God’s Word for You
Acts 7:20-29 Who made you a ruler and a judge over us
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, December 17, 2019
Stephen Defends Himself
20 “At that time, Moses was born, and he was pleasing to God. For three months he was cared for in his father’s house. 21 After he was abandoned, Pharaoh’s daughter took him in and brought him up as her own son.
Right from his birth, Moses was special. Stephen takes up the precise wording of Exodus 2:2 and explains that the phrase there, “he was a fine child,” really means “pleasing to God.” Stephen reminds us that this was “at that time,” the time of the worst persecution under the Pharaohs.
Moses’ mother would have understood and agreed with the earlier words of Acts, “We must obey God rather than men.” Rather than kill her son, she obeyed her government to the letter of the law but not the intent of the law by “throwing” her son into the Nile, but in a basket which floated into the arms of a Pharaoh’s daughter.
22 Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was powerful in his words and in his actions.
23 “When he was forty years old, the desire rose up in his heart to visit his brothers, the sons of Israel. 24 When he saw one of them being mistreated, he went to his defense and avenged him by striking down the Egyptian. 25 He thought that his brothers would understand that God was giving them deliverance by his hand, but they did not understand.
The education Moses received was something to praise God about. Egypt was a magnificent center of learning, especially for the wealthy and the powerful, and there was no household wealthier or more powerful than the one in which Moses was raised. The privileges he enjoyed in that family may have contributed to his misguided decision to kill the oppressive Egyptian and to assume that his brother Israelites would automatically rally to him without first generating any sense of trust.
26 The next day, he came across two of them while they were fighting, and he tried to reconcile them by saying, ‘Men, you are brothers. Why are you hurting each other?’ 27 But the one who was hurting the other pushed him away, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge over us? 28 Do you want to kill me the same way you killed the Egyptian yesterday?’ 29 Moses fled because of this reply and lived as an exile in the land of Midian, where he became the father of two sons.
Once again, God’s people rejected their deliverer and savior because they don’t recognize him. Didn’t the Israelites of Jesus’ day expect that their savior would wipe out the Romans and lead them to a military conquest? But what had they done when God sent Moses to them? Already in his younger years, when he was hardly more than a little older than Jesus, he knew what his role in God’s plan was going to be. But when he assumed his role and even killed one of the oppressing Egyptians, his people turned on him and rejected him. “Who made you a ruler and a judge over us?” The answer: God did, but they didn’t believe God or trust in him.
We see all throughout Stephen’s apology that he has the greatest personal respect for Moses (remember that he has been accused of rejecting Moses). He is using the history of his people from the Holy Scriptures in a reverent way, but a way that the Sanhedrin seems never to have considered: Stephen accepts the Scriptures at their face value. He doesn’t use the Bible to reinforce a petty point, launching up an “Aha!” from a single verse that appears to agree in some way with a conclusion he wants to make. No, he is opening up the whole of Scripture to show that the Sanhedrin had everything wrong. By rejecting Jesus, they were no different than their ancestors who rejected Moses. Which Messiah did they want? One who was willing to get blood on his hands, like Moses, or one who did nothing but heal, which was Jesus? Both were sent by God, and both were rejected by their people. The difference, Stephen implies, is that in Moses’ day, some, even most of the people, came around and trusted in him. Would the Sanhedrin do the same with Christ?
When there is someone in your life who doesn’t know Jesus, or who is wandering away from Jesus, remember that battering them with the law and nothing else will only leave them battered. If you take it on yourself to touch their conscience with your words, then your word must also bring the gospel of forgiveness through Christ. And if you don’t know whether you have shared enough law (“You should come to church”) or enough gospel (“Jesus has covered over all of our sins, and he promises to raise us up on the last day to bring us home forever!”), then err on the side of the gospel. The law is what makes us uncomfortable; the gospel does nothing but comfort. The great joy of the Christian’s life is to share the gospel of Christ with people who need to hear it. Share it!
Pastor Timothy Smith