In Acts Chapter 7, Stephen stands before the Jewish council and delivers an address which encapsulates a whopping 52 verses – a full deck of cards. After weaving throughout different events in Hebrew history, Stephen finally reaches the aces at the bottom of the deck in the climactic conclusion in Verses 51-53. It is there that he boldly confronts the actions of his Jewish contemporaries. Just as their fathers rejected Moses and the other prophets, so also they have rejected, betrayed, and, yes, even murdered the Messiah – Jesus the Christ. First, they reject Moses. Then, their children reject Jesus. How can we learn from this and keep history from repeating itself in our own lives?
When two of his Hebrew brothers were fighting, Moses sought to be a peacemaker. He told them, “‘Men, you are brothers. Why do you wrong each other?’ But the man who was wronging his neighbor thrust (Moses) aside, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge over us?’” (Acts 7:26b-27).
It is the setting and timing of this rejection of Moses which we should observe first. Moses inserted himself into the middle of a conflict between two Israelites, and he had “the audacity” to think that he could give relationship advice. As it turns out, at least one of these two men wanted nothing to do with Moses’s counsel.
Please carefully consider: “Is it the same with you and Jesus?” O, how you love the stories about “a Jesus” who welcomes little children and who feeds multitudes! How you will welcome such “a Jesus” into your heart! But when He starts to tell you about how you are to treat each other – your spouse, your parents, your friend, or, even worse, your enemy – then you no longer want anything to do with Him. Accepting Jesus means doing so at all settings, at all times, and in all relationships.
Next, notice how the Israelite perceived the intervention of Moses. It appeared to him that Moses was acting as “ruler and judge.” However, observe the truth of the matter in Acts 7:35a: “This Moses, whom they rejected, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’—this man God sent as both ruler and redeemer.” Notice that the Israelite got the first part “right.” God indeed sent Moses as a “ruler.” After all, Moses became the great Lawgiver, and the Jews were to keep the commandments that Moses gave them from God.
Relating this to Jesus, we can tragically reject Him as “ruler” as well. We don’t want Him or really anybody telling us what to do. We conveniently transform His commandments into “asks” or “requests.” Yet how many ignorantly run to the simplicity of the Spirit’s promise in Romans 10:9?!? Paul writes, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Nevertheless, I implore us all to not confuse “simple” with “easy.” Look at these three words again: “Jesus is Lord.” This means He is the boss. He says what to do, and we do it. He says, “Jump,” and the only question we have the right to ask back is, “How high?” Jesus is ruler.
Returning to Acts 7:35, notice that God sends Moses to not only be “ruler,” but also “redeemer.” So, first of all, notice this is a change! Remember that the Israelite perceived Moses as a judge. He basically thought, “Moses is coming to strike down everyone throughout the Hebrew camp who doesn’t do things ‘his way.’” This misunderstanding really “throws Moses for a loop,” for Stephen says, “(Moses) supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand” (Acts 7:25). The Israelite didn’t see salvation in Moses. He only saw judgment, condemnation, and punishment.
As it turns out, Jesus, through His teaching, apparently had to correct a similar misunderstanding about His own purpose: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17). Jesus did not come to condemn as a judge, but rather save as a redeemer.
A prodigal son who has wasted everything in sinful living finally returns home. His father sees him and begins running in the son’s direction. What must have gone through the son’s mind as he sees the father running towards him?!? “He is going to yell at me.” “He is going to point and say, ‘Get out of here, and stay out!’” “He is going to shove me or slap me in the face.” “He might just kill me after what I’ve done and what I’ve put him through.” But the father is not sprinting to spit or spurn…he is running to rescue and receive. He embraces his son and kisses him. In the same way, Jesus did not run to earth to condemn it, but to save it. And, in a cruel twist, He was the one spat upon and spurned. Jesus is redeemer.
In conclusion, in order to fully accept Jesus as “ruler” and “redeemer,” I must acknowledge two undeniable truths. First, I am not the best ruler of my life. I surrender control. I need for Him to tell me what to do. And second, I am lost. I need rescuing. I need saving.