Acts 7:37-53 (AD 31)
Stephen gave it to the Sanhedrin as bluntly as Peter had given it to the general population of Jerusalem. Stephen was not even one of the apostles – he was ‘merely’ a newly-minted deacon But he was given boldness and wisdom from God to deliver these stinging rebukes to any notions of a glorious Jewish history or a godly Jewish present.
“But our ancestors refused to obey [Moses]. Instead, they rejected him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt” (v.39)
“our ancestors…made an idol in the form of a calf. They brought sacrifices to it and reveled in what their own hands had made.” (v.41)
“You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit!” (v.51)
“Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute?” (v.52)
“They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One.” (v.52)
“And now you have betrayed and murdered [Jesus]” (v.52)
“…you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.” (v.53)
Why did he eviscerate them so comprehensively and repeatedly?
Why go on, and on…and on…about the terrible things they had done?
Why not tell them about the good news of Jesus, talk to them about his virtues and extol the wonders of being in covenant relationship with him?
Well, he was coming to that, but he didn’t get the chance.
But the reason – or at least one reason – he spoke the way he did, is that there is no good news without bad news.
There is no point recommending chemotherapy to a person who’s refused to even have a biopsy.
There’s no point giving an Alcoholics Anonymous invite to someone who’s convinced they don’t have a drinking problem.
There is no point giving Jesus as a solution when people don’t realise they have a problem.
And that’s why telling people about God, in a way that makes sense, is hard. Because people need to hear about their sickness before we can offer them a cure. We must tell them of their critical danger before our warnings make sense. We have to make it clear that a relationship with Jesus isn’t a curious option but an eternal necessity.
Mostly it won’t sound anything like Stephen’s speech to the Sanhedrin, but the principle that drove him to those words, is the same that should drive us to saying things – with all humility and gentleness – that people don’t want to hear.