This is the climax of Stephen’s sermon. His entire review of Jewish history leads him to this conclusion about his present audience. “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you”(Acts 7:51). “Stiff-necked” refers to oxen who are unwilling to follow the direction of their driver. They will continue to go their own way, even when it hurts them (by pushing against the driver’s sharp goad). The Sanhedrin refuses to follow the Holy Spirit’s leading—just like Joseph’s brothers and Moses’ contemporaries. Their behavior shows their similarity to the worst of Israel’s past.
He asks a chilling question: “Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it”(Acts 7:52-53). It is easier to count the prophets who were not persecuted than those who were. Yet where their forefathers persecuted and killed those who prophesied about the Messiah, these Jews have killed the Messiah himself. Rather than being the closest to God, these men are as far from God as it is possible to be. These are words so strong that they will bring about Stephen’s death.
It is possible for us to be extremely familiar with God’s will and the history of his people, yet not obey it ourselves. It is also possible for us to grow stubbornly committed to a view, attitude, or behavior that no one—even God himself—can convince us otherwise. In such a state, any kind of evil—even coldly conspiring to murder God’s Son—becomes possible.
One thing to think about: What kinds of things do I tend to be “stiff-necked” about? How can I address that?
One thing to pray for: A willingness to accept hard, challenging words
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