Acts 6:8-7:60, Psalm 28
A common instruction to preachers and teachers goes something like this: “Tell people what you are going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them.” The idea is that clear teaching often regularly clarifies the main point(s) being conveyed. Stephen’s message before the Sanhedrin, at least what we have of it in Acts, seems to have rejected this insight. As Stephen tells the story of Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, and Solomon, it isn’t easy to find a common thread. Though with Joseph and Moses, we see their rejection by others (e.g. Joseph’s brothers and those brought out of Egypt), it is hard to see persecution or mistreatment in Stephen’s portrayal of David and Solomon building the Temple. However, Stephen does make clear the major role of mistreatment in his narrative by asking this question, “Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute?” (Acts 7:52) Yes, persecution against God’s chosen prophets especially the killing of “The Righteous One” is the main idea of Stephen’s message. But I would add that Stephen’s last words about seeing “The Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55), emphasizing Jesus’ victory and continued love for Israel, combined with Stephen’s last words, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60) adds clarity to meaning of this sermon. Yes Israel rejected her prophets. Those same mistreated prophets would on regular basis seek God’s favor for their adversaries. Joseph hugged his brothers, Moses begged God not to send Israel out alone, and of course Jesus cried out “Father forgive them.” This sermon highlights rejection, but also the love that fills God’s chosen leaders for the Lord’s people. This sets the stage for the first verse in tomorrow’s reading. There we begin the story about a man chosen by God to kickstart the Christian movement among the Gentiles. This man will be used mightily even though he was a part of seeing Stephen murdered. This side of the death and resurrection of Jesus, even murderers of God’s holy ones can be forgiven and used mightily for God’s purposes.