Today, Acts 7.
At the end of yesterday’s reading in Acts 6, we read about how God was using Stephen and how he was dragged before the Sanhedrin to answer for his message. Here in Acts 7, the story continued as Stephen answered the charge against him and was stoned for his faith, becoming the first Christian martyr.
Stephen responded to the charge against him by summarizing Israel’s history beginning with Abraham. Although the people of his land prided themselves on being God’s people and receiving God’s promises and blessings, Stephen saw a pattern in Israel’s history of rejecting God’s word. That pattern was summarized in verses 51-52a, “You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One.” Of course the strongest expression of their rejection was in Jesus, “And now you have betrayed and murdered him—you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it” (v. 52b-53).
Although only Israel had the unique history that Stephen described in this passage, what he said about Israel could be said about any nation or culture on earth: “You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised.” (v. 51). Sin so thoroughly marks our nature and character that we impulsively resist God’s word and persecute God’s messengers. Only the grace of Christ through the gospel can penetrate that thick crust of unbelief on us all and bring us back to life spiritually to receive God’s word and desire to obey it.
Still, even after we are believers, we sometimes resist receiving the hard truths of God’s word that convict us. Like the people of Israel, we count ourselves blessed for having God’s word and God’s promises rather than receiving those gifts of grace and using them to bring obedience into our lives. God’s word and his spirit are working on us to relax our “stiff-necks” and make our “hearts and ears” sensitive to and receptive of his word. As James told us, we must “not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (Jas 1:22).