- Sermon Notes
Living And Finishing Well
November 20, 2022
We are continuing in Acts chapter 6 where 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 hearts 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.
His death would be a great testimony of the authenticity of the gospel. People are only willing to die for what they know beyond a shadow of a doubt to be true.
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 by 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.
- As a side note, it is important to note that Stephen was well versed in the word, able to speak His conviction grounded on the word. This is why it is so important for us to also study the word to be able to do the same.
1 Peter 3:15, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you.
- 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.
A. True faith brings obedience
- 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.”
- The problem is that one cannot be saved by works or change your own nature.. The power of the sinful nature is too strong. The spirit needs to be made alive by the Spirit of God.
- The external circumcision was a foreshadowing or a sign of the internal work the Holy Spirit would do in the lives of those who would put their faith in Jesus Christ.
Romans 2:29, Circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit,
- What is needed though, is to no longer stiffen your neck. Surrendering to God, recognizing that pride and rebellion of the fleshly nature lead to death and much heartache.
- 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 a 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 hearts and troubled in their souls. There’s a better way.
Illus.- The other day I heard a question being asked by an atheist, ‘If there is a God and He gave me free will, then I have the choice to do wrong things. Why am I not allowed to do wrong things?…
- 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, which 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.
- God was also building character in him through this whole process. God made all things work for good, preparing him for his purpose.
- A storm may appear to blow us off course, yet many times it is God redirecting our steps. Relationship with God though is key when the storms rage.
Illus. – Many people when going through difficult things leave God. Even in church life, things might happen that the enemy wants to use as a wedge. You might even hear things like: “If that is what a Christian look like, I want nothing to do with God.” As Christians, we are called to reflect God, but no man is perfect, and as such one might get let down by people. The church is still a hospital for the broken. Our relationship with Jesus is the anchor of our souls, not our relationships with other Christians, although important.
- Joseph could have turned away from God because of his brothers’ actions, but he was grounded in his personal faith and trust in God.
- We are not told to build our faith on the faith of others, but to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.
- It’s hard to trust God through a storm when your relationship to Him isn’t right.
Illus. – If you correct a child and His relationship to you or perception of your relationship to Him is wrong, he will stand in defiance, not wanting to be corrected…He might perceive loving correction as rejection and criticism.
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 hearts. We get to decide whether we will turn our hearts toward God or whether we will live our lives complaining and being 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.
- Ironically, the condition of your heart might keep you in the desert longer if you do not take hold of God’s promises and guidance.
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).
- Instead of fully trusting the God of life, they honored the God of destruction and death.
- This is so reflecting of the choice people make today as well.
- 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. Choose to dwell where God’s life is.
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 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 then pour His favor on your life; why would anyone want to resist that?
Illus – It’s kind of like a teenager having an attitude…Can you see that I am for 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.
B. Live by faith and die well
- 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 a 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 [a]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 [b]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 [c]before the [d]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 [e]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 [f]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 [g]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 a possession, 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 would [h]be enslaved and mistreated for four hundred years. 7 ‘And whatever nation to which they will be in bondage I Myself will judge,’ said God, ‘and after that they will come out and [i]serve Me in this place.’ 8 And He gave him [j]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.
9 “The patriarchs became jealous of Joseph and sold him into Egypt. Yet God was with him, 10 and rescued him from all his afflictions, and granted him favor and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and he made him governor over Egypt and all his household.
11 “Now a famine came over all Egypt and Canaan, and great affliction with it, and our fathers [k]could find no food. 12 But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent our fathers there the first time. 13 On the second visit Joseph [l]made himself known to his brothers, and Joseph’s family was disclosed to Pharaoh. 14 Then Joseph sent word and invited Jacob his father and all his relatives to come to him, seventy-five [m]persons in all. 15 And Jacob went down to Egypt and there he and our fathers died. 16 From there they were removed to [n]Shechem and laid in the tomb which Abraham had purchased for a sum of money from the sons of [o]Hamor in [p]Shechem.
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 [q]expose their infants and they would not survive. 20 It was at this time that Moses was born; and he was lovely [r]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 [s]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 [t]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 [u]deliverance [v]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 over us? 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 [w]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, ‘Take off the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing 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; [x]come now, and I will send you to Egypt.’
35 “This Moses whom they disowned, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’ is the one whom God [y]sent to be both a ruler and a deliverer with the [z]help of the angel who appeared to him in the thorn bush. 36 This man led them out, performing wonders and [aa]signs in the land of Egypt and in the Red Sea and in the wilderness for forty years. 37 This is the Moses who said to the sons of Israel, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet [ab]like me from your brethren.’ 38 This is the one who was in the [ac]congregation in the wilderness together with the angel who was speaking to him on Mount Sinai, and who was with our fathers; and he received living oracles to pass on to you. 39 Our fathers were unwilling to be obedient to him, but repudiated him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt, 40 saying to Aaron, ‘Make for us gods who will go before us; for this Moses who led us out of the land of Egypt—we do not know what happened to him.’ 41 [ad]At that time they made a [ae]calf and brought a sacrifice to the idol, and were rejoicing in the works of their hands. 42 But God turned away and delivered them up to [af]serve the [ag]host of heaven; as it is written in the book of the prophets, ‘It was not to Me that you offered victims and sacrifices forty years in the wilderness, was it, O house of Israel? 43 You also took along the tabernacle of Moloch and the star of the god [ah]Rompha, the images which you made to worship. I also will remove you beyond Babylon.’
44 “Our fathers had the tabernacle of testimony in the wilderness, just as He who spoke to Moses directed him to make it according to the pattern which he had seen. 45 And having received it in their turn, our fathers brought it in with [ai]Joshua upon dispossessing the [aj]nations whom God drove out before our fathers, until the time of David. 46 David found favor in God’s sight, and asked that he might find a dwelling place for the [ak]God of Jacob. 47 But it was Solomon who built a house for Him. 48 However, the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands; as the prophet says:
49 ‘Heaven is My throne,
And earth is the footstool of My feet;
What kind of house will you build for Me?’ says the Lord,
‘Or what place is there for My repose?
50 ‘Was it not My hand which made all these things?’
51 “You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did. 52 Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; 53 you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it.”
54 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him. 55 But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; 56 and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one impulse. 58 When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” 60 Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” Having said this, he [al]fell asleep.