Sunday, April 24, 2016

Ferocious Erudition

The Colonel has been called a lot of things over the years, and "angel" ain't one of 'em.  But, he hopes to be remembered as one.

Something in a scripture passage during his Sunday morning Bible study struck the Colonel differently than in numerous previous readings.

The passage in question is Luke's account of Stephen in the sixth chapter of the book of Acts. 

Stephen, as you will remember from your own countless perusing of the passage, was one of the seven men of good reputation, wisdom, and spiritual maturity chosen to administer to the equitable distribution of church resources among the widows of differing nationalities.  Because the Greek word, diakonos, was used to describe their duties, these seven men chosen to assist the apostles (allowing the apostles to devote their efforts to preaching and teaching) are considered to be the Christian Church's first deacons; although Luke does not indicate that they were so named.

Interesting word, diakonos.  As it passed from Greek to Latin to Old English to modern English, (with other linguistic detours the Colonel ain't schooled in) the word was long thought to be a conjunction of two Greek root words meaning "to hurry" and to "kick up dust."  

The Colonel likes that translation -- connotes a servant so devoted to his duties that his alacrity is physically manifest in the exhaust of his passage.

Alas, as much as the Colonel likes it, that translation of diakonos has fallen into disfavor amongst erudite folks whose grasp of Greek far outstrips his.  Modern Biblical scholars hold to a different set of root words whose conjunction connotes a servant trusted with protection and allocation of resources.  Given the responsibilities charged to Stephen, and the other six chosen with him; namely, the aforementioned "equitable distribution of church resources among the widows of differing nationalities;" it seems most probable, even to this knuckle-dragger, that this latter definition is more accurate.

But, despite the Colonel's verbose attempt to make it so, this post isn't about the origin of the word, and duties of one assigned as a, deacon.

No, weary reader, this post is about Stephen's ferocious erudition in the defense of his faith.  

As you will remember, from your numerous reading of the passage in question, Luke tells us that Stephen was ministering to a group of Christians who belonged to a synagogue composed primarily of freed slaves from regions outside of Israel.  As Stephen ministered to physical needs, he also ministered to spiritual needs -- preaching the Gospel of Jesus as the Messiah.  Said preaching rankled the synagogue leadership.

What rankled them most was the fact that, as Luke points out in verse 10 of Acts 6, they couldn't match the wisdom and erudition with which Stephen made his case for the messiahship of Jesus.  

Mind you, there is no indication that Stephen was a particularly well-educated man.  In fact, Luke indicates that the source of Stephen's wisdom and erudition was the Holy Spirit.  

Well, them high muckity-mucks in the Freedmen Synagogue couldn't best Stephen in the contest of ideas, so they dredged up some blasphemous mud and threw it at him.  Hauled before the Sanhedrin (Jerusalem's version of the county board of supervisors) and charged with blasphemy, Stephen sat facing the same sort of crowd that Jesus had just prior to His crucifixion.

Luke tells us that as the Sanhedrin was giving ole Stephen the stink eye, them sanctimonious Sadducees and Pharisees noticed something unusual about the look on Stephen's face.

Here's how Luke describes the scene in Acts 6:15:  "All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel."

Now, if y'all are anything like the Colonel -- and he is seriously sorry if you are -- you have probably read that verse before and thought that Stephen was sitting there with this placid, sweet smile on his face.  

That's how the Colonel has always read the verse.

Until this morning.

This morning when he read the verse the Colonel was suddenly reminded of the times in Scripture when men and women were face to face with angels.  He was also reminded of descriptions of angels in Scripture and those descriptions explain why men and women face to face with angels were, at least, deeply impressed, and at most, scared plumb to death.

Angels -- real angels -- aren't cloud-sittin' cuddly chubby-cheeked cherubs.

Angels -- real angels -- are impressive beings capable of a ferocity unmatched by mere mortal men.

The Colonel is thinking that when the Sanhedrin looked at Stephen what they saw was ferocious faith.    

Look, just as there is no scriptural indication that Stephen was particularly well-educated, there is no indication that Stephen was a battle-tested warrior either.  Stephen's erudition and ferocious defense of his faith -- see the remainder of the chapter -- was not, in the Colonel's not-so humble opinion, a result of his experience.  Stephen's ferocious faith was God's Holy Spirit working through him.

Today, men and women of faith face Sanhedrins of sanctimonious legalists who have twisted the concepts of love and acceptance into hideous forms unrecognizable by the God who created those concepts.  

Stephen defended his faith with the wisdom of spiritual maturity available only through the power of God's Holy Spirit.  And, he faced death with the ferocity of an angel.  

The Colonel prays for angelic ferocity.

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