Then the high priest asked Stephen, “Are these accusations true?”
This was Stephen’s reply: “Brothers and honorable fathers, listen to me. Our glorious God appeared to our ancestor Abraham in Mesopotamia before he moved to Haran. God told him, `Leave your native land and your relatives, and come to the land that I will show you.’ So Abraham left the land of the Chaldeans and lived in Haran until his father died. Then God brought him here to the land where you now live. But God gave him no inheritance here, not even one square foot of land.
God did promise, however, that eventually the whole country would belong to Abraham and his descendants-though he had no children yet. But God also told him that his descendants would live in a foreign country where they would be mistreated as slaves for four hundred years. `But I will punish the nation that enslaves them,’ God told him, `and in the end they will come out and worship me in this place.’ God also gave Abraham the covenant of circumcision at that time. And so Isaac, Abraham’s son, was circumcised when he was eight days old. Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob was the father of the twelve patriarchs of the Jewish nation.
Rather than answering the high priest’s question, Stephen gave them a little history lesson, starting with Abraham.
Things to note:
- God appeared to Abraham and told him to leave his home and relatives and go to a strange land. Sometimes God calls us to do things we never thought we would do but we go forward in faith. Abraham didn’t protest. He left his home and family and went where God told him to go. He moved by faith and not by sight. He had no idea what the land looked like or even if he would like it. All he knew was that God wanted him to go there and he went.
- Sometimes God calls us to step out of our comfort zone—to leave the familiar for the unfamiliar but as long as we know that this is God’s will or that God is behind this, we have nothing to worry about or fear. God would never lead us astray.
- God promised Abraham that his descendants would inherit the land. Abraham had no children at the time because his wife was barren. There are times when God’s promises might seem farfetched or impossible to us but God always comes through. God sees the overall picture. God sees beyond our situations. God saw an old man and his wife become parents of a son named Isaac who became the father of Jacob who had twelve sons who represented the twelve tribes of Israel.
- God warned Abraham that his descendants would be slaves in a foreign country but He also gave him hope. God would punish the nation that enslaved them and they would be free to worship Him in the land He gave them.
As Stephen mentioned God gave Abraham the covenant of circumcision. The details of this covenant are spelled out in the book of Genesis. God said to Abraham, “This is my covenant with you: I will make you the father of not just one nation, but a multitude of nations! What’s more, I am changing your name. It will no longer be Abram; now you will be known as Abraham, for you will be the father of many nations. I will give you millions of descendants who will represent many nations. Kings will be among them!
“I will continue this everlasting covenant between us, generation after generation. It will continue between me and your offspring forever. And I will always be your God and the God of your descendants after you. Yes, I will give all this land of Canaan to you and to your offspring forever. And I will be their God.
“Your part of the agreement,” God told Abraham, “is to obey the terms of the covenant. You and all your descendants have this continual responsibility. This is the covenant that you and your descendants must keep: Each male among you must be circumcised; the flesh of his foreskin must be cut off. This will be a sign that you and they have accepted this covenant. Every male child must be circumcised on the eighth day after his birth. This applies not only to members of your family, but also to the servants born in your household and the foreign-born servants whom you have purchased. All must be circumcised. Your bodies will thus bear the mark of my everlasting covenant. Anyone who refuses to be circumcised will be cut off from the covenant family for violating the covenant.”
God basically made a contract with Abraham. A contract has terms that both parties must agree on. In exchange for being the father of many nations, Abraham had to circumcise all the males who were living among him and his family and himself as a sign that they have accepted the covenant. Anyone who refused to be circumcised was in essence saying that they didn’t agree with the terms of the covenant and didn’t want to be a part of it.
Jesus has made an agreement with His followers. He said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned for greater fruitfulness by the message I have given you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful apart from me.
“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. Anyone who parts from me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. But if you stay joined to me and my words remain in you, you may ask any request you like, and it will be granted! My true disciples produce much fruit. This brings great glory to my Father.
Our fruits are a sign that we belong to Jesus. It is a sign that His words remain in us. It is a sign that we are applying His words to our lives. Just as circumcision was a mark of God’s everlasting covenant, our connection to Jesus (the Vine) is a mark of everlasting life. As long as we stay close to Him we will not perish. As long as the Jews continued to be circumcised they were not cut off from the covenant family.
Acts 7:1-8; Genesis 17:4-14; John 15:1-8