Day 282 – Thru the Bible
Today we continue in Acts.
Acts 7 –In response to the charge that Jesus and His followers oppose the Mosaic law and aim both to abolish it and destroy the temple, Stephen retells the story of Israel to reveal Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s dealings with Israel throughout history (just as Jesus Himself claimed to be; Matthew 5:17). In Stephen’s speech, God’s redemptive plan starts with His promise of an inheritance to the offspring of Abraham. Throughout Israel’s circuitous history of wandering, slavery in Egypt, the exodus, settling in the Promised Land, and the construction of the temple under Solomon, God was graciously orchestrating events to lead to the coming of the promised offspring, the Righteous One, Jesus.
As Stephen retells the story, he highlights the fact that God’s chosen prophets—Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David—have always been mistreated by their own people. Jesus stands as the last in the long line of God’s prophets, and He too was persecuted by His own, even to the point of death. The great difference between the prophets of old and Jesus is that they spoke of the Righteous One to come, whereas Jesus is that Righteous One. It was through the persecution and death of the Righteous One that our sin was removed and we can now share in His righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Stephen then recalls the days of David and Solomon, showing how the Jews have mistakenly associated God’s presence only with the temple. But even in the Old Testament, God was not limited by a structure made with human hands. God is near to all who call on Him (Psalm 145:18), and He has drawn near to us most fully in Jesus.
Does the gospel “destroy Moses”? Is Christianity something new that breaks away from the Old Testament? These are the sorts of charges that Luke continually refutes in Acts. Jesus’ incarnation, ministry, death, and resurrection are the true fulfillment of the Old Testament promises of God. Jesus did not overrule and obliterate the revelation of God that had been entrusted to the Jews; He embodied and fulfilled it.
In the Old Testament, God made His dwelling among the Jews in the form of the tabernacle, a temporary tent that allowed Israel to say, “The glory of God is with us” (Exodus 40:34–35). In the incarnation of Jesus, God came to dwell among us, taking on flesh so that we may truly call Him “Immanuel, . . . God with us” (Matthew 1:23; John 1:14).
In the Old Testament law, God revealed His concern for justice and His love for the weak and oppressed (Deuteronomy 10:18–19; 15:7–11). In the ministry of Jesus, God brought good news to the poor, recovery of sight to the blind, and liberty to the oppressed (Luke 4:18; Isaiah 61:1–2).
In the Old Testament, God required the lives of spotless lambs so that the curse of death would pass over His people (Exodus 12:5). In the death of Jesus, God became the Lamb, whose sacrifice would once and for all defeat death (John 1:29; Hebrews 7:27).
In the Old Testament, God brought life out of death, empowering barren women to give birth and bringing the dead back from the grave (Genesis 21:1; 25:21; 1 Samuel 2:21; 1 Kings 17:19–22; 2 Kings 4:34–35). In the resurrection of Jesus, the Son of God walked out of the grave, triumphantly offering new life to those under the curse of sin and death (Romans 6:4; 1 Peter 1:3).
The God who raised Jesus is the same God who acted powerfully and faithfully throughout the Old Testament—indeed, the Christian gospel depends on this identification. People are not merely urged to join a new fad but are offered the undeserved gift of being grafted into God’s own people by the blood of Jesus (Romans 11:17–24; Ephesians 2:12–13). We were once slaves, but now we are adopted as sons and daughters (Galatians 4:1–7).
Amid the very worst incident of persecution in Acts, we meet briefly a person who later will be used by God to proclaim the gospel more widely than any other person in the early church: Saul of Tarsus (verse 58). Here we receive a glimpse of the radical grace that God will show to and through Saul: God does not leave behind even the worst of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). This offers hope to sinners who feel unforgivable: we must never write off either others or ourselves as beyond redemption.
The gospel has so permeated Stephen’s life that, when faced with an unjust death at the hands of an angry mob, his dying breath is spent pleading with God to forgive them. His model here is Jesus, who prayed for the forgiveness of His persecutors, even as they crucified Him (Luke 23:34, 46). It is difficult to imagine a more dramatic example of loving one’s enemies (Luke 6:27–28).
Stephen’s selfless love is motivated by the gospel. Jesus died for Stephen while Stephen was yet a sinner, showering him with undeserved grace. As a response to this grace, Stephen extends a reflection of that grace to his persecutors. The grace of God motivates mercy in His followers. Such radical forgiveness jars a watching world, which has little motivation or power to forgive enemies.
Stephen’s confidence in the face of death and his mercy toward his enemies must have made an impression on Saul. The persecutor of the church would soon become its most famous advocate, joining Stephen in experiencing the abundant grace of God and responding with grace to all around him.
How do you reflect Jesus to those around you…even those who treat you poorly?
Acts 8 – Samaritans, though technically “half” Jewish, were considered non-Jewish, even of lower status than a Gentile. The Jews regarded them as not having any part in the promises of God to His people. In this chapter the gospel reaches Samaria (fulfilling Acts 1:8) and thus the first cross-cultural barrier is breached. Acts 8 begins the process of the gospel being preached to all people groups. Disciples are scattered not just into Judea but Samaria. Thus Philip, one of the proto-deacons of chapter 6, goes to Samaria to proclaim Jesus, and many people are healed.
Here we see how God cares for the suffering. God’s heart has always been with the afflicted. When Israel was enslaved in Egypt, God heard their cries, saw their affliction, and knew their suffering (Exodus 3:7). He was involved. After redeeming Israel from Egypt, He gave them the law, which was replete with instructions to protect the poor, the outsiders, orphans, and widows (Deuteronomy 10:18–19; 15:7–11; etc.). God’s suffering servants have always been sinners as well. While much of their pain was inflicted from without, their deepest pangs were self-inflicted. God’s people often went after idols, forsaking Him and enslaving themselves to gods that could not deliver them (Isaiah 45:20; Jeremiah 2:13).
Many of our greatest pains are still caused by the folly of idolatry (i.e., seeking fulfillment through means other than God’s). But Jesus was the obedient servant who suffered without any sin. He walked in obedience to the Father but still suffered greatly, allowing Him to identify both with the Father in His perfection and with us in our weakness and pain (Hebrews 4:15). This allows Jesus to be the unique Mediator between God and humanity.
In the next four chapters (8–11), the book of Acts moves from the topic of persecution to the gospel spreading across borders and boundaries: first to the Samaritans, then to the Gentiles. All but the apostles are forced to flee Jerusalem in the wake of intense persecution, and their scattering unintentionally produces a mobilized mission force. Saul intends to destroy what he believes is a heretical sect. Instead, he ends up disseminating the gospel across dozens of cities. What is intended to crush the movement turns into fuel for the gospel’s advance.
The Samaritans were considered racial “half-breeds.” Here, it appears that God withholds the giving of the Spirit until the apostles arrive, in order to underscore the connection between the Jerusalem church and the Samaritans. Otherwise, the Samaritans may have assumed that they were autonomous from Jerusalem, or the disciples in Jerusalem may not have accepted them as full brothers and sisters in the family of God.
The important point is that even the Samaritans, whom the Jews usually avoided, were now filled with the Spirit. This extraordinary sign confirmed the truth of Jesus’ earlier message (1:8) by indicating that Samaritans were now to be included in the church as full members. Again, the unity and the fellowship of Believers as the people of God is highlighted in Acts as a continuing sign of the Spirit’s presence and blessing.
How does the good news that God welcomes all to follow Jesus lead you to worship Him?
What other thoughts or questions does today’s reading bring up?
Some of these notes are from the ESV Gospel Transformation Bible study notes. We highly recommend this study Bible.
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