Monday, October 23, 2006


I’ve been reading the defense of Stephen, though I’m more partial to call it in the end, an offense. Defense seems to bring the thought of falling back and raising up pikes like the guys in Braveheart (for some reason my computer doesn’t recognize Braveheart as a word. Must have missed the movie). Even my Bible, in one of those headings we people use to cheat in Bible studies, calls it a defense. Anyway, what I see is one of the most precise retellings of the OT and NT in the whole of the Bible. Noticably absent from the story is the beginning. Adam, Eve, Noah. Nothing there. Stephen starts with Abraham, hits a bit of Jacob and Joseph, then spends a lot of time following Moses (24 verses in all). Then a verse with Joshua, another one with David, and finally one with Solomon, after which the tone changes. But we’ll get back to that.

This story is the one I read as a child in one of those comic book Bibles that everyone should own. A lot of details are left out, but the core of the issue stays the same. These were men of no more note than a simple story depicted via a drawing. The imagination is allowed to fill in the details – the sounds and sights, the loneliness and the sorrow of Joseph in the pit, the joy of men marching around Jericho when it fell. The wonder of the plagues. I remember sitting and singing soft songs as a child to stories like these. I don’t remember what they were all about, but I can sort of tell how they felt. These were stories wrought in time, and very real to me then. As I grew older, went to Bible school, the stories started to take on more of a whole feeling when put together with the NT. But the great thing, the wonderous thing, was that it all fit the stories. And all the stories pointed and prodded and in the case of Ezekiel, Jeremiah and Isaiah, yelled, “Don’t stop here, Don’t go back, repent, return, turn back, He’s coming, He’s coming” “Don’t let the physical overshadow the spiritual, you are missing the hope because you won’t persevere” You know what made Noah, Abraham, Moses, Job, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Amos, and every other prophet of sorts that stood before their fellow man and spoke? Hope.

The ability to see beyond the Words of God for now, even when they had no idea where or how it all worked, and trust a faithful creator in doing what is right. Abraham hoped when he didn’t even have a foot of earth to call his own in a country that he didn’t even know he was going to yet. Joseph was to trust in Him who wills to work His good pleasure in spite of Him being strangely absent in action while he slaved and rotted in jail. Moses to return to a people who had already rejected him as a leader and a judge, and to lead them into a wide desert with no food or water. They all announced a God who provided, Jehovah Jirah. The prophets proclaimed, quite simply, “He is Coming, He is coming, He is coming! Return, return, return!” You see Stephen saw no reason to “defend” what the whole of scriptures had already finished. He lashes out at the Pharisees and condemns them. Not their lack of knowledge, but their resisting of the Holy Spirit. Jesus says in the NT to the rich man in the story of the Rich man and Lazarus (another “cheat” heading) that if they would not believe because of everything in the law and prophets, nothing could be done to make them believe. I firmly believe that Stephen wanted no more than that – to have these men believe. But their hearts would not let them. Do you know the only difference between us and those Pharisees is? Hope. They couldn’t move beyond the Red Sea and into the desert because they didn’t know the God who provided the manna. Or the quails, or the water, or the strength of Samson and the psalms of David, or the wisdom of Isaiah, or the voice of Amos, or the son of a carpenter.

The question is whether we will. When He calls us, to go and not know, to speak when not strong, to lead when no one seems to even care to follow – to do something as silly as walk around a walled city and blow horns, or attack an army of thousands with a torch and a pitcher. To pray and proclaim and obey when death is the only thing waiting outside the window or even right in front of you. Or even to go to a land far away, learn a language when you barely speak English, go to school when there is no money, and to live a life without because you hope in a that you’ve only read about in Bibles that are comics and sang about softly.


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