God’s Word for You
Acts 7:8-10 fling wide open the double-doors of our hearts
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, December 12, 2019
8 He also gave Abraham the covenant of circumcision. And so, when Abraham became the father of Isaac, he circumcised him eight days after his birth.
Stephen, a Hellenistic Jew who knew his Greek precisely and intimately as well as an English professor knows his English grammar, uses the word hootos (οὕτως), “so, thus,” when he says, “And so, when Abraham…” This adverb preaches an important doctrinal premise that we need to consider.
First of all, we remember that God gave Abraham the covenant of circumcision before the promised child (Isaac) was born. Circumcision was given to Abraham as the sign of the covenant and the entry point into the family of believers in Genesis 17, along with a promise that Sarah would have a son (Genesis 17:16). Isaac was born later (Genesis 21:1-5), when Abraham was one hundred years old and Sarah was ninety.
Circumcision is the surgical removal of the foreskin. In ancient times it was done by many peoples, especially in the Middle East, and often it was performed as a boy entered puberty (as with Ishmael, Genesis 17:25). God took this ceremony and regulated it, commanding that it be done to a newborn baby one week after he was born, “on the eighth day” (Leviticus 12:3). Circumcision sanctified that child’s descendants through the union of his eventual marriage by placing his family under the same covenant. Circumcision placed a boy under the covenant God made by himself, a one-sided agreement that God would bless his people and send the Savior to rescue them from sin. In the New Testament, this covenant was abolished and gave way to baptism, which we still perform shortly after a child is born. As Paul explains: “In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead” (Colossians 2:11-12).
Stephen now uses this adverb hootos which draws a conclusion. God first established the covenant and made the promise, “and so” (οὕτως) Abraham was then given the baby, the child of the promise, and Abraham was able to circumcise his son Isaac on the eighth day in keeping with God’s command. God is the one who enables us to keep his commands; he supplies what we lack, and he supplies it all through the true child of the promise: Christ.
Later Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob became the father of the twelve patriarchs.
The line of the covenant and the promise is drawn directly here from Isaac to the fathers of the twelve tribes, whom Stephen calls “patriarchs” (πατριάρχας), the “great fathers” of the Israelite nation. I once knew a Rabbi in Milwaukee who converted to becoming a Lutheran through classes I was teaching, who had his entire ancestry traced back, son to father to grandfather, back to Kohath, son of Levi, son of Jacob, and from there back to Adam. He had done this in a set of spiral notebooks that he treasured (I’ve never known anyone else who has done such a thing). But he treasured his new place in Christ’s family more than his place in the line of Israel.
9 “And the patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him as a slave into Egypt. But God was with him 10 and rescued him from all his troubles. He gave Joseph favor and wisdom before Pharaoh king of Egypt, who made him ruler over Egypt and all his people.
In three sentences, Stephen deftly carries us through about twenty-five chapters of Genesis by telling us the basic outline: Joseph (Jacob’s son) was sold by his brothers into slavery. Actually, there was an intermediate stage, since Joseph was sold to Midianites by the patriarchs (Genesis 37:28) and the Midianites sold him to an Egyptian (Genesis 37:36).
The patriarchs of old, even Judah and Levi, were wicked men who behaved badly toward their brother Joseph. They violated and broke God’s covenant, but God was with Joseph even then. God used Joseph’s slavery for the good of his people. By bringing up this detail, Stephen is hinting that whatever was about to happen to him at the hands of these wicked “patriarchs” of the Sanhedrin would also be for the good of God’s plan and God’s people, no matter what would happen to Stephen personally.
God works out his plans for us in ways that often go beyond our ability to comprehend or understand, but we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28). Even disease, death, and other loss can and is used by God for his holy purpose. This is part of Luke’s thought and theme as he writes the book of Acts: “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). This doesn’t mean that salvation is achieved by our doings or by our sufferings, but it keeps two things firmly in front of us: (1) Salvation is found in Christ alone, not in the things we do or say. (2) Being saved by Christ may mean that some of us will suffer along the way, for our own good or for the good of others. When we are made to suffer, we can rejoice. “We rejoice in our sufferings,” Paul said, “because we know that suffering produces perseverance, character, and hope” (Romans 5:3-4). And Peter said, “Rejoice that you participate in the suffering of Christ” (1 Peter 4:13). Luther said: “Affliction is the touchstone; this teaches you not merely to know and understand, but also to experience how right, how true, how sweet, how lovely, how mighty, how consoling, God’s Word is, wisdom above all wisdom.” Affliction drives us into the word of God more deeply, when we stop clinging to anything in the world. Affliction makes us leave behind pills and potions, oils and backrubs, and even human counseling and conversation, so that we fling wide open the double-doors of our hearts and unlock the bolts to let in Jesus and everything that he says to us. The word of God makes us wiser than our enemies (Psalm 119:98), wiser than our teachers (Psalm 119:99), and wiser than all the elders and intellects of the age (Psalm 119:100). We trust in Christ and in Christ alone, and in him we have peace.
Pastor Timothy Smith