A History Lesson
History is boring to a lot of folks, but imagine that you’re in a courtroom where you’ve been charged with a capital offense, is a history lesson going to be your best line of defense?
Stephen, the man who went from serving tables in the Jerusalem Church to performing signs and wonders, got arrested and brought before the highest religious court of the land. He was accused of speaking against the Jewish Temple, a wonder of the Ancient World, and against the laws of Moses (Acts 6:13). If he is found guilty, the punishment is death. Then why did Stephen give the learned members of the Sanhedrin a basic history lesson?
“The High Priest asked Stephen, ‘Are these charges true?’ To answer Stephen replied, ‘The God of Glory appeared to our Father Abraham when he was living in Mesopotamia before he came to dwell in Canaan, and he said, ‘Come out of your land and leave your kin and come into the land that I will show you.’ Then he went out from Chaldea and lived in Harran.
After the death of his father he left Harran and came to the land where you now live. And Abraham didn’t receive an inheritance in the land, nor even a place to put his foot. But God promised to give to him a possession in it and to his seed after him, though at the time God promised, he didn’t even have a child.
And God also said that his seed would be aliens in a foreign land and they would be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. And God said, ‘I will judge the nation they serve as slaves. After their enslavement, I will bring them out and they will serve me in this place.’ And God gave to Abraham the covenant of circumcision and Isaac was circumcised on the eighth day. Isaac had Jacob and Jacob generated the Twelve Patriarchs.’” Acts 7:1-8
What’s Stephen’s point in all this? He’s developing his message inductively so we’re going to have to pick up on the clues as he gives them to us.
Clue #1: The glorious God of Israel is not confined to a particular place as indicated by the fact that He spoke to Abraham in pagan Chaldea long before Abraham arrived in Canaan. And Israel’s history also indicates that God’s power could be manifest in Egypt and deliver His people from slavery.
Clue #2: Before Abraham had any children, God promised Abraham that he and his seed would inherit the land of Canaan.
Clue #3: Circumcision was God’s sign of Jewish identity and by mentioning it Stephen was countering the argument that he was against the Law of Moses.
Now what Stephen does with the fact that God is not limited to a certain place, that the promise of a “seed” is vital to the Story, and that circumcision marks God’s people is going to get him in deep trouble. But that’s for us to look at in a few days when we get to the climax of his defense.
Today I need to learn from Stephen that the true God can never be confined to some particular place, that I can trust His promises even when their fulfillment seems to be humanly impossible, and He’s perfectly capable of delivering me no matter where I might face persecution and abuse.
LORD, thanks that you love history and that the biblical history of your Old Covenant people can still teach me about your omnipotence and omnipresence today.
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