Stephen's Address: Lessons of the Patriarchal Time
Acts 7:1-17
Then said the high priest, Are these things so?…

Stephen's view of Jesus and his mission rests, as every sound and thoughtful view must do, on the whole past history of the nation - as a nation called to a spiritual destiny in the purposes of God.

I. THE HISTORY OF ISRAEL IS ROOTED IN DIVINE REVELATION. Her God is the "God of glory." Power, holiness, perfect freedom, are included in this idea of the "glorious God." History is a Divine revelation, because it unfolds his counsel. In times of doubt the rulers of a nation, the guides of a community, should retrace the past to its beginnings, for a Divine idea lies at the basis of the national life and of every sacred institution.

1. The self-revelation of God to Abraham. Every new epoch in religious history starts with a fresh self-revelation of the spiritual nature and attributes of the glorious God. Amidst idolatrous scenes, the depths of Abraham's spirit were stirred, and a light from above shone in. From idols, from Sabaean fetish-worship, he turned, "to serve the living and the true God."

2. The call to Abraham. He was to be the reformer of religion, the founder of a nation, whose life was to root itself in the acknowledgment of a living and a holy, spiritual Being as their God.

(1) Such calls involve ever sacrifice. Home must be quitted; its loved associations in fancy and feeling torn up; kindred left behind. It is the type of those moral changes and those consequent sacrifices which accompany God's call to souls at every time.

(2) They involve the exercise of faith. Future good, in the shape of a new home and land, are promised to the patriarch, but the when and the how of their possession are left - as we say to imagination; as the Bible says, to faith. "He went out, not knowing whither he went." It has been said that life is an education by means of "illusions;" were it not better to say that life is an education by means of ideals? They are of their nature future, indefinite, must be left for time to unfold, as with the prospect of good vaguely shadowed forth before the mind of Abraham.

(3) They require unquestioning obedience. Such was that of Abraham. He had nothing to rely on but the promise of God; all else was against him. When he came to the "land," he found no inheritance in it, no resting-place for his foot. Spiritual trials consist in the perplexity of the will, caused by the contradiction between the unseen truth and the opposition of appearances to it. Facts stubbornly resist our ideals; the world, perhaps, scoffs at the ideals themselves. To "endure as seeing him who is invisible," is part of the certain calling, and at the same time the high joy, of the called soul. And faithfulness is certain to know repetitions and confirmations of the assuring - promise.

(4) The light of promise ever leads, on. It is to be remarked that the Divine forecast of the future is not of unmixed brightness. A sorrow and a struggle for the young nation is to prepare for its enjoyment of freedom. It is to be cradled and rocked in slavery. By the stern and cruel knowledge in itself of the tyrant's oppression, Israel will learn to fly to Jehovah its Deliverer, and find in his service emancipation from every secular yoke.

(5) Divine institutions confirm Divine promises. Israel had its peculiar sacramental institution of circumcision. A sacrament is a species of religious language, the more impressive because addressed to the eye than merely to the ear. In it an act of God and an act of man are expressed; surrender on the side of man, acceptance and blessing on the side of God. Thus the sacrament becomes the channel of tradition; the tribe and the nation have a common and visible bond of union. Such were the Divine beginnings of Israel's life.

II. THE STONY OF JOSEPH. His career was in many points typical of that of Jesus.

1. He was the object of envy and unnatural hatred on the part of his brethren. So was Jesus envied and hated by the rulers of the nation, and on the like grounds - the manifest favor of God which was with him. Such is the law - superior spiritual energy at first arouses opposition (2 Timothy 3:12). And especially from those nearest of kin (Matthew 10:36). Such, too, was the experience of Jesus. Nothing is more painful to the heart than to see one, hitherto supposed an equal, rising to eminence above our heads. The best will suffer from jealousy; how much more those whose evil is thus set in the light of contrast, exposed and condemned!

2. But he enjoyed Divine compensations. "God was with him," "delivered him from all his troubles," imparted to him grace and wisdom in the presence of the earthly great. So was it with Jesus. Hate and envy may be defied by force or intellect; but better is it when the envious and hateful are themselves revealed in their hideousness by the bright shining of God's grace upon the good man's life.

3. Again, the wrath of men is often made the instrument of good to them. The force which would undermine is made to exalt. Joseph becomes prime minister to Pharaoh; the crucified Jesus is, through his cross, exalted to be Prince and. Savior.

4. The living soul will find an opportunity of overcoming evil with good. The famine in Canaan gave Joseph the opportunity of a glorious revenge. The account of his recognition of his brothers, and forgiveness of them, is most touching and rich in typical suggestiveness. Those who love allegories may find much food for fancy in the details. Those who prefer broad spiritual lessons may also find in the figure of Joseph the very ideal of the gentle side of Israel's national character, which was fulfilled in the suffering Savior, who triumphs over his foes by the might of forgiving love.

5. The result of the chain of events. The settlement of Israel in Egypt. How strangely is the web of destiny spun! How deeply laid the train of causes and effects which result in great histories and revolutions! Any course of events is highly improbable beforehand, which after it has taken place unfolds a providential logic and profound design. So with Christianity Nothing can seem beforehand more improbable than the whole story of its foundation. At Athens the story of the crucified One was folly, and at Jerusalem a scandal. Yet in it lay hidden the wisdom and the power of God. Hatred to Joseph was the first moving spring of a long religious history and triumph Hatred to Jesus was now being proved the spring of his triumph and the mighty prevalence of his religion. God works through the evil passions of men as well as through the good; and all powers in rivalry with love must sooner or later be brought submissively to follow in the wake of her eternal progress of blessing. In humiliation and in exaltation Joseph presents a lively type of Jesus. And the Sanhedrim must have felt this as they listened to the old familiar story of the origin of the nation. They are face to face with the fact of a new origin. Will they learn the lesson of the past for the present? Do we learn the lessons of the past for our present? - J.

Parallel Verses
KJV: Then said the high priest, Are these things so?

WEB: The high priest said, "Are these things so?"

Stephen's Address in the Sanhedrim
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