Chewing on Stephen’s no-holds barred defense before the council. Less a defense perhaps, and more of a spanking. He is “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5) and stands before the religious elite falsely accused of speaking “blasphemous words against Moses and God” (6:11). And Stephen takes these learned men of the word to school. He gives them a Reader’s Digest recap of God’s working among their people from Abraham to Moses and to the prophets. And, rather than defend his teaching, he lays bare their hard hearts.
“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you.”
(Acts 7:31 ESV)
Stephen makes clear the propensity of man to resist the provision of God. The sons of Israel were jealous of Joseph and sold him into Egypt (7:9). The tribes of Israel, though in bondage, were suspicious of Moses their deliverer, rejected him, and forced him into exile (7:29, 35). The delivered of Israel, even after having walked out of Egypt under Moses’ mighty hand, refused to obey him, turned their backs on him, “and in their hearts turned to Egypt” (7:39). And so, points out Stephen, these leaders of Israel continued in the way of their gene pool. Threatened by Jesus, refusing to recognize the power of His deeds and the truth of His words, they rejected Him as the promised Messiah. They betrayed and murdered the Righteous One.
Truth hurts! It cost Stephen his life.
But what grabbed me this morning in particular is the reminder of the dynamic created when God and His provision are rejected. The fact that to turn your back on one thing, is to turn your face to another. The reality that our hearts are not designed to be a vacuum; empty them of one thing and they will fill up with another. Stephen reminded his accusers that God has been in the deliverer-providing business since the beginning. But the natural inclination of the sin-infected hearts of men is to deny their need and reject His provision. And if you reject that, then you’ll fall for anything.
“And they made a calf in those days, and offered a sacrifice to the idol and were rejoicing in the works of their hands.”
(Acts 7:39-41 ESV)
Really? A calf? Sure, it was a golden calf, but still, a calf? That’s what they wanted to call their god? This is what they chose to rely on to go before them as they headed into the wilderness? This was to be the object of their worship? The source of their rejoicing? Did they really think that any work of their hands could be worthy of the allegiance of their hearts? Apparently.
Reject Almighty God and you’ll fall for anything. Despise His revelation and you’ll believe anything. Trample under foot His great provision and you’ll follow anything.
A calf. Behold your god. Unreal!
But it is real. And not just for ancient Israel. But for modern man, as well. Saying, “Pass,” on heaven’s eternity, leaves only embracing earth’s futility. Failing to acknowledge the One who made us, leaves only self-actualizing what defines us. Rejecting the God who desires to dwell among us, leaves only our feeble abilities to try and manufacture something to satisfy us. Something fashioned from our own resources, built with our own hands. A calf. Really?
Oh that God’s people would beware of refusing the fullness of God’s provision. That we would guard our hearts from the temptation to turn again to Egypt. For if we fall for that, we’ll fall for anything.
But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere.
(2Corinthians 2:14 ESV)
By His grace. For His glory.