Saturday, November 19, 2016, 7:44 a.m. – The Lord Jesus put in mind the song “Be Strong, and Take Courage.” Speak, Lord, your words to my heart. I read Acts 6-7 (Select vv. ESV).
Introduction: Stephen was one of the seven men chosen to minister to the needs of widows in the daily distribution of food. These men were chosen in order to relieve the apostles of this responsibility, so that they could give their attention over to prayer and to the Word of God. The men chosen had to be known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. Stephen was specifically mentioned as being a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.
The Face of An Angel (6:8-15)
And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and disputed with Stephen. But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. 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.” And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel.
When we are following our Lord Jesus in obedience, and we are walking in his ways, and in his truth, though not perfectly, there will always be people who will not like us, and who will try to turn others against us. To do so, if they cannot find anything legitimate with which to bring accusation against us, they will make it all up. They are not content with hating us alone, nor do they like it if others do like us, and so they willfully and purposefully spread rumors (gossip and slander) in order to get others to join them in their hatred against us. They may even be “nice” to us to our face, but behind our backs they speak terrible things against us. Yet, our goal in life should not be to have everyone like us and to treat us well, but our goal in life should be to please our Lord Jesus in all that we do and say and are.
Gossip is a terrible, terrible thing. Those who spread untruths (or unkind truths) about others, and who do so maliciously, are obviously very angry and hateful people. And, so, we need to pray for their salvation. Yet, we must return their hatred with kindness. We need to remain at peace even when we are being strongly and wrongfully accused. As well, we need to not enter into such conversations with people like this, but we should avoid socializing with gossipers and haters. We should not entertain such conversations as this so that we don’t become partakers ourselves and easily be swayed to turn against someone else, most especially against those who have done us no harm, and who are being wrongfully accused.
The Confrontation (summary 7:1-50)
Stephen, when accused falsely, took the opportunity afforded him to talk with the people about their relationship with God, for the way in which they were treating Stephen was reflective of how they had treated God throughout the generations, and it was reflective of how they had treated the Son of God (God), their Messiah (Christ), Lord and Savior. So, he gave them a history lesson, beginning with God’s call of Abraham, and the giving of the Old Covenant God had made with his people. Then, he talked about Moses. God had given them Moses to be the people’s ruler and deliverer. He was used of God to deliver the people out of slavery in Egypt, which was a foreshadowing of Jesus Christ as our deliverer, who saved us from slavery to sin. But, Israel’s forefathers refused to obey Moses, God’s servant, and they turned their hearts back to Egypt. And, they worshiped idols instead of God.
It isn’t that much different today. Jesus Christ, our deliver, set us free from slavery to sin by dying for us on a cross, thus taking our punishment upon himself. He who knew no sin became sin for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. Through his death and resurrection, he put sin to death, and he rose victorious over sin, Satan, death and hell, on our behalf. Because he died, we can die to sin, and because he lives, we can live and walk in freedom from sin in the power of the Holy Spirit now living within those of us who truly have put our faith and trust in Jesus Christ. Yet, many who call themselves Christians, i.e. who profess to be followers of Christ, have not died with Christ to sin at all, and many who did, have since fallen back into sinful ways and are following after their own sinful desires, rather than following the One they claim to know and worship.
Uncircumcised in Heart (7:51-53)
“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”
When someone is stiff-necked, he is arrogant, stubborn, obstinate and unyielding. Now, it is good to hold strong to our beliefs, and to be unyielding in NOT compromising our faith – a compromise to be accepted or to avoid rejection and persecution. So, being stubborn and unyielding can be a good thing if it is in the arena of dedication and faithfulness to God, to Jesus Christ, and to the gospel of our salvation. But, this is talking about being stiff-necked against God Almighty and having unclean and unregenerate hearts which refuse to obey God and to do what his Word teaches.
The reason they were, and people today are stiff-necked and unregenerate, is because they resist the Holy Spirit. They hear the Word of God, but they reject its truths. Some people will claim to accept parts of it, but will refuse to believe and follow the parts which don’t go along with their chosen lifestyles. Or, they make up their own beliefs in order to suit the way they want to live. So many people and preachers today are following and are teaching a gospel of salvation message absent of death to sin and living to righteousness. They find scriptures agreeable to them, and they ignore the rest which teach holiness, walking in the Spirit, and no longer living to gratify the cravings of our sinful flesh. They want to believe that faith in Jesus gets them out of hell and into heaven, but that nothing at all is required of them – no repentance, no submission, and no obedience.
Not only do they refuse to obey the Lord, whom they claim as their Lord, because they think they don’t have to, but they persecute those who do obey God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In today’s modern church, those who truly follow the Word of God and take seriously their God and their salvation from sin, are often made fun of, called “crazy,” are ridiculed, rejected, despised, ostracized, and persecuted, and even, in some cases, are kicked to the curb, because they are not wanted, and because they don’t fit in with today’s modern church philosophy and marketing schemes for how to draw in large crowds of people. They don’t want us in among them because we might offend someone with the truth of the gospel. What they want to do is entertain the masses so that the world will feel at home in the “church.”
Killed for His Testimony (vv. 54-60)
Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
When we tell people the truth, and they don’t want to hear it, they will ignore us by stopping up their ears so that they don’t have to listen to the truth. They don’t want to hear the truth, because it might make them feel guilty for their chosen lifestyles, and they don’t want to feel guilty. They want to live in their own world, where reality is only what they make it. And, so they gather around themselves those who will tell them what they want to hear – feel-good messages which never confront sin or call for repentance, and which never demand obedience to God or to his Word.
For some, just stopping up their ears and ignoring us and the message of the gospel may not be enough to satisfy them. They may go on the offensive and do everything they can to try to destroy us and the gospel message so that they don’t ever have to hear it again. And, that is what they did with Stephen. They ambushed him, stoned him, and put him to death in order to silence him.
There are many Christians today who are being martyred for their faith in Jesus Christ, just as Stephen was. And, this may instill fear in those who managed, so far, to escape such a death. There are also many who are being verbally accosted for their faith, or who are being fired from jobs, kicked out of homes, and rejected by friends and family. Also, there are those in high up positions within the governments of our land, and within the institutional church, who are accusing Christians of being bigoted, hateful, and intolerant, and of being religious extremists (associated with terrorism). They are calling for unity of all religions and of all walks of life in order to bring about a one-world religion under the authority of a totalitarian one-world government, the likes of a revival of Hitler’s regime.
Yet, we are not to fear their threats, or their hate, or their persecutions or false accusations, whether they come from people high up in the global order of things, or whether coming from a neighbor or “friend” or family member. We are to trust in the Lord, instead, and stand strong in our faith, and keep on telling people the message of the cross of Christ. Jesus died that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. This is the essence of the gospel message. So, turn to follow (obey) him today.
Be Strong and Take Courage / Don Moen
Be strong and take courage
Do not fear or be dismayed
For the Lord will go before you
And His light will show the way
Why don’t you give him all of your fears?
Why don’t you let him wipe all of your tears?
He knows, He’s been through pain before
And He knows all that you’ve been looking for