Monday, May 15, 2017
Acts 7:51 “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. 52 Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers. 53 You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it.”
Stephen is bringing his speech to a close. Whether he meant this to be the end or not, we are uncertain, but the response of the crowd was so violent that there was no other option but to have been finished.
Stephen had spoken with such boldness that the people were shocked. Obviously the words that he spoke pricked their consciences and they were troubled, and now becoming quite defensive. As he spoke of their history of resistance he brought home the point that they had substituted external worship for spiritual obedience. They had made it a common practice to resist the nudging of the Holy Spirit and become rigid in their lives and practices.
Stephen, the one who had been accused of wrong-doing now turns the tables and accuses the Sanhedrin, and argues that they should be on trial for they have violated the spirit of Judaism. This speech is answered by the stoning of Stephen, and yet his words live on eternally ringing in our ears, reminding us that there are times when we must speak boldly.
As I have been journeying through Europe with the Reformers I am reminded time and again that there is a need for those who will speak boldly. Many, like Stephen, were not well received. Even reformers like Luther lived under constant stress and pressure. After speaking at the Diet of Worms his friends whisked him away and hid him for months. They knew far too well what had happened to Jan Hus when he had come to the meeting in Constance — he had been burned at the stake! And yet, these giants of the faith become for us heroes who were willing to speak boldly. They put their lives on the line because they were able to see the bigger picture.
We are not all called to be a Stephen, a Luther, or a Hus, but we are called to be faithful followers of Jesus Christ who do not oppose the Holy Spirit. When we are filled with and led by the Holy Spirit there will be times when we are nudged to speak up, or to speak boldly. Our responsibility is to listen and respond to those gentle nudging of the Spirit so that we can help the community of faith to remain faithful. All of these reformers and leaders, including Stephen, were speaking to the religious folks. It’s the church that sometimes needs a prophetic voice to help her remain on track, and therefore needs those who will speak boldly. But one can only truly speak boldly when it comes through an outpouring and empowering of the Holy Spirit. All of the reformers mentioned spent much time in the word and in the presence of the Lord. It was often the Spirit enlightening their reading or studies that gave them their boldness.
As we become sensitive to the leading of the Spirit, may we respond and speak boldly when we are gently nudged.
Lord, may you raise up a new generation of those who will speak boldly for truth. Amen.