- Sermon Notes
Last week we were studying the first few verses of Acts chapter 6. The church was having an internal dispute. A complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food.
The disciples responded by asking that seven men be chosen who could help in the serving of tables and the resolving of this complaint. They were to choose men of good reputation who were full of the Holy Spirit and filled with wisdom. These seven men were chosen to resolve this problem because they were men of faith and men of character.
Meanwhile, the disciples would devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word. God wants His church to be healthy and they need to be fed on the word of God. This must not be neglected, so men with a good heart and good character were chosen. It’s a great example of the church finding leaders who have a heart to serve and are filled with the Holy Spirit.
One of those seven men was Stephen. He was full of faith and full of the Holy Spirit. He is the kind of man that men should aspire to be like. He had a good reputation, he was full of wisdom and the life of God could be seen in his life.
I’m going to tell you in advance how the story ends, Stephen becomes the first martyr of the church. You might think that this is a tragedy, this business of becoming the first martyr. But I submit that God does not see it that way.
The scripture tells us that Jesus sits at the right hand of the throne of God, and as Stephen is being stoned he doesn’t call down curses from heaven against those stoning him. He calls down forgiveness from heaven.
Stephen’s life is remarkable. He speaks in great power to confront the hard hearts of the Jewish leaders. Immediately he sees into heaven itself and beholds the glory of God and sees Jesus standing, not sitting, but standing at the right hand of God. It’s as though Jesus gives him a standing ovation; He stands in honor of a life well lived.
Was God surprised when Stephen was stoned by these Jewish leaders? Was He holding His head in His hands in disbelief? Not at all. Was Stephen’s life cut short? Not at all. If he had lived another day it would have been too long.
In Psalm 139:16 David wrote, “The days that were ordained for me were all written in Your book, when as yet there was not one of them.” In other words, God has written down the number of our days before we were even born. Stephen’s life was not cut short; he lived the exact number of days God ordained.
Some of you might recognize the name Jim Elliott. He decided to reach out as a missionary to the Huaroni people of Ecuador. He was actually born in Portland, Oregon. Jim wrote in his journal, “I seek not a long life, but a full life.” Jim lived his life for the glory of God. He and his fellow missionaries were killed shortly after meeting the Huaroni people, but his wife, Elisabeth, followed her husband several years later and many of the Huaroni people became Christians, including some of those involved in killing her husband.
A famous quote from Jim Elliott’s journal is a great insight into living well. “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep in order to gain what he cannot lose.”
We have nothing at all to say about the date of our birth and little to say in regards to date of our death, but we have a lot to say in regards to how we live between those dates.
I. Let God Direct Your Steps
- When Stephen was arrested, he was brought before the Sanhedrin, a group of about 70 Jewish leaders who would decide on religious matters regarding the law. They had their own police force.
- Stephen was called there to give an account of the accusations brought by the members of a synagogue from some other city.
- They couldn’t cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which Stephen was speaking, so they stirred up the people with false accusations.
- It should be no surprise that when someone is filled with the Holy Spirit and rises up to be used of God, the enemy attacks and attacks with lies.
- Stephen knows they are Jewish scholars so he uses the word of God and the history of Israel to give them examples of people resisting the Holy Spirit. He’s going to finish by accusing them of doing that very thing.
- If you want to live your life well, then you need to stop wrestling with God, stop resisting the Holy Spirit, and let God direct your steps.
- Stephen begins with Abraham. The Jews loved to say that Abraham was their father. But Abraham was a man of faith. God told him to leave his country and his relatives and come into a land that he had never seen or known.
- Abraham believed the promises of God.
- Even though Abraham was more than 75 years old and had no child, he believed God’s promise that his offspring would be given this land for their inheritance.
- God then gave Abraham the covenant of circumcision. This was a mark on their body to signify the covenant relationship they had with God.
- But what’s the point of taking on a symbol without the reality of the heart?
Deuteronomy 10:12, “Now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require from you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”
- That’s what living faith looks like, but if those things aren’t true, the symbol loses its meaning. That’s why God told them to circumcise their heart.
Deuteronomy 10:16, “So circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer.”
Romans 2:29, Circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit,
- What does that mean? It means that you love God with all your heart and with all your soul.
Luke 8:15, “But the seed which fell on the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an good and honest heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance.”
- Honoring God with your heart is just a better way to live. Too many people are conflicted in their heart and troubled in their soul. There’s a better way.
Illus - What a difference it makes to know the right way of doing something. When Jordi and I were first married we rented a boat and went crabbing. I decided to cook them myself, except I didn’t know what I was doing.
- You don’t have to live a messed up life, God will show you a more excellent way.
B. Faith trusts God even through trouble
- Stephen then reminds them about Joseph and reminds them that the patriarchs, that means “their fathers,” became jealous of Joseph and sold him into Egypt; and yet God was with him.
- When he finishes, Stephen will say to them, “You’re just like your fathers.” They rejected the one that would save them.
- The lesson is personal. Don’t resist God, don’t keep wrestling with Him, walk in faith and trust God even in the midst of trouble.
- Here’s why; one of the great principles in scripture is that God often uses trouble to accomplish His purposes in our lives. Remember what Joseph said to his brothers when God’s hand was revealed at the end.
Genesis 50:20, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.”
- If anyone had reason to question what God was doing, it was Joseph. But Joseph held on to his faith, he held onto his integrity.
- He didn’t resist God’s hand, he moved with it.
Illus - A storm may appear to blow us off course, but when the storm is over we’ll discover that God is still at the helm. I had my own perfect storm once. Jordi and I were attending a couples retreat at Beaverton Foursquare when things took an awful turn…
- It’s hard to trust God through a storm when your relationship to Him isn’t right.
C. Turn your heart toward God
- Stephen then reminds them of Moses and after a bit of history, brings them to the point.
- Verse 39; “Our fathers were unwilling to be obedient to Moses, but repudiated him and in their hearts they turned back to Egypt.”
- When he finishes he’ll say to them, “You are just like your fathers.”
- Moses turned his heart toward God and believed that God would use him to grant deliverance to Israel. Moses would wait 40 more years, but God who promised is faithful.
- They turned their hearts back to Egypt. They grumbled constantly against God and constantly complained for 40 years. And because of their lack of faith, not one of them entered into the land God promised them, except for Joshua and Caleb.
- We get to choose the condition of our heart. We get to decide whether we will turn our heart toward God or whether we will live our lives complaining and bitter because we don’t like the fact that we have to go through a desert in order to get the promises of God fulfilled in our lives.
II. Don’t Resist the Holy Spirit
- Stephen then brings up the tabernacle of God. This was a tent filled with articles made after the pattern Moses was given on Mount Sinai; a pattern which resembled the throne of God in heaven.
- It was the place where God demonstrated His presence; they could physically see that God was with them.
- But the Israelites in the desert were so conflicted, so undecided in their faith, that they also brought along the tabernacle of Moloch (verse 43).
- In verse 48 it gets personal; “The Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands…”
- Is there a tabernacle of God anywhere today? Is there a temple anywhere on the earth where God’s Spirit dwells? Absolutely - He dwells right here in you.
A. Let your neck bow before the throne
- The grand finale of Stephen’s speech is in verses 51-53. He calls them stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, always resisting the Holy Spirit.
- You really don’t want God calling you stiff in the neck and uncircumcised in the heart. What does it mean to be stiff-necked and what does God desire?
- The idea of being stiff-necked really comes from a plowman that would direct the oxen by pressing a light pole on their necks. If an ox was hard to control or stubborn, it was stiff-necked.
- Don’t resist the hand of God on your neck or on your heart. Don’t “kick against the goads.”
- God is trying to help you, God is trying to direct your steps and the pour His favor on your life; why would anyone want to resist that?
Illus – It’s kind of like a teenager having an attitude. In those moments when I was trying to get them to soften their heart I would often ask, “Please tell me, am I for you or am I against you?”
- The phrase “hell-bent” describes it. Some people are like a car out of alignment, they seem to be bent toward worldly things. But those are the very things that destroy our lives.
- Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, is stoned by these stiff-necked Jewish leaders, but the way he dies is nothing short of holy and glorious.
- He connects three times with God in his death. “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,” and “Lord, don’t hold this sin against them.” Amazing.
- But something is also happening. There is a man there that is being affected by what he sees.
- Saul is there and is so angry against the church that he goes house to house to arrest them, but that moment of seeing Stephen die; would that stay in his heart? “This guy has relationship and all I have is religion. He has something I don’t have. He said things I would never say; his eyes saw things I’ve never seen and all I’ve got is my religion.”
- What an example of dying well. We’re all called to die even while we live so that the true life of God will be seen in our lives, so we’ll hear, “Well done.”
Acts 6:8-7:60 NASB
8 And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people. 9 But some men from what was called the Synagogue of the Freedmen, including both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and argued with Stephen. 10 But they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. 11 Then they secretly induced men to say, "We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God." 12 And they stirred up the people, the elders and the scribes, and they came up to him and dragged him away and brought him before the Council. 13 They put forward false witnesses who said, "This man incessantly speaks against this holy place and the Law; 14 for we have heard him say that this Nazarene, Jesus, will destroy this place and alter the customs which Moses handed down to us." 15 And fixing their gaze on him, all who were sitting in the Council saw his face like the face of an angel.
1 The high priest said, "Are these things so?" 2 And he said, "Hear me, brethren and fathers! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, 3 and said to him, 'Leave your country and your relatives,and come into the land that I will show you.' 4 Then he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran. From there, after his father died, God had him move to this country in which you are now living. 5 But He gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot of ground, and yet, even when he had no child, He promised that He would give it to him as apossession, and to his descendants after him. 6 But God spoke to this effect, that his descendants would be aliens in a foreign land, and that they wouldbe enslaved and mistreated for four hundred years. 7 'And whatever nation to which they will be in bondage I Myself will judge,' said God, 'andafter that they will come out and serve Mein this place.' 8 And He gave him the covenant of circumcision; and so Abraham became the father of Isaac, and circumcised him on the eighth day; and Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob of the twelve patriarchs.
17 "But as the time of the promise was approaching which God had assured to Abraham, the people increased and multiplied in Egypt, 18 until there arose another king over Egypt who knew nothing about Joseph. 19 It was he who took shrewd advantage of our race and mistreated our fathers so that they would expose their infants and they would not survive. 20 It was at this time that Moses was born; and he was lovely in the sight of God, and he was nurtured three months in his father's home. 21 And after he had been set outside, Pharaoh's daughter took him away and nurtured him as her own son. 22 Moses was educated in all the learning of the Egyptians, and he was a man of power in words and deeds. 23 But when he was approaching the age of forty, it entered his mind to visit his brethren, the sons of Israel. 24 And when he saw one of them being treated unjustly, he defended him and took vengeance for the oppressed by striking down the Egyptian. 25 And he supposed that his brethren understood that God was granting them deliverance through him, but they did not understand.
26 On the following day he appeared to them as they were fighting together, and he tried to reconcile them in peace, saying, 'Men, you are brethren, why do you injure one another?' 27 But the one who was injuring his neighbor pushed him away, saying, 'Who made you a ruler and judge overus? 28 You do not mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday, do you?' 29 At this remark, Moses fled and became an alien in the land of Midian, where he became the father of two sons.
30 "After forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in the flame of a burning thorn bush. 31 When Moses saw it,
he marveled at the sight; and as he approached to look more closely, there came the voice of the Lord: 32 'I am the God of your fathers, the God of
Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.' Moses shook with fear and would not venture to look. 33 But the Lord said to him,'Takeoff the sandals from your feet,
for the place on which you arestanding is holy ground. 34 I have certainly seen the oppression of My people in Egypt and have heard their groans, and
I have come down to rescue them; come now, and I will send you to Egypt.'