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Remembering God’s Faithfulness
Sunday school lesson for the week of September 27, 2015
By Dr. Edwin M. “Buddy” Cooper, Jr.
Lesson scripture: Acts 7:2-4, 8-10, 17, 33-34, 44-47, 53, 57
This chapter that has been selectively chosen is the chapter containing the account of Stephen’s martyrdom. In this chosen text what has been separated out from the seventh chapter is an account of the faithfulness of God from the time of Abraham’s call to Solomon’s completion of the Temple. It is always a good thing to remember again the faithfulness of God through a longer period of time than just to experience what’s happening now in our lives.
Rev. Albert Hall’s mother, Mrs. Mattie Hall, was a member of my church when I served East Macon UMC from 1976-1980. She loved our Lord Jesus and her Church. One of my memories of her was when she would bring a cake to a Homecoming. She lived just down the street and used a parasol to keep the sun off. Parasol in one hand and cake in the other, Mrs. Mattie would sidle down the street, working to keep her balance.
She had in her sitting room a large print of the picture, “The Providence of God.” You have seen it. It shows an angel watching over children picking flowers over a ravine with a rickety footbridge in the background. As I got to know her, I found out she had a daughter, Jane, who was killed in 1923 by a car in front of her house on Main Street. One day I gathered up my courage and asked, “Mrs. Mattie, you lost Jane when she was 5 in a tragic accident. How can you stand to have such a large picture of ‘The Providence of God’ hanging in your sitting room every day?
We were seated in the room with the picture. She turned and looked up at the picture for a long time.
Then she said, “Buddy, I have lived long enough to know better than to judge the love of God by the limited experiences of one lifetime.”
Neither of us spoke for a long time afterward. We just continued to look deeply into her picture.
Stephen understood what Mattie knew. It is easy to get myopic in one’s view of God and His goodness, if you only live for today. He took the religious leaders in his speech through a time period roughly from 2,000 B.C.E. to 900 B.C.E. He displayed the faithfulness of God over a thousand-plus-year span! And they covered their ears to hear no more for they did not serve God in their generation.
Let's look at the events Stephen lifts up:
- vs. 2-4: Abraham left everything and pulled up stakes and moved to where God showed him. Stephen said about this land, “Where you now live.” It is a part of God’s faithfulness that the Hebrews lived in Israel/Jerusalem.
- vs. 8-10: God’s covenant with Abraham (circumcision is the sign) through Isaac and Jacob continued. When the brothers sold Joseph into slavery, God was faithful to be with Joseph to watch over him and allow his rise in power in Egypt to the place where he was able to save his brothers and their families from famine.
- vs. 17: 400 years in slavery does not disprove the faithfulness of God. The time came for God to fulfill His promise to Abraham. To bring the children out of Egypt and return them to the land promised to Abraham. Once again God is faithful.
- vs. 33-34: God in His faithfulness calls and sends Moses to bring His children out.
- vs. 44-47: This describes the dwelling place of God in the midst of His people. First there was the movable Tabernacle in the wilderness, then the final place of the tabernacle in Jerusalem. David wanted to build the permanent Temple to God, but Solomon was chosen to build it. God was faithfully present with Israel through this thousand-plus-year history recounted by Stephen.
- vs. 53: Stephen brings judgment, “You received the Law, yet you have not kept it.” The opposite of God's faithfulness.
- vs. 55: Stephen sees his glorious vision of Jesus at the right hand of God the Father. God is not only faithful, Jesus, who now appears at His right hand, is glorified in His faithfulness to us.
Stephen shows forth the faithfulness through a long era of Israel's history and calls the question on them and on us: where is the evidence of your faithfulness? What are you holding in your heart against God as proof that He has failed you? Not trivial stuff, but aching loss or tragedy with seemingly no response from God to our continued knocking with bloodied knuckles upon the window of heaven? We all can make our case, if we just let go of our faith and claim God-forsakenness.
8. vs. 57: They have made their decision about Stephen's speech. They will hear no more and stone him to death. To continue listening would have required genuine repentance.
Let’s look again at our text for today.
- Abraham left everything in Hur and set out for the promised land of God. Don’t you think along the way he had opportunity to be discouraged by how far it turned out to be from Hur? How about having been promised a legacy and having you and your wife approach 80, 90, and then 100 years old! Could you still have faith in God’s Word to the physical contrary? Is God faithful?
- Joseph, tied up and slung under a camel, heading for Egypt. Do you think he had a worse day? What would he say on the way to Egypt? “Yes, God is faithful.” Or would he judge the faithfulness of God by the limited experiences of one lifetime?
- David lived his whole life as king to build God's Temple. He was a man of bloody hands. He took Uriah’s wife. Had Uriah killed. Had the child born of the adultery, Michael, die in his arms. In that day how faithful did David think God was? David came to his senses and repented, but the damage was done.
Three episodes alluded to by Stephen in the seventh chapter of Acts. Each one capable of tearing any belief in the faithfulness of God from a human heart. Yet, Abraham, Joseph, and David all took Mattie Hall’s position of the faithfulness of God: Wait and see the faithfulness of God revealed in His time.
How do you, in the midst of your life, cope with the silences of God in your desperate hours? How is that working for you? Are you ready to trust God again? Remember the old poem “Footprints?” Where there was only one set of footprints we thought we were walking alone, but then the truth came out. Where there was only one set of footprints, we were being carried in the arms of God! God is faithful all the time and even beyond our time into all eternity. We can trust the faithfulness of God with our lives.
“Holy Father, forgive me when I pronounce doom and despair on the future. Remind me that the future is in your hands. With countless saints before us we enter our future in sure and certain hope in your faithfulness. Help me not to judge the love of God by the limited experiences of my lifetime. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Dr. Edwin M. “Buddy” Cooper, Jr. serves as the Northwest District Superintendent. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.