points out quite the opposite…
“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.” Acts 7:51-53
It might be easy to try to pass this off as an old covenant issue. But while today those who are believers have the Spirit of God living in them, we also still have the same human nature that Israel did. Paul tells us that there is a war that rages within us that still has this same rebellious attitude (Romans 7:23). Our human nature still wants its own way and resists the Holy Spirit. Our righteousnesses are still as Isaiah says, “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6).
Unfortunately, Stephen wasn’t able to finish his sermon here. Stephen well stated the desperate and depraved human condition we are in. He pointed out to the Israelites there how they had crucified the Son of God, and Stephen was murdered for the truth.
What Stephen wasn’t able to present was the hope of Jesus Christ. We have no hope on our own, but putting our faith in Jesus Christ and trusting him as both Lord and Savior gives us every hope. Jesus invites us to be believers, and He offers us sonship (daughtership) into the Family of God. He begins a work in the believer to bring us back into the image of God, He continues that work in us through our daily lives, and He will finish the work He began.
What then do we do? Well, I think Stephen would say – the opposite of what the Israelites did. They resisted the Holy Spirit. Conversely, we need to embrace the leading of the Holy Spirit. We need to be conscious of the work He is doing in our lives, and in humility submit to Him in that work.
“Father, we come to you asking you to continue your work in us. Help us to sincerely desire a deep change in our hearts towards you and to others around us, even as we know it will stretch us beyond our comfort at times. Help us to be in tune with your Spirit, and thank you for the love of Jesus Christ in His death and resurrection for our salvation. Amen”