The In-Between Years - Part 34

Series: The In-Between Years

April 25, 2021
Brad Shockley

Episode Notes

The In-Between Years — Part 34

Stephen’s message to the council is a retelling of their origin story, a message on who they are and where they came from in the big picture we talked about. Stephen centers his retelling upon the Jews’ most revered and honored characters, much like we center our history on Benjamin Franklin and George Washington.

He filters Israel’s story through the lens of a man, the man from Nazareth who did all things well, the man who walked on water and turned it into wine, the man who confounded his critics and befriended the outcast and marginalized, the man who claimed to be the Messiah and the Great I AM and proved it by overcoming death. When you see things through him, your heart burns within in you. It had Stephen’s.

Here’s how he started…

2 And Stephen said: “Brothers and fathers, hear me. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran,  Acts 7:2 (ESV)


Stephen summarizes Genesis 1-2 in that phrase. It explains the true origin of the cosmos and all that’s in it against all the other religions’ and cultures’ ideas of where we and the universe came from. God. The God of Glory is where the story of all stories begins. He is the uncaused cause of the universe, of all reality. He literally spoke it into being. Every atom is held together by the power of his will.

There’s a little more here, though, if you dig for it. The God of Glory. Do some research and you discover that’s an unusual name for God specific to one verse in all the Bible (OT) and it’s found in Psalm 29…

1 Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. 2 Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness. 3 The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over many waters.  Psalm 29:1-3 (ESV)

See, this is another one of those times I just have to ask a question. Why? Why did he use this name from this Psalm? The only thing I can figure is this Psalm, and the peculiar title for God in it,  must have been special to Stephen. We should get that if we think about it. As we read through God’s Words some parts stand out, they touch us uniquely. A Psalm that does that for me…

1 In the Lord I take refuge; how can you say to my soul, “Flee like a bird to your mountain, 2 for behold, the wicked bend the bow; they have fitted their arrow to the string to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart; 3 if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” 4 The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord’s throne is in heaven; his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man.  Psalm 11:1–4 (ESV) 

The Lord is in his holy temple. I understand to refer to his heavenly temple (the earthly was a copy). There’s so much uncertainty, so much instability, it comforts me to know he’s there. On his throne.

The God of Glory. That must have stood out to Stephen as he grew up memorizing and reciting the Psalms. He was in awe of God’s glory. We Gentiles have a hard time with that. We don’t get that quite like the Jews do.

Glory, it comes from the Hebrew word kavod. It "refers to the splendor of God and his divine presence.”[1] It can also be described as the weight of his worthiness. It sends you to your knees. The glory of God is probably nowhere displayed like it is on Mt. Sinai…

15 Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. 16 The glory of the Lord dwelt on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. 17 Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. 18 Moses entered the cloud and went up on the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights.  Exodus 24:1518 (ESV)

God’s glory was so great and powerful Moses shone with it when he came down!

Stephen is no blasphemer, no heretic. You can sense his awe of and respect for the covenant God of his people. Yahweh, the God of Glory. Okay, I’m going to take us a little deeper still, maybe too deep. Psalm 29, according to the ancient Jewish writings, was read during the Feast of Tabernacles. This feast celebrated the time when the Israelites were delivered out of Egypt and lived in tents.

When I think about the feast of tabernacles I always think about what the apostle John wrote in the beginning of his gospel… 

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.  John 1:14 (ESV)

God became flesh in the person of Jesus and he dwelled among them. That word dwelled literally means pitched a tent and could be translated tabernacled. God tabernacled among them in Jesus. And then look at that next part…

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.  John 1:14 (ESV) 

I cannot help but wonder if Stephen heard the disciples teaching that God tabernacled among them in Jesus. And one day during the feast of tabernacles he read Psalm 29 through the lens of Jesus and the light bulb went off. Stephen’s heart must have burned within him.

I probably need to stop there. We are just nine words in to Stephen’s sermon. He begins with God kind of summing up Genesis 1-2 and quickly moves to Genesis 10 where the story changes from the beginning of all things to the beginning of the Hebrew race, narrowing especially to Abraham.

2 And Stephen said: “Brothers and fathers, hear me. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran,  Acts 7:2 (ESV)

Abraham is a superstar, the biggest player in Jewish history, culture, and faith. He’s their father. In other words, he’s the one through whom all Jews claim kinship. A Jewish woman is his daughter, a Jewish man his son. You clearly see this when Jesus clashes with the Jews in John’s gospel…

48 The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” 49 Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. 50 Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. 51 Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” 52 The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” 54 Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ 55 But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” 57 So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” 58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.  John 8:4859 (ESV) 

Stephen grew up holding Abraham high as the father of his people. Some 2,000 years before his time Abraham was living in the Mesopotamian city of Ur when the Lord called him out that pagan life and into a new life following the one true God. With that calling came some God-sized promises…

1 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”  Genesis 12:1–3 (ESV)

God promised him every ancient near eastern man’s dream: (1) Land big enough to hold a nation, (2) descendants numerous enough to make a nation, and (3) Blessing enough to bless all the families of the earth. What makes this crazy is, as you probably know, Abraham and his wife, Sarah, are childless and way too old to have kids! He loved the promises but struggled with the idea that God would work such a miracle…

1 After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2 But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” 4 And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” 5 And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 6 And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.  Genesis 15:1–6 (ESV)

Abraham believed in the promises of God and God in return imputed righteousness to him (made him right with God). Faith saved Abraham not works. The Law hadn’t even come yet! This is the most important verse in the OT.

As Stephen looked at the story of Abraham through the lens of Jesus, he saw something incredible. He knew that it’s through Jesus that God restores his kingdom and sets all things back to rights in the end. It’s through Jesus we know the love of God. It’s through Jesus that salvation for the whole world is offered. He also knew this…

1 The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.  Matthew 1:1 (ESV)

Jesus is a descendant of Abraham and the fulfillment of God’s promises to the Father of Israel. It is in Jesus that all the families of the earth are blessed. Stephen wasn’t the only one who saw this! Paul made this connection and wrote about it to the church at Galatia…

8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.”  Galatians 3:8 (ESV)

Look at the story of Abraham using Jesus as the lens, you see that Jesus was hiding in those promises. Abraham believed them and was saved. Not only was Abraham saved by faith, he was saved by faith in Jesus, in the light of Jesus (the gospel) that was revealed at that time. OT and NT saints have been saved the same way all along, by coming to God through Jesus!

Paul takes this even further proclaiming…

29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.  Galatians 3:29 (ESV)

All those who come to God through Jesus are Abraham’s offspring spiritually. God has grafted even Gentiles into his kingdom, into his forever family through Jesus. We will see this happen for the first time soon. Okay, back to Stephen’s message…

2 And Stephen said: “Brothers and fathers, hear me. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, 3 and said to him, ‘Go out from your land and from your kindred and go into the land that I will show you.’ 4 Then he went out from the land of the Chaldeans and lived in Haran. And after his father died, God removed him from there into this land in which you are now living. 5 Yet he gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot’s length, but promised to give it to him as a possession and to his offspring after him, though he had no child. 6 And God spoke to this effect—that his offspring would be sojourners in a land belonging to others, who would enslave them and afflict them four hundred years. 7 ‘But I will judge the nation that they serve,’ said God, ‘and after that they shall come out and worship me in this place.’ 8 And he gave him the covenant of circumcision. And so Abraham became the father of Isaac, and circumcised him on the eighth day, and Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob of the twelve patriarchs.  Acts 7:2–8 (ESV) 

So God promised Abraham land big enough to hold a nation and descendants numerous to make a nation, but he never got to see it. God even revealed to Abraham in a vision this nation of his descendants would take a detour before they’d inhabit their own land…

13 Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. 14 But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. 15 As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age.  Genesis 15:13–15 (ESV)

Abraham dies having fathered the promised son Isaac. Isaac fathered Jacob. And Jacob fathered twelve sons whose descendants would one day make up the twelve tribes of Israel. Just as God said those descendants, the Israelites, ended up in bondage as slaves in Egypt. But how they got there is one of the most interesting stories in the Bible. It involves the next big player in Israel’s history, and Stephen will introduce us to him… next time.

Conclusion:  This is a weird ending for a sermon. I know. It feels kind of truncated because it is. That’s all I got.

Today is another opportunity, though, for you to take God up on his offer to save all those who call on his name. 

13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  Romans 10:13 (ESV) 

Calling on him is doing exactly what Abraham did. Believe his promises. He has promised to save you through the work of Jesus. If you turn away from yourself and towards that God does the rest. He counts that as righteousness.

[1] Lanier, G. R. (2014). Glory. D. Mangum, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, & R. Hurst (Eds.), Lexham Theological Wordbook. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

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