Transformation July 3rd, 2022
God of wisdom, as we listen to the scriptures read and interpreted, send us your Spirit so that we may hear your Word with new understanding. Move within us so that we respond in faithfulness for the sake of Christ, our Living Lord. Amen.
Today we’ll continue on with the speech Stephen has been making in his defense in front of the council of elders in the Temple in Jerusalem. He has been charged with blasphemy against God and Moses, and if found guilty of this charge, the sentence is death by stoning. So, needless to say, Stephen has a lot on the line.
Stephen was one of seven men chosen by the members of the early church in Jerusalem to look after the day-to-day affairs of the church, making sure that the less fortunate were being looked after. But in addition to this Stephen became an evangelist, bringing many people in Jerusalem to accept Jesus as their Saviour. And because of this the ruling elders of the Temple were jealous of him and tried to stop him by falsely accusing him of blasphemy.
Now over the last two weeks, we have looked at some of the people Stephen mentioned in defense of this charge, being Abraham, Joseph, and Moses. We looked at their lives, because each of these men has so much to tell us about our own relationship with God. Last week our message was the first part of Stephen’s discussion about Moses in which he talked about the first eighty years of his life, up to the point where God spoke to him out of the burning bush and commanded him to return to Egypt to free the Israelites from captivity.
This morning Stephen continues on with these words, “‘It was this Moses whom they rejected when they said, “Who made you a ruler and a judge?” and whom God now sent as both ruler and liberator through the angel who appeared to him in the bush. He led them out, having performed wonders and signs in Egypt, at the Red Sea, and in the wilderness for forty years.’” This was a reminder to those men of the council of what had taken place the first time Moses had tried to help his kinfolk enslaved in Israel when he was a much younger man. In their jealousy they rejected the help of Moses and so he fled Egypt in fear of being killed by the Egyptians and spent the next forty years living in a foreign country. In a few minutes we’ll see that this wouldn’t be the last time that the Israelites turned against him. Even Moses went through many trials and tribulations.
But before we get to that we hear this reminder of Stephen, “’This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, “God will raise up a prophet for you from your own people as he raised me up.’” This isn’t the first time we’ve heard these words in the book of Acts. Back in chapter 3, the Apostle Peter was addressing the crowds who have just witnessed him heal a lame beggar and are wondering how he was able to perform that miracle. This is part of what Peter said to them, “‘But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you. And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. Repent therefore and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah appointed for you, that is, Jesus, who must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration that God announced long ago through his holy prophets. Moses said, “The Lord your God will raise up for you from your own people a prophet like me. You must listen to whatever he tells you.’” So, in quoting these words of Moses, both Peter, and now Stephen, are reminding their fellow Israelites that Jesus was the fulfillment of that prophecy made by Moses 1300 years before Christ was born. This was significant because for the Jewish people of that day Moses was a legendary figure who was held in high esteem, second only to God himself.
But Stephen also reminds the council that Moses, during his life was rejected by his own people, much in the way Jesus had been. He says, “‘Our ancestors were unwilling to obey him; instead, they pushed him aside, and in their hearts, they turned back to Egypt, saying to Aaron, “Make gods for us who will lead the way for us; as for this Moses who led us out from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has happened to him.” At that time they made a calf, offered a sacrifice to the idol, and revelled in the works of their hands.’” So, even though Moses had freed them from captivity in Egypt the Israelites quickly turned against him as soon as the going got tough. In spite of all the signs that God was with Moses, the people rejected him. In fact, they started thinking that their slavery in Egypt was much better than the freedom they were experiencing now. They even went so far as to reject God and worship a golden calf, much like the idols which their Egyptian masters had worshipped.
And aren’t things much the same today. When times get tough people look to false idols to help them, be it money, material things or even celebrities. How quickly people turn away from God and look for quick solutions to solve their problems. But these false idols are of no help, just like those Israelites in the desert, our only hope lies in God and his only Son, and our Saviour, Jesus Christ. We need to place our faith in something that never fades. God speaks to us today as he spoke to the early church those many years ago and we too have an important choice to make.
And with that warning Stephen ends his lesson on Moses, one of God’s great men of the Old Testament. Moses, who despite his failings was used greatly by God. An American evangelist of the 19th century described the life of Moses, who lived to be 120 years old, as being divided into three lives of forty. The first forty years Moses thought he was somebody, he was a member of the court of the Egyptian Pharaoh. For the second forty years he thought he had become a nobody, he was a shepherd for a stranger, living in a strange land. And in the final forty Moses found out what God could do with a nobody; he led his people out of captivity in Egypt and into freedom.
And like Moses, our lives today are often filled with detours. It’s said that one day that great evangelist, Billy Graham, and his wife Ruth were driving through a long stretch of road construction. They had many slowdowns, detours, and stops along the way. Finally, they reached the end of all that difficulty, and smooth pavement stretched out before them. That's when Ruth saw a road sign that said: "End of construction. Thanks for your patience." And Ruth told Billy that those words would be a great inscription on her tombstone someday: "End of construction. Thanks for your patience."
Now Ruth Graham is buried in a cemetery in Charlotte, North Carolina. Her grave is marked with a modest stone, and you know what, that’s the inscription on Ruth's gravestone: "End of construction. Thank you for your patience." Ruth understood that God's transforming work on our lives requires a lifetime. May we all come to have that same life-changing understanding.
Let us Pray:
Heavenly Father, we come before you today seeking your transformative power in our lives. We ask that you would help us to see the areas of our lives that need to be changed and that you would give us the strength and courage to make those changes. Help us to be humble enough to accept your help, and wise enough to follow your guidance.
We pray for your blessings on all of our relationships, that they may be strengthened and healed. We ask for your guidance in our work and in all of our endeavors. Above all, we thank you for your love and your mercy, and we pledge to follow your will in all things. Amen