ACTS 7:55-60

THE BACKGROUND

This reading is the conclusion of the story of the disciple Stephen; the account of his martyrdom. He is the first disciple to be put to death for his faith in Jesus.    As he preached The Way (of Jesus), he ran into trouble.  I suggest that you read the complete story of St. Stephen, in Acts chapters 6 & 7. 

THE DETAIL

  • Stephen has just delivered a long and powerful sermon to the high priest and council (earlier in chapter 7).  He did not hold back.  He made accusations, and called his listeners “stiff-necked”.  They didn’t like it.  (v. 51)
  • In verse 56, full of the Holy Spirit, he says “I see heaven open and the Son of God standing at the right side of God!” If you were a Jew who did not believe in Jesus, this would be blasphemy.  The punishment for blasphemy is being stoned to death.  This is exactly what they did.  From the sounds of it, they enjoyed themselves, too.
  • At the tail end of verse 58 is an interesting anecdote.  They put their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.  A little further along in Acts, God renames this man Paul.  This is St. Paul!
  • As he is being pummeled with stones, St. Stephen prays to God to forgive them.  Then, he dies.  (vv. 59-60)

THE TAKEAWAY

The reason that many people of faith revere saints is to provide them with role models—good examples of Christians living a life of faith.  St. Stephen is certainly a good role model for all of us, because:

  1. He preaches with power, wisdom, and courage; in the face of fierce opposition.  He had to know that what he was saying could lead to his execution. Yet, he courageously pressed on.
  2. As Stephen is dying, he asks God to forgive his enemies.  I cannot imagine doing this, while big rocks are hitting my head and body.  Stephen most definitely was filled with the power of the Holy Spirit.  I pray that if I am ever in a similar situation, that the Holy Spirit comes to my aid. 

It is the Holy Spirit in action that does the work here.  We all have just as much access to the Holy Spirit as St. Stephen.  Let’s put our trust in God, to come to our aid, when the going gets tough.

 

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

How can we be more like Steven, sharing the Good News with those around us?
 

1 PETER 2:2-10

THE BACKGROUND

Peter is writing this to a group of new Christians.  Imagine this being read or told to you right after you accepted Jesus as your savior. This might be the sermon that was preached at your baptism. 

First, we need a vocabulary lesson.

  • STONES:  Cut stone was the basic building material of Jesus’ time. All buildings were made of stone. Wood was only used for roofs and doors. The building that Peter is referring to is the temple in Jerusalem—God’s house, which was built of stone.
  • PRIESTS:  Priests, at this time, were the religious leaders of the people.  Today, at least in most Protestant circles, we do not use this word.  Instead, think “preacher” or “spiritual leader”, when you see this word. 
  • LIGHT:  In this instance, it refers to God’s presence.  Remember Jesus at the Transfiguration, being dazzling white. Also in Revelation 1:16, Jesus face is shining like the sun, to signify his holy radiance.

 

THE DETAIL

  • Just like last week, I like to replace the “if” in verse three with “since”.  We know that Peter is talking to new believers.  That said, he says that since they have tasted the goodness of the Lord (and become baptized Christians), they need to be fed with “spiritual
  • Peter calls us Christians “living stones”.  In his day, buildings and temples were built of stone.  Peter states that the true church is no longer built of stones, but of living people. This was a radical statement. When we say that we are going to church, we usually are referring to the building.  But Peter reminds us that the church is really not the building, but the people who gather inside that building.  (vv. 4-5)
  • Peter quotes scripture, calling Jesus our cornerstone.  Our temple is built upon the foundation of Jesus.  (vv. 6-8)
  • Now, Peter turns to the reader, reminding us that we are special.  We are precious in God’s eyes.  We have been called out of the darkness of our sinful lives to live in the light of Jesus. (vv. 9-10)

 

THE TAKEAWAY

When you build a house, you start with a corner.  Back then, you placed a cornerstone, and the rest of the building was built from, and measured off of this stone.  Today, we drive some stakes, and lay out strings, but we still start from a corner. This corner must be perfect, if we want to construct a perfect building.  Peter tells us that Jesus is our perfect cornerstone.  Everything we do is measured off of his life, death, and resurrection.  The church of Jesus is built upon this perfect stone.

Verse 9 is the key verse.  It states that not only are we a special chosen people, but that we are a holy nation of priests!  In other words, we should consider ourselves just as holy as our spiritual leaders—our preachers, priests, and pastors. We are all the stones from which the new temple is built.  We no longer need to go to Jerusalem to be near God.  He is within us!

Verse 10 wraps it all up—we used to be nobodies, but now that we are in Jesus, we are God’s precious people.

JOHN 14:1-14

THE BACKGROUND

This passage is taken from Jesus’ speech at the Last Supper.  This is the last time that Jesus will eat with his 12 apostles.  He has a lot to tell them, before he goes off to Calvary.  Today’s reading is a portion of what he tells them.  (The whole discourse is John 13-17.)

 

THE DETAIL

  • It starts out with the famous “There are many rooms (or mansions) in my Father’s house.”  He assures us that there is a place waiting for us in heaven, so we shouldn’t worry about the details that confront us in this life.  (vv. 1-3)
  • Jesus tells them that they already know the way there.  Thomas, bless his heart, says “Not me!  I don’t know the way.”  He does, of course, and Jesus will tell him so. (vv. 4-5)
  • Jesus tells Thomas “I am the way, the truth, and the life!”  In other words, Thomas already knows the way to heaven; he just didn’t realize it. (v. 6) 
  • Then, Jesus talks about seeing the Father.  The apostles are confused.  “Where is He?”  “Show Him to us!  That’s all we need.”  Jesus says “You dummies, I’m sitting here right here in front of you!”  (But, he said it nicer than that, didn’t he?)  But his point is that since he and his Father are of one mind, when you see and hear God the Son, you see and hear God the Father. (vv. 7-11)
  • Jesus makes an interesting shift.  He started out talking about faith, but now talks about actions.  He says that if we have faith in him, we will be able to do the same stuff that he did, and even greater things! (vv. 12-14) 

THE TAKEAWAY

It is easy to lose sight of the fact that Jesus wasn’t merely a special, holy man.  He was more than that—he was God on earth.  God came down from heaven to teach us, and to show his love for us by sacrificing himself for us.  If (or since) Jesus is our hearts, we are capable of doing remarkable things.  The Holy Spirit is ready and waiting to help. So, let’s have courage and conviction, and do God’s work here in this place!