We need to be careful when we read the whole of biblical history and think it does not apply to our lives today. Some have dissected God’s word using the scalpel of their preferred theology to remove certain aspects of the unchanging God that make them uncomfortable. That dissection will leave us unprepared when the reality of history repeats itself in our time.
Stephen was a waiter at a community feeding program for widows set up by the Church. The apostles laid hands on Stephen to anoint him for his service of waiting on tables. Little did Stephen know, but the laying on of hands released another ministry into Stephen’s life – a ministry mentioned in Acts 6. The text describes Stephen as “A man full of God’s grace and power, performed amazing miracles and signs among the people” (6:8). The demonstration of God’s power in Stephen’s life caused him to be called before the high council to explain the lies used to accuse him of a religious crime.
Stephen begins to defend his actions. He offers examples of what the religious leaders in history had missed. Stephen cited the lives of Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, and David and how God set His people free in times of oppression and enslavement. In Acts 7:7, Stephen quotes the Lord, who said regarding Israel’s escape from captivity, “I will punish the nations that enslave them.” The enslaving of God’s people carries with it significant consequences.
Today, the Church is embedded in all nations. The body of Christ is the “nation” of God’s Kingdom. While we do not have national borders, we are God’s possession. Anyone in a position of leadership who oppresses and enslaves God’s people have set their nation on a course toward punishment. That punishment is the removal of God’s hand of protection over a nation allowing financial bondage, moral decay, or attack from foreign adversaries to take place.
What is significant about Stephen’s defense was the position in history where he offered his defense. It wasn’t back in the Old Testament. It was post-Pentecost. Stephen was using Old Testament accounts to model the God who does not change over time, even when adrift theologians offer us an image of God who is passive and does not intervene in the affairs of nations to protect the Church.
Regarding the United States, some would say, “It can’t happen here,” yet it can and will unless something changes. The decline of our nation is taking place because leaders who are responsible for the well-being and safety of their citizenry have become what Stephen described in Acts 7. The leaders failed to listen to God. After Stephen exposed their sin of spiritual deafness, “They put their hands over their ears and began shouting. They rushed him and dragged him out of the city and began to stone him” (vs. 57).
Confronting the individuals and institutions that enslave God’s people, no matter what nation is involved in that enslavement or where on the line of history that enslavement takes place, can have severe personal and national implications.
The Lord is releasing a company of prophetic voices to become modern-day versions of Stephen who will speak the truth in love to power. They are announcing to the enslavers to let God’s people go, or the consequences of that enslavement will begin to manifest in the nations where the enslavers are in control.
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on Garris Elkins