Thursday, May 7, 2015

"Stephen, the Scriptures, and Sacrifice" - A Message from Acts 6:8-8:3

Hello friends,

On Sunday mornings at Royal Palm Church we are systematically studying the Book of Acts. It was my privilege to offer a message on the witness of Stephen, the first martyr of the church.

Stephen, a Jew of Greek heritage, is called as one of seven to lead the distribution ministry of the early church. He is also an outstanding preacher and apologist for the Gospel.  Consequently, the Sanhedrin becomes angered by his preaching, and Stephen is unlawfully stoned, becoming the first martyr of the early church.

As always, let me know what you think or if you have questions. And may the Lord bless you as you are obedient to him through his Word. - Kirk McCormick

“Stephen, the Scriptures, Sacrifice”
Acts 6:8-8:3

The Truth

For Israel… the truth was that she, and specifically her so-called spiritual authorities, has consistently rejected their God-appointed leaders in the past.

Stephen gives Examples (chapter 7):

·      Joseph rejected by patriarchs…later to be saved by him later when
a devastating draught hits the entire Mediterranean region
·      Moses rejected in wilderness…only to have him, later, lead Israel to the Promise Land, yet not being able to go with them.
·      Prophets rejected…only to be vindicated by God, later, when their prophecies came true.
·      Holy Spirit resisted (7:51) by Israel because their hearts were hard against God – due mostly to the idolatry of the Divided Kingdom

·      ULTIMATELY culminating in the rejection of Jesus…who was, as Stephen says in 7:52,  “betrayed and murdered” by the Jews

** Then, as he is speaking/defending, things come to a head starting in Acts 7:51…let’s read together…

ILL:  Three Ways people react to Holy Spirit when they are opposing him…

1.    HS can be grieved… opposition only a believer can grieve the Holy Spirit since “Grieving” in the NT is a relationship/love-oriented word

So we grieve the Holy Spirit when we choose “another” way…when we do not love each other…when we gossip, slander, mistreat each other

2.    HS can be quenched… again, only by believers because “quenching” presupposes past activity/connection 

we were once in step with HS, but now we’re going our own way or not submitting or allowing false teaching in the church = quenching what God wants to do.

3.    But HS can also be resisted…this is the prerogative of the UNbeliever… by denying the Truth/teaching/authority the unbeliever resists the way God wants things.

Point: The Sanhedrin were unbelievers – even though they were RELIGIOUS leaders…

…they resisted the truth of the Gospel…therefore resisting Holy Spirit himself…

…and it was THIS resistance for which Stephen was killed

The Tragedy

1.    Stephen is stoned to death (7:59)

2.    Great persecution breaks out against the church (8:1b)

Psalm 116:15 – “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.”

The Triumph: Stephen asks God to Forgive his murderers…
while “Saul” watches

** Stoning was a horrific way to die…

·      The accused would have his hands tied to his waist
·      Then covered with a shroud so could not see what was coming
·      Taken to a roof, twice the height of the man where he is pushed from the roof onto a pile of stones…face first
·      If this didn’t kill him, rolled large boulders off roof – two witnesses…
·      If that didn’t do the trick, the man was turned over, exposing his head and heart, then the two witnesses were required to throw the first stones
·      If that didn’t do the job, then the judge who pronounced the sentence, then everyone joined in.

** Stephen died a slow, painful death… yet HIS RESPONSE (i.e.: The Triumph) was forgiveness:

v. 60 – “Lord…do not hold this against them.”

Point: This, my friends, is a triumph of Faith, Forgiveness, Love…which the world does not understand.

** Stephens prayer was the seed of God’s grace being planted into the heart of Saul…

…who later, of course, became the apostle Paul – the apostle to the Gentiles.

** Throughout the NT the most common line about the disposition about Jesus is… “he is seated at the right hand of God, the Father.”

Colossians 3:1 – “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.

Q: Why do people stand if they are seated?

- notice something different, so want a better look/view…

- sometimes it is to show respect and honor to the one for whom we stand – like a dignitary entering the room

- show approval/support…like casting a vote of approval, “I’ll stand WITH you by standing FOR you.”

Point: Jesus STANDS for Stephen rather than remaining seating beside the Father…

…in doing so Jesus honors the words/sacrifice of Stephen…

…in doing so Jesus stands WITH Stephen in that Triumph of Faith


** Stephen is an example of the life of a first-century disciple: 

·      Telling the Truth…
·      though Vulnerable to Tragedy
·      in order to Partner with Jesus in the Triumph

In this way, Stephen lives Jesus’ words… “greater love has no one than this…that he lay down his life for his friends.”…

App: May we, the church, be willing to follow Stephen’s example so we might ultimately fulfill Jesus’ words, too.

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