One of the most powerful stories in the New Testament is that of Stephen who was martyred for his faith in Jesus Christ by being stoned to death under the watchful eye of a young man named Saul. Stephen’s final words were recorded by Luke in the book of Acts, where he recounts the journey of faith of the Jewish people and forcefully admonishes them for their idolatry, hardness of heart and failure to humble themselves and acknowledge Jesus Christ as the Messiah. They were “cut to the heart” and “gnashed their teeth” and stoned Stephen to death as he gazed into heaven and saw Jesus Christ as he died. (Read more in Acts 7!)
How did it all come to that point? Stephen pointed out this crucial turning point, where God’s people abandoned worshipping Him, in order to worship false gods, idols and other spiritual beings called the “host of heaven” (Acts 7:41-42) when he said, “…in their hearts they turned back to Egypt.” (Acts 7:39)
Idolatry is the natural next step after turning back to Egypt- the place that once held you captive; the place God brought you out of; the place where you cried out to God for help and He heard you and rescued you.
God designed worship as a vehicle by which His Spirit could remain connected to yours, so you could benefit from all the blessings attached to being within His presence. Worship is inherently spiritual – even if you worship a rock or a tree – and it all starts in the heart. What we worship is very telling about our heart condition. Even refusing to worship, or worshipping out of obligation or half-heartedly reveals the heart. With your actions, you will worship the things you already worship in your heart. What infuriated the Jews was that Stephen called them out on it publicly. Idolatry is the natural next step after turning back to Egypt- the place that once held you captive; the place God brought you out of; the place where you cried out to God for help and He heard you and rescued you.
“…in their hearts they turned back to Egypt…” God has a “future” and a “hope” for you (Jeremiah 29:11), so why look backward? It’s a dangerous habit and will eventually lead to discontent, and will draw your heart away from worshipping the Lord. Next? You’ll begin to worship things other than God – past relationships, money, status, power and worse! Stay focused on the Lord and be intentional about your daily worship of Him. A lifestyle of worshipping the Lord and staying connected to His spirit will prevent you from being lured away- back to Egypt and its idols!
Thought for today
In Numbers 11:5, God’s people started to glamorize the past, their lives in Egypt, remembering “cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic” instead of the slavery, beatings and killings they had endured. Stephen said the Jews had made their idols with their own hands! (Acts 7:43) Sometimes we gloss over the pain of the past and remember only the good times and then we wish we could go back – it’s a trap! There is always a better future in Christ, even in the present seems really tough. In Genesis 19, Lot’s wife had just fled her burning city and all the things she’d owned, her wealth and prosperity and when she “looked back” she turned into a pillar of salt. It wasn’t the turning and looking, it was that she “looked back” – the Hebrew word means she “considered and pondered” her life in Sodom and Gomorrah. In her heart, she wanted to go back. Worship the God who holds your future in His hands and don’t “look back” or let the past become an idol! You will worship what you hold most dear in your heart.