Acts 6:8-15 ESV
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.
Full of Faith
Stephen was a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit and wisdom. He was a servant of the Lord, doing what God had called and had appointed him to do. It was obvious that God’s hand was upon his life, and that he was following the leading of the Holy Spirit, for he was full of God’s grace and power.
But, isn’t this how we should all be living? For, God called us to be his saints, to be holy, to be set apart from this world of ours, and to be set apart to God and for his service, becoming like him in all that we do and say.
Yet it seems today, at least here in America, that if you are like this, you are an oddball, and even others who call themselves Christians will shy away from you because they will see you as “hyper-religious.” For, it seems that most Christians in America are more worldly, and so someone like Stephen would be an outcast even in the church today.
So, Stephen faced opposition from the synagogue of the Freedmen (Libertines), and they disputed with him. And, those who are disputing with those full of faith and of the Holy Spirit today are, in fact, libertines, although of a different nature, perhaps.
For, the term “Libertine” today means: “A person who behaves without moral principles or a sense of responsibility, especially in sexual matters” (Google).
And, this is exactly what the cheap grace gospel promotes, for it requires no repentance, no obedience, and no submission to Christ as Lord. So, it liberates its adherents to continue in their sinful lifestyles, without guilt, while guaranteeing them heaven when they die. So, they can continue on a sinful course without conscience.
And, those who buy into the cheap grace gospel are definitely opposing and disputing with those who hold fast to the true gospel of our salvation which demands repentance, walks of obedience, and submission to Christ as Lord (Rom. 6:1-23; Rom. 8:1-17; Eph. 4:17-24; 1 Jn. 1:5-9; 1 Jn. 2:3-6).
But, the cheap grace gospel message cannot hold up against the truth of the gospel taught in Scripture, and so those who are promoting the cheap grace are also lying about the true gospel and its messengers. They are claiming that the lie is the truth, and the truth is a lie, and that those who are teaching the truth are teaching works-based salvation, but that they alone have the true message of God’s grace.
And, they are definitely stirring up many who call themselves Christians to come against those who are following after the truth. And, they all seem to be reading from the same script, for they are all regurgitating the same lies and excuses and rationale for why they believe what they do, and for why they feel they are at liberty to live in sin now that they are “saved.”
But, if we are truly following the Lord Jesus with our lives, as Stephen was, it should be evident even in our countenance. The joy of the Lord should shine through.
Seize the Opportunity
Yet, when the false charges were brought against Stephen, he was given the opportunity to state whether the charges were true or not, i.e. he was given an opportunity to speak in his own defense.
We won’t all be given such an opportunity, but if we are, we need to make certain we seize it, not for our own glory, but for the glory of God, and in order to present the truth of God’s Word. For, that may be our only chance before our freedoms of speech are entirely taken away from us.
So, Stephen seized this opportunity given him to give his opponents a history lesson, beginning with God’s call on the life of Abraham, through the story of Solomon being the one to build the house of God, the temple, but then stating that God does not live in houses made by human hands. He does not dwell in buildings called “church,” either, but he dwells in human hearts – the hearts of those whose lives are given over to him by faith.
And, then Stephen said this to his opponents:
Acts 7:51-53 ESV
“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.”
Speak the Truth in Love
Somewhere we have gotten this idea that being a Christian means that we have to be “nice” all the time, and that we are never to say anything to make anyone uncomfortable. We have this idea that “good Christians” are those who just go around making everyone feel good about themselves. And, so if we confront sin in sinful humans, and we call for repentance, and if we speak the truth in love, then we are being “negative.”
But, remember that Stephen’s face was like the face of an angel, and he was full of faith and of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom (the wisdom of God). And, yet he spoke these words which today would be considered “taboo” for a Christian to say to someone else. But, it was true, and it needed to be said, and it was spoken in love.
And, this is so true today of all those who are following after the cheap grace gospel, who are shutting their ears to the truth because they want to maintain control over their own lives. For, they want to continue in their sinful habits, and they want to live worldly lives pleasing to the world and to their own flesh.
So, even if you prove to them from Scripture that they must repent of their sin, obey the Lord, and submit their lives to God, they will reject the truth and continue to regurgitate the lie.
Acts 7:54-60 ESV
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.
Persecuted for Jesus Christ
If we are truly following Jesus Christ with our lives wholeheartedly, and if we are full of faith and of the Holy Spirit of God, and of the wisdom of God; and if we are speaking the truth in love, like Stephen did; and if we are confronting sin, calling for repentance, and calling people to the obedience of faith in Jesus Christ, then we should expect to be hated, ostracized, rejected, ridiculed falsely, and persecuted for our faith in our Lord.
And, if we are not yet in a situation where such persecution ends in death, then we must know that it is coming. It is just a matter of time. For, even in America, where Christianity is the #1 religion, persecution against those who are like Stephen is prevalent, just not much on a physical level yet. But, if we are like Stephen, we are not going to have a lot of friends. It can be a lonely road to travel.
But, we need to forgive our persecutors and those who reject us, and we need to love them as God loves us. And, we need to continue on in our walks of faith, doing what God has called us to do for the glory of God.
And, we need to believe that God is going to work all this out for good for those of us who love (obey) God, and who have been called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28).
So, just keep on following the Lord, and keep on sharing the true gospel of our salvation, even if it means you will be opposed and rejected. For, the Lord is with us, and his Word will not return empty, but will accomplish the purpose for which it was sent.
Hide Me, Rock of Ages
Brantley C. George, 1946
Oh Thou blessed rock of ages
(rock of ages I am)
Trusting now dear Lord in Thee
(dear Lord in thee I’m trusting)
Keep me till my journey’s ended
(journey’s ended, keep me)
Till Thy blessed face I see…
Hide me oh blessed rock of ages
(blessed rock of ages hide me)
‘Til Thy blessed face I see
(Thy face I see in glory)
When the storm around me rages
(round me rages, blessed)
Rock of ages hide thou me…
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