Stephen’s Speech: Remember Moses (text version)

For those of you who have been following our sermon series at Plymouth Congregational Church of Racine (WI) on the Acts of the Holy Spirit and the Apostles, you’ll recall we’re in the midst of Stephen’s speech before the Sanhedrin.  I had a week off from sermon writing but will include a text version to keep the momentum going as Stephen works his way to deliver the one-two punch line next week.

Stephen’s Speech: Remember Moses 

Acts 7:17 “As the time drew near for God to fulfill his promise to Abraham, the number of our people in Egypt greatly increased.  18 Then another king, who knew nothing about Joseph, became ruler of Egypt. 19 He dealt treacherously with our people and oppressed our forefathers by forcing them to throw out their newborn babies so that they would die. 20 “At that time Moses was born, and he was no ordinary child. For three months he was cared for in his father’s house. 21 When he was placed outside, Pharaoh’s daughter took him and brought him up as her own son. 22 Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action. 23 “When Moses was forty years old, he decided to visit his fellow Israelites. 24 He saw one of them being mistreated by an Egyptian, so he went to his defense and avenged him by killing the Egyptian. 25 Moses thought that his own people would realize that God was using him to rescue them, but they did not. 26 The next day Moses came upon two Israelites who were fighting. He tried to reconcile them by saying, ‘Men, you are brothers; why do you want to hurt each other?’ 27 “But the man who was mistreating the other pushed Moses aside and said, ‘Who made you ruler and judge over us? 28 Do you want to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?’ 29 When Moses heard this, he fled to Midian, where he settled as a foreigner and had two sons. 30 “After forty years had passed, an angel appeared to Moses in the flames of a burning bush in the moses burning bush rt.jpgdesert near Mount Sinai. 31 When he saw this, he was amazed at the sight. As he went over to look more closely, he heard the Lord’s voice: 32 ‘I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.’ Moses trembled with fear and did not dare to look. 33 “Then the Lord said to him, ‘Take off your sandals; the place where you are standing is holy ground. 34 I have indeed seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their groaning and have come down to set them free. Now come, I will send you back to Egypt.’ 35 “This is the same Moses whom they had rejected with the words, ‘Who made you ruler and judge?’ He was sent to be their ruler and deliverer by God himself, through the angel who appeared to him in the bush. 36 He led them out of Egypt and did wonders and miraculous signs in Egypt, at the Red Sea and for forty years in the desert. 

If you’ll recall, the first martyr of the Church, Stephen, is in the middle of his powerful self-defense speech in front of the Sanhedrin.  Accusations have been leveled against him.  Charges that Stephen was both blaspheming the temple (this holy place) and the Law (customs of Moses).

Stephen has been pointing out that some of God’s greatest work has been bringing people out…to bring people in.  Out of Egypt and into the Promised Land.  This holy land hasn’t always been where God is at work.  God did some of His best work back in Egypt and on a slow timetable.  Long before the Law was ever given to Moses.

In fact, on the manmade time table of Moses, v 23, the people rejected him, the Sanhedrin’s beloved Moses.  Deliverance—at the time–just didn’t look like what God was bringing through the actions of the great leader Moses.

But God was in it and He had His own timetable.  After God appeared to Moses in a burning bush in the desert near Mount Sinai where the Law would be given, God sent Moses back to Egypt.  Sometimes, God’s greatest work has been bringing people out (of slavery) to bring people in (to freedom).  Out of pagan Egypt and into a covenant community, delivered miraculously, and a people group who would later receive the Law to teach them how to be a holy people worthy of being God’s treasured possession.

Listening to God rather than man hasn’t been mankind’s strongest suit.  Adam didn’t do it right.  The patriarchs didn’t do it.  Even Moses, beloved Moses, was rushing things along and taking matters into his own hands.  It didn’t go well until it was God’s timing and not Moses’.  Look at it this way: If God’s timing was the final second of the game at age 80 for Moses, Moses wanted to run on the field during half time at age 40.  God is never late and seldom does things early.  Even then, after crossing the Red Sea, Moses still ended up wandering about in overtime for another 40 years because the people rebelled against God.   Rebellion.  All too familiar a story.

So what things can we take home from Stephen’s ongoing defense?

  1. First, in the proper context of Stephen’s speech, he’s pointing out to the Sanhedrin that Moses didn’t start on God’s timetable.  And then their beloved Moses was rejected on his first visit, if you will, when he tried to deliver them in his own way and in his own strength.  But when he returned on God’s timetable, that’s when he’d deliver the Israelites up and out and they’d follow God (sort of…even after being delivered through a miraculous means!)
  2. Second, God does some of His greatest work in the territory of sinners to bring them out in order to bring them into a community of the delivered.  God’s ways are not our ways.  His timing is not our timing.  It’s better to trust Him all the way to the final moment of the game than to try to outperform Him as part of the marching band at half-time.
  3. And finally, while listening to God is not always our strongest suit, it’s infinitely preferable to our listening to man.

Stephen is peaking the curiosity of the Sanhedrin in advance of the big wrap-up.  They don’t know it yet, but Stephen is about to turn the tables on them and point out that if anyone is guilty before God, it’s them.  They’re the guilty ones.

They are guilty for not having recognized God’s Deliverer,

in God’s timing to bring about the real holy place,

through the real Savior, Jesus Christ!

We are no less guilty today.  We have all the information we need, if we’ll only heed it.  We can decide to accept Christ on the basis of His first visit because when He returns for a second visit, it’s going to be Promised Land time!  Yet, a whole lot of people will be caught dabbling and dying in the wilderness.  We can choose to trust that God’s timing and His ways are perfect even when they don’t look like it to us.  You see, the problem is never with God.  It’s always with me and you.

So as our season of Lent is wrapping up for the big finish of the empty tomb, let’s be found faithful and humble.  Let’s be found looking and waiting for His ways and His timing.  Let’s be found as ones who are waiting for the Second visit of Christ—His Return—with eagerness and faith.

Categories Chapel Worship/News | Tags: | Posted on March 23, 2015

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