Acts 6 (link) saw the institution of deacons into the church. It concluded with one of the deacons being arrested for performing signs and wonders among the people. After his arrest, he is brought before the Council for trial.
That trial is the center point of Acts 7 (link). The high priest asks Steven about the truth of the charges laid against him. Steven responds by reciting the history of the people of Israel. He provides a summary of the redemptive work that God has done for the people.
He gives it alongside the history of the people of Israel’s consistent turn from God to idols. This would not be an advisable strategy in court, but it is the direction Steven takes here. The end-result is his execution at the hands of an angry mob.
Why? Because his hearers do not want to be reminded of the truth about themselves and their heritage. They do not want to remember the time when their ancestors were aliens (Acts 7:6) nor the carrying of idols alongside the Ark of the Covenant and the Tabernacle (Acts 7:42-43). They want everything to have always been good and right, with no need for any redemption or any possibility that they could have made a mistake on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.
That is the fear. The fear is of the truth. The truth of their own frailty, of their own sinfulness.
Do we fear the same thing?
I think we do. Consider how defensive we are of our own history. For many of us, our history and heritage are filled with people that made questionable decisions. Being from the South, I am almost certain that there are racists and rebels in my family history. Yet those are skeletons in the closet that we prefer to keep there, don’t we?
After all, if my ancestors were capable of sinful behavior, then I likely am too. And if I can deny that any mistakes were made before now, then I can insulate myself from any accusations of wrongdoing. I come from a long line of perfection, so between upbringing and genetics, I do not mistakes make.
Except that is so far from the truth that it was even hard to type, knowing that I will put the truth a paragraph down. I know that I make mistakes. I can highlight the errors that I have made better than anyway, even better perhaps than you can. (Seriously, you do not have to ask my prior churches what my shortcomings as a pastor are. I can tell you and show you better than they can.)
Remembering that the Hibbards of old were failures at times is actually a liberating moment. It frees me to realize that I need the same thing they always needed: forgiveness and strength. A redeemer. The Redeemer.
This is exactly what the Council did not want then, and it is so often what we do not want now. Consider how much effort we put into assuring ourselves of our “self-worth” and personal value. How defensive we are of our culture, of our heritage, of who we are and where we came from.
Yet all of those defenses are worthless. Why? Because no wall is of use when there is not the heart to defend it. Just ask Gandalf in Lord of the Rings. In our hearts, we know how weak we are.
It is okay to remember being an alien. To remember that your ancestors were aliens. There is no shame in knowing that you were once a spiritual drifter or that your family chose beliefs that you deny.
What matters is where you go when the truth hits home. That is actually the summary question for all of the sermons present in Acts to this point: Acts 2, Acts 3, Acts 7.
In Acts 2, the people repent. In Acts 3, many people come to Christ. In Acts 7, the Council though rejects the truth. They react in anger and violence.
That is almost never the solution. Let us learn who we are and choose to go forward guided by the grace of God.