Psalm 31:1-16 • John 14:1-14 • Acts 7:55-60 • 1 Peter 2:1-10
Our Psalm passage has a direct connection with our Acts reading, it is the passage that Stephen quotes as he is being put to death (vs. 5). Also, take a moment to consider the imagery of verse 15 with the use of the word ‘Hand.’ Most translations use this word twice in this one small verse – ‘My times are in your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors.’ The hand is a word commonly used, especially in the Old Testament, to described power or the relinquishment of power, a declaration of innocence, a sign of character or lack thereof, among many other metaphorical meanings. We also see this idea of of handing over ‘my life to God’ found in the story of Stephen.
This passage is the first part of the final discourse of Jesus, it is the final words of Jesus to his disciples. Jesus begins this discourse at the final supper with his disciples – after Judas has exited to betray Jesus, and after the revelation to Peter that he would soon betray Jesus. Although the event with Judas, and the moment with Peter, was probably missed by the other disciples, it was obvious to all that these were very heavy and ominous words coming from Jesus. This was probably communicated through the demeanor of Jesus even more than in his words. Those words are actually intended to comfort his followers in the soon to come times, but, as the disciples are unaware of the coming arrest and crucifixion (we are able to read this with the understanding of what happens next and therefore better understand what Jesus is saying) they sense the weight of his message even though they do not clearly understand its practical and emotional terms. Thomas states, a statement that surely all were feeling, that he did not ‘know the way,’ and again, Jesus meets him, and the others, where they were and explains in depth that they have a connection with God through Jesus that will not be broken even though their world seems to fall apart. It is a message of comfort, but much more a promise of relationship with God the Father that is possible due to God the Son. It may be helpful, prior to reading this text, to go back and read over John 13 to set the context of what had just happened, this may assist you in picturing the scene as well as the emotions.
Before you read this text, leaf through the events that have taken place in the book of Acts prior. It is probable that you can just read the headings (if your bible gives such headings) of the various stories to see and understand the events that have led up to our reading in chapter seven. Shortly after Pentecost, as the New Testament church was beginning to form – and after there had already been those who sought personal selfish attention/gain through this group of believers – there arose complaints by those who had been previously accustom to the religious institution officially taking care of people, primarily the caring for the widows and orphans. The apostles recognized this as a legitimate complaint (possibly not the manner of complaining but the complaint itself) and set out to meet this very real need. The church, not necessarily the apostles, were tasked with selecting seven men to address this need. The first of the seven chosen was a man named Stephen, who we soon learn was not only respected but also had the heart of a servant. Stephen, however, was not only a man who demonstrated the compassion and mercy of Jesus in his actions, he also was very passionate about telling others, in words as well as deeds, the truth of Jesus and the impact of Jesus on his own life. As we see from chapter seven and the preceding section of chapter six, Stephen’s zest and testimony angered many who did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah, they especially did not appreciate that he was able to connect Jesus with all of their own religious ancestry. Mostly, however, they hated being confronted and challenged. As their anger rose, and their plan to stop Stephen came to fruition, they soon killed Stephen. Stephen, a man who was publicly identified as a servant in all of his life, died for his words in much the same manner as the one who he followed and testified passionately about. He died in the same way he lived, as a servant.
1 Peter 2:1-10
As we see Peter speak with this group of ‘exiles’ in his letters to the believers that are spread out in Asia minor, he is now leading them as they begin to formulate their own identity. Much of what Peter is saying to them comes from the accounts found in Exodus 19 as another group was identifying who they were. As they are figuring out who they are, Peter is calling them to also began to identify their mission, their calling. Peter begins this section of his letter with verse one, pointing out the things that will destroy their formulation of community and then he proceeds to identify their distinctive. Peter is calling this group to rid themselves of those things are inaccurate identifiers of who they are and to reorientate their own lives as well as their lives together – as the church.