Monday, November 16, 2020

Testify on My Behalf

Acts tells us the story of a man named Stephen, who was known for his faithfulness and righteousness. And yet, when things start going differently than the religious leaders think that they should, the whole assembly seems really quick to turn on this guy. All of a sudden, they're making up stories about him and accusing him of all kinds of blaspheme, right after they have just chosen him for his upstanding character and pure heart. 

As the accusations start to fly, they turn their eyes toward Stephen and ask, basically, "Well?" Well, what do you have to say for yourself? What possible defense are you going to mount? 

And it would be easy - at least, it would be easy for me if I were Stephen - to remind them of all the things they already knew about him. To remind them of all the reasons they chose him for his position in the first place. To rattle off a laundry list of righteousness and good works and justice and mercy and faith. He's got all that. He could easily do it. 

Instead, when Stephen speaks, he tells these men not about himself, but about his God. He starts not with, "Remember who I am," but rather, "Remember this guy named Abraham?" 

Stephen goes all the way back to the beginning of Israel's story. To a man named Abraham called into a land that was not his own. To a son named Jacob who becomes the father of twelve tribes. To a son named Joseph, who saves his entire family even though they betrayed him. To a baby named Moses who grows up inside the Egyptian palace and then becomes the one who confronts them. To a God who calls His people to new places, who leads them out of captivity, who parts waters for them. 

Stephen's response is basically, "Who am I? Who is God? God is who He says He is, who He has always been in His story and in ours, and that means that I am who God says I am, in my story and in His."

This isn't arrogance. This isn't some shroud of faithfulness that Stephen is using to justify aspects of himself or his personality that are anything less than God desires them to be. He's not pretending that he's perfect or that because he loves God and believes in Him, that everything that he is is righteous. He's not using God's story to deflect his own. He's not claiming some kind of self-righteous faith here. 

No, what he's saying is: God is. Whatever questions you have about who anybody is, God is. Whatever you want to know about my story, know first that it is God's story. 

That's why he includes so many of the flaws of the stories that he tells. When he talks about Moses, for example, he includes the scene where Moses kills the Egyptian and how that raised questions among the Hebrews about who Moses really was. And yet, their questions didn't change who Moses was in God's story. Their questions didn't change what God desired to do through Moses. 

The council's questions, the leaders' questions, don't change who Stephen is. They can accuse him of all kinds of blaspheme, but that doesn't change the character of who he is. They can question whether he's a man of any faith at all, but that doesn't change that he is. They can think they're doing God some sort of favor if they kill him, if they eliminate him from God's story, but what Stephen says when he says, "Remember Abraham?" is...I am who I am in God's story because God is

What confidence! What faith! What assuredness! It doesn't, of course, change the outcome of this scene in Stephen's story - he is stoned to death by the leaders of the assembly - but it leaves no question about Stephen's story in God's story, about Stephen's life in God's hands. 

To be honest with you, I want that kind of faith. I want that kind of rock-solid assurance about my own place in God's story. I want that kind of absolute confidence that, when faced with questions about who I am, can look this world in the eye and say, "Who am I? Who is God? God is who He says He is...and that means that I am who God says I am." 

What do I have to say for myself? 

Simply this: remember Abraham? 

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