What was the crime Stephen was accused of? What cost him his life? The Book of Acts records:
Then they secretly instigated men who said, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” And they stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council, and they set up false witnesses who said, “This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.”
“We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” The lexicon defines “blasphemous” as “defaming, denigrating, demeaning.” It doesn’t do to speak against traditions in any generation – especially to a room full of pilgrims. The members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen had come to Jerusalem from the farthest reaches of the empire. It has been my experience that these kinds of people are exceedingly zealous for customs and traditions. They came to worship at the Temple, but if the Temple wasn’t necessary anymore, then their journeys were in vain. Unthinkable! For a modern example, consider Cinco de Mayo. I suspect it is a much bigger holiday in America than it is in Mexico! Expats are more zealous to celebrate the ways of home than those living in “the old country.”
The same is often true in churches when traditions are threatened. Even though I live in wheat country now, I’m not excited to sing “Bringing in the Sheaves.” When I was a child living near the dairy farms of Washington, I thought we were singing, “Bringing in the Cheese.” That made more sense because I had no idea what a sheave was. Now that I do, it isn’t relevant. Farmers don’t set up sheaves in wheat fields anymore!
Many songs are like that. The old song, “I’ll fly away,” offends me. Jesus isn’t even mentioned, but just try to fly away without him! When I was a little child, my mother would rock me to sleep in her lap singing, “I come to the garden alone.” It was such a beautiful song, and a dear memory, but I have no idea what that song means! In my opinion, “The Old Rugged Cross” borders on — but now I find myself guilty of Stephen’s offense. Traditions are nurtured by feelings – often deeply cherished memories. To speak against them or to ignore them is to invite disaster.
Did Stephen do the wrong thing by “speaking against Moses”? Of course not! He was full of the Holy Spirit. Could he have worded his defense differently? I don’t think so. To win their argument, his opponents were willing to lie (Acts 6:11), and now the broken pieces of their synagogue can be found in the bottom of an ancient cistern.
Sometimes we must fearlessly speak up, even if it means being rocked to sleep by the mob.