“You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him — you who have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it.” (Acts 7:51–53, NIV84)
For most of my Christian life I sat on the sidelines reading verses like this and just couldn’t figure out how stupid the Old Testament believers were. God appeared to many of them visibly. He spoke to them through prophets and teachers continually. And like Stephen says in these verses, they were “stiff-necked” and stubborn. They resisted the working of the Holy Spirit within them. They persecuted those God sent to enlighten them and save them. Basically, they were given the manual and refused to follow its instructions. But today, these verses scare me. I wonder sometimes how close I am to doing the very same thing. I, too, am stiff-necked and stubborn. I, too, resist the work that the Holy Spirit wants to do in my life. I have a more complete “manual” (the Bible) than the Old Testament saints, and I seem to find it difficult to follow.
The issue with them and us is that we don’t see what is plain to God. We blind ourselves from the truth of God’s Word because we have redefined it to make it palatable to us. We arrogantly claim a place in God’s kingdom. We pridefully claim an authority to religious rightness but fail to see what is truly right in God’s eyes. How could the Old Testament saints (and we, ourselves) have avoided getting into this position? Stephen tells us that we need to stay true to God’s intended meaning. We need to accept the Word of God for what is says without changing its meaning with our interpretation and redefinition. God calls us to be obedient to His Word. We must stay true to His Word to avoid the pitfalls religious people so often fall into.