39 “But our ancestors refused to obey him (Moses). Instead, they rejected him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt. 40 They told Aaron, ‘Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who led us out of Egypt—we don’t know what has happened to him!’ 41 That was the time they made an idol in the form of a calf. They brought sacrifices to it and reveled in what their own hands had made. 42 But God turned away from them and gave them over to the worship of the sun, moon and stars. This agrees with what is written in the book of the prophets:
“‘Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings
forty years in the wilderness, people of Israel?
43 You have taken up the tabernacle of Molek
and the star of your god Rephan,
the idols you made to worship.
Therefore I will send you into exile’ beyond Babylon.
44 “Our ancestors had the tabernacle of the covenant law with them in the wilderness. It had been made as God directed Moses, according to the pattern he had seen. 45 After receiving the tabernacle, our ancestors under Joshua brought it with them when they took the land from the nations God drove out before them. It remained in the land until the time of David, 46 who enjoyed God’s favor and asked that he might provide a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. 47 But it was Solomon who built a house for him.
48 “However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands. As the prophet says:
49 “‘Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me?
says the Lord.
Or where will my resting place be?
50 Has not my hand made all these things?’
51 “You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! 52 Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him— 53 you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.”
54 When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.
59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.
8:1 And Saul approved of their killing him.
On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. 2 Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. 3 But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.
Today’s reading begins with the end of Stephen’s message to the Sanhedrin. I don’t think the Sanhedrin could miss that Stephen lifted up the similarities between their rejection of Jesus with their ancestors rejection of Moses and God. And the declaration that, “the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands” would have certainly angered the Sanhedrin. Their understanding of “made with human hands” was connected with idol worship. To apply this phrase to the temple would have completely enraged the Sanhedrin.
Stephen calls out the Sanhedrin by describing them as “stiff-necked people” who refuse to open their hearts and ears to the Holy Spirit. He said to them, “You always resist the Holy Spirit!” In contrast, in verse 55, the writer describes Stephen as “full of the Holy Spirit.” The Sanhedrin did not experience or see what Stephen experienced and saw through the power of the Holy Spirit. Out of anger, fear and ignorance they stoned Stephen to death. In the writer’s description of that cruel moment, he also weaves in the foreshadowing of a new story, the story of Saul who eventually became Paul, a faithful follower of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul was there, as Saul, and approved at the very start of the persecution of the Church.
Throughout the Book of Acts, God’s Holy Spirit was at work nurturing, growing and guiding the momentum of the Church of Jesus Christ. We, too, are called to learn how to fully open our hearts and ears to experience God’s Holy Spirit at work in us, in the Church, and in the world.
Do you, at times, notice yourself resisting being open to the Holy Spirit?
What practice consistently helps you open your heart and ears to experience God’s Holy Spirit? How can you engage in that practice more often?
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in us the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and we shall be created. and you shall renew the face of the earth. Amen.
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ® NIV ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2014 by Biblica, Inc.®. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.