Today is the second day of the twelve days of Christmas, and it is also a “holy” day marking the remembrance of Stephen. His story is told in Acts 6 – 7.
Stephen was one of the first deacons in the fledgling church at Jerusalem. The scripture says he was a man of faith and filled with the Holy Spirit. It also says he was full of God’s grace and power, performing great wonders and signs among the people. This upset members of the Sanhedrin, so they questioned him. Stephen takes that opportunity to proclaim the gospel by tracing the history of the grand narrative from Abraham to Solomon. Then he accuses the leaders of resisting the Spirit of God and betraying, murdering the Messiah. Those who had received the truth, the Law, had rejected and disobeyed it. The men of the Sanhedrin seize Stephen, drag him out of the city, and stone him to death. He is known as the first Christian martyr.
Scripture “offers a story which is the story of the whole world. It is public truth.” It is the only story that explains the way things were (Creation), the way things are (Fall), the way things could be (Redemption) and the way things will be (Restoration). The biblical metanarrative makes a comprehensive claim on all humanity, calling each one of us to find our place in his story.N.T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God
Stephen challenged the men of the Sanhedrin to see and understand their place in the grand narrative of scripture, and they rejected the truth. We also need to understand God’s “big” story and recognize, embrace our place in His story.
Our story, our ancestry, began in a Garden and will one day end in a garden.
The Garden of Eden
- God planned and planted Eden Himself.
- He placed man in the garden setting.
- Eden had a wide variety of trees.
- It was a beautiful, fruitful, fertile place.
- Rivers watered the garden.
- God walked and talked with man there.
- Eden was not secure – the Serpent invaded that garden.
- A new heaven and earth have come down; it’s the dwelling place of God.
- It shines with the glory of God; there will be no sun!
- The new city is dazzling, filled with precious stones, with roads paved with gold.
- The River of Life flows from the Throne of God through the middle of this new paradise.
- The Tree of Life lines the river providing nourishment and healing for all nations.
- All nations are represented.
- Eden restored is safe; nothing impure will ever enter it!
But what happens between the two gardens is significant! God put His plan to redeem mankind in place when He expelled Adam and Eve from the first garden! We might look at these last 2000 years as a very slow redemption process. But scripture reminds us …
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.2 Peter 3:9 NIV
Stephen’s sermon before his death challenges us to consider what we have done with the prophecies we have been given. What are we doing with the coming of the Righteous One?
Dear God, the one who flung the stars into space,
who planted trees and watered flowers,
You who establish our steps, and
will one day restore Your garden,
Show us how we fit in Your grand story —
Call us, woo us, even move us to love and serve You well
So that we bring honor and glory to Your name
Through the power of the Spirit –