Chapter Eleven

At their own Bible study that Sunday evening at the nursing home, Earl thought to himself about how appropriate was the Book of Acts to the information that came out of his latest encounter with Wisdom. The power of God that was so abundant in the people whom God had chosen to represent Him to the world gave Earl joy in the midst of the bad news that permeated the world about him. He also noted the martial flavor of the hymns that Joyce had selected to play: Onward Christian Soldiers topped the list. He suspected that sometime during the past two days Wisdom had had a chat with Joyce too.

“Today we’re going to continue with the exploits of the Apostles,” Earl told the assembled residents. “We’re at the point, in Acts Chapter 7, where the evil religious leaders are attempting to bring Christianity to a screeching halt. Here they pick on a devout Christian named Stephen, finding people who will bear false witness against him, claiming that he is saying blasphemous things against God. The leaders confront him and restrain him, demanding that he answer the charges against him. His reply, in which he gave the leaders a lesson in their own history, is a famous defense of the faith:

“’And he said, Men, brethren and fathers, hearken: The God of glory appeared unto our father, Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran, and said unto him, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and come into the land which I shall show thee. Then came he out of the land of the Chaldeans, and dwelt in Haran; and from there, when his father was dead, he removed him into this land, in which ye now dwell. And he gave him no inheritance in it, no, not so much as to set his foot on it; yet he promised him that he would give it to him for a possession, and to his seed after him, when as yet he had no child. And God spoke in this way, that his seed should sojourn in a strange land; and that they should bring them into bondage and entreat them evil four hundred years. And the nation to whom they shall be in bondage will I judge, said God; and after that shall they come forth, and serve me in this place. And he gave him the covenant of circumcision; and so Abraham begot Isaac, and circumcised him the eighth day; and Isaac begot Jacob; and Jacob begot the twelve patriarchs. And the patriarchs, moved with envy, sold Joseph into Egypt; but God was with him, and delivered him out of all his afflictions, and gave him favor and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh, kiing of Egypt; and he made him governor over Egypt and all his house.

“’Now there came a famine over all the land of Egypt and Canaan, and great affliction; and our fathers found no sustenance. But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent out our fathers first. And at the second time Joseph was made known to his brethren; and Joseph’s kindred was made known to Pharaoh. Then sent Joseph, and called his father, Jacob, to him, and all his kindred, [seventy five] souls. Son Jacob went down into Egypt, and died, he and our fathers, and were carried over into Shechem, and laid in the sepulcher that Abraham bought for a sum of money of the sons of Hamor, the father of Sechem.

“’But when the time of the promise drew near, which God had sworn to Abraham, the people grew and multiplied in Egypt, till another king arose, who knew not Joseph. The same dealt craftily with our kindred, and evil entreated our fathers, so that they cast out their young children, to the end they might not live. In which time Moses was born, and was exceedingly fair, and nourished up in his father’s house three months; and when he was cast out, Pharaoh’s daughter took him up, and nourished him as her own son. And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds. And when he was full forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren, the children of Israel. And seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended him, and avenged him that was oppressed, and smote the Egyptian. For he supposed his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them; but they understood not. And the next day he showed himself to them as they strove, and would have set them at one again, saying, Sirs, ye are brethren; why do ye wrong one to another? But he that did his neighbor wrong thrust him away, saying, Who made thee a ruler and a judge over us? Wilt thou kill me, as thou diddest the Egyptian yesterday?

“’Then fled Moses at this saying, and was a sojourner in the land of Midian, where he begot two sons. And when forty years were expired, there appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai an angel of the Lord in a flame of fire in a bush. When Moses saw it, he wondered at the sight; and as he drew near to behold it, the voice of the Lord came unto him, saying, I am the God of thy fathers, the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Then Moses trembled, and dared not behold. Then said the Lord to him, Put off thy shoes from thy feet; for the place where thou standest is holy ground. I have seen, I have seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and I have heard their groaning, and am come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send thee into Egypt.

“’This Moses whom they refused, saying Who made thee a ruler and a judge? The same did God send to be a ruler and a deliverer by the hand of the angel who appeared to him in the bush. He brought them out, after he had shown wonders and signs in the land of Egypt, and in the red Sea, and in the wilderness forty years. This is that Moses who said unto the children of Israel, A Prophet shall the Lord, your God, raise up unto you of your brethren, like me; him shall ye hear. This is he that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him in Mount Sinai, and with our fathers, who received the living oracles to give unto us. Whom our fathers would not obey, but thrust him from them, and in their hearts turned back again into Egypt. Saying unto Aaron, Make us gods to go before us; for, as for this Moses who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we know not what is become of him. And they made a calf in those days, and offered sacrifice unto the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their own hands. Then God turned, and gave them up to worship the host of heaven; as it is written in the book of the prophets, O ye house of Israel, have ye offered to me slain beasts and sacrifices by the space of forty years in the wilderness? Yea, ye took up the tabernacle of Molech, and the star of your god, Remphan, figures which ye made to worship; and I will carry you away beyond Babylon.

“’Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness, as he had appointed, speaking unto Moses, that he should make it according to the fashion that he had seen; which also our fathers that came after brought in with Joshua into the possession of the heathen, whom God drove out before the face of our fathers, unto the days of David, who found favor before God, and desired to find a tabernacle for the God of Jacob. But Solomon built him an house. Nevertheless, the Most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands, as saith the prophet, Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool. What house will ye build me, saith the Lord. Or what is the place of my rest? Hath not my hand made all of these things? Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? And they have slain them who showed before of the coming of the Just One, of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers; who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it.

“’When they had heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and gnashed on him with their teeth. But [Stephen], being full of the Holy Spirit, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, and said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, and cast him out of the city, and stoned him; and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.’

“Thus ended the life of Stephen, the first of a long and illustrious line of Christian martyrs who died for their faith in Jesus Christ,” Earl told them. “It’s a sad story, but then again, it’s not. How did Jesus tell us to deal with persecution? Did He tell us to get our own back in spades? To seek revenge? No, He told us to leap for joy, because we, in our persecution, are closest to Him, who was persecuted for our sakes. Stephen has all eternity to recall his deed of love, faith and courage with great happiness. I’ll leave you with that thought for tonight with a promise that the next story in the Book of Acts ends up as a wonderful tale with lots of hope and happiness.”

“Laurie, I noticed something about Cathy in Church today,” Joyce said as they prepared to leave and were out of earshot of the residents.

“Oh?” she asked. “What was that?”

“Our pastor gives us the Word in rather deep sermons. We like him for that among other things, because he’s so Scripturally-oriented. But he certainly speaks at the adult level. I watched Cathy a couple of times during his sermon today, and I was taken aback, because she seemed to be following him perfectly.”

“Oh boy,” she laughed. “What you have, Joyce, is the standard prejudice of normal people regarding the handicapped. If they look odd, their minds are odd too.”

“But. . .” she began.

“No. Wait. It’s a very normal reaction. It takes a long time to get over it. Actually, some handicaps justify that feeling, but cerebral palsy isn’t one of them. You have an excellent example in one of the world’s foremost physicists, Stephen Hawking. He’s afflicted with cerebral palsy too, but the scientific community generally considers him to have an unusually gifted mind, something on the order of Einstein’s. From what I’ve observed, Cathy’s mind is as sharp as a normal person’s, and probably considerably sharper.”

“What a wonderful surprise!” was all that Joyce could say. She shared her conversation about Cathy with Earl on the drive home. She was surprised at his reaction, for he laughed too.

“Yeah, Joyce, I got to know Buddy pretty well, and I ended up thinking that he was smarter than me. I wouldn’t be shocked if Cathy had that same quick intelligence.”

That Tuesday evening they received a phone call from Pastor George. The news he gave them was both terrifying and depressing. “You know Bob and Evelyn Smith, don’t you?” He asked Joyce. “I hate to tell you this,” he continued after she answered in the affirmative, “but they’re both dead. Murdered. They haven’t caught a suspect yet, but apparently intruders came into their home in the middle of the night and slaughtered them as they slept. From the graffiti that they left behind, the police think that the creeps who did this were Christian-haters. Now I’m trying to pass the word around our Church, and it’s not a pleasant task.”

“I should say not,” Joyce replied. “It there anything that Earl and I can do?”

“Not really,” the pastor said. “We’ll have a funeral service for them this Saturday, and it would be good if you could show up for that. Otherwise, they didn’t have any family to speak of, at least that I or the police know about.”

[to be continued]


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