This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on May 14, 2017.
The conclusion of Stephen’s speech (Acts 7:1-54) became the tipping point that unleashed persecution against the church inside Jerusalem (Acts 8:1) and the spread of the gospel toward Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). The Jewish religious leaders listening to Stephen boiled over with anger. Some biblical scholars have likened that religious group to a pack of ravenous wolves ready to tear limb from limb this one full of the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:55; 6:3, 5, 10) who was standing before them with the face of an angel (Acts 6:15). Just a few years earlier this identical, angry, religious pack felt the same way when Jesus of Nazareth stood before them. They did whatever it took to end Jesus’ life outside the gates of Jerusalem in a bloody mess and were soon to make sure Stephen’s end would come to pass. As Yogi Berra is credited with saying, “It was déjà vu all over again.”
The details described in the Bible leading to the deaths of Jesus and Stephen parallel each other in many regards. There was an underground movement of secrecy that gained momentum toward both men as the angry Jewish leaders went to work on their plan towards removal and execution (John 11:45-53; Acts 6:11). The religious wolves accused both of blasphemy and speaking against the Temple (Matthew 26:59-63; Acts 6:12-14). Jesus responded to the accusations by telling the high priest, “But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:63; cf. Daniel 7:13-14). Stephen responded to the enraged accusers by seeing beyond them and into what awaited him and said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56). Jesus mentions the posture of the Son of Man being seated while Stephen describes the Son of Man standing in heaven. Both were located at the ultimate position of ultimate power: the right hand of God.
This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on May 8, 2016.
Persecution is the last theme to consider (in this cycle of Lectionary readings) that runs throughout the larger story. It is, for sure, a timely way to frame our work with this text. We live in a day where we frequently hear of Christians being persecuted across the globe. At the same time, we frequently hear references to Christians being persecuted in our nation because someone greeted them with “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas.” So, we’re hearing the same language of persecution used to describe legitimate martyrdom and to describe a school district’s action not to allow a Christian prayer before the Friday night football game. It’s time for this text to intersect with our culture.
Having been led by a vision to Macedonia, the missionary team wanders their way to Philippi. As they engage people with the gospel, they are beginning to engage the culture in more significant ways. Verses 11-15 recount Lydia’s conversation who has a thriving business in expensive purple cloth and immediately becomes a supporter of these evangelists, offering them her home as headquarters to the Philippian operation.
This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on June 8, 2014.
A quick glance at many congregations’ prayer life might lead one to think that Christians believe the major goal of life is to get well, to stay well, or to be safe. According to many of our prayers, the goal is to stay out of harm’s way. I imagine that as the disciples sat huddled in that room behind locked doors on that first Easter Sunday (20:19), they offered up similar prayers to ours, “Lord God, keep us safe.” They had reason to pray such prayers. Their leader, Jesus, had been crucified just a few days before. That alone was enough to make them think they might be in danger, too. Now there were other reasons to be afraid. That very morning a handful of the disciples had seen Jesus’ empty tomb. While Mary Magdalene claimed to have seen Jesus alive, the other disciples remain unsure! The talk of resurrection was all about town, and the Jewish leaders were in a huff. They had killed Jesus to quiet the crowds. Now the talk was louder than ever. The disciples could only imagine what the Jewish leaders’ next move would be. Our imaginations often get the best of us. Did the disciples imagine crosses and stonings and all sort of torture and abuse? Is this why the doors were locked and the prayers were fervently offered for safety and deliverance from harm? Notice that the disciples weren’t out looking for Jesus, were they? Their primary concern seemed to be their own necks. Continue reading →