I would imagine that all parents can relate to this. If a middle school aged student (or group of students) is making poor choices, as the classroom teacher, I have the obligation to redirect their behavior in hopes that they will make better choices that will allow them to maximize their potential in the classroom, and ultimately adulthood. A select few students seemingly never need to be redirected by me the entire school year. For some students, it takes just a gentle reminder on occasion, and they get right back on track. For others, the redirection lasts about 3.5 seconds. It is those students whose names I have the least trouble learning at the beginning of the school year.
For the pre-adolescent student, they are working on learning what it means to be independent, to have more control over the choices they make, and learning from mistakes they make (hopefully). Having caring teachers who provide a the appropriate amount of guidance, along with supportive parents, make for successful students. But, as already stated, periodic, or sometimes, even regular, redirection is needed to get them on the right path.
In the Psalm and Acts passages, we hear about the unfaith of the Israelites and their need for constant redirection. At times, just redirection by their appointed human leaders (Moses, Jacob, and such) is all that it takes to bring the faith of the Israelites back to focusing on God. At other times, it literally takes an act of God (10 plagues, parting of the Red Sea) for the Israelites to be snapped back into reality. The same unbelief is seen in the religious leaders of the early 1st century, who still refused to recognize Jesus as the Messiah.
I love how Stephen puts the pharisees in their place. In science class, we use the phrasing claim-evidence-reason. Make a claim about some phenomenon, collect evidence, then use scientific reasoning to show how the evidence proves or disproves your claim. Stephen does something similar, guided by the Holy Spirit. He makes the claim for Jesus as Messiah, and then when questioned by the pharisees, he uses a variety of different instances where the Israelites lost faith in God despite all of the signs that God showed them. Then Stephen ends his statements of evidence by stating:
51 “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. 52 Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers. 53 You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it.”
Middle school students, at this point, would most likely shout out something like “You just got roasted!” or “Burn!” And with their egos being knocked down, the pharisees have Stephen dragged out and stoned.
Fast forward to 2017, and we continue to be human, and to lack faith. We get redirected back on the straight and narrow path often, when we seek out God and trust in his ways. But it is this continued struggle with our faith that gives us need for a savior. John reminds us 16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
We, being human, will always fall off the path. The psalmist says “Yet he, being compassionate, forgave their iniquity, and did not destroy them; often he restrained his anger, and did not stir up all his wrath. 39 He remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passes and does not come again.” God will continue to remain faithful, even when we don’t. Just as the prodigal son was welcomed with open arms, so too will God always welcome us back, no matter how big or small our sins may be. God does so love the world!