David discusses how a confusing passage in Acts has led to different churches using the Holy Spirit in a vastly different way.
Morning. David Sorn. Pastor of Renovation Church.
If I may, I’d like to start on a more serious note this morning, which I know is different, so forgive me.
We had a couple people in our church lose grandparents this week.
One of them was our worship leader and my good friend Zach Foty.
Zach’s grandpa was a great man of the Lord and passed away on Monday morning.
Zach had the opportunity to go see his Grandpa in the late hours of the night and talk to him a few hours before he passed away.
And they had a great last meeting together
And it really got me thinking about our topic this week, which is “Last Words.”
Because, someday that will be us. Someday our time will come.
What are you going to say?
Will you rise to the occasion?
Will you be able to speak out of a life that lived richly in Jesus Christ?
Keep thinking about that as we go through our passage today.
We are continuing in the Book of Acts this morning. As always, here’s the 15 second recap:
The Book of Acts is the story of the early church after Jesus is resurrected.
So far we’ve seen the church start to grow pretty exponentially, but persecution is starting to break out, and it’s going to really begin to ramp up starting with today’s passage.
If you were here last week when Brenton Balvin spoke, he talked about the Apostles appointing 7 men to help lead the church in other areas.
One of those men was Stephen. We’re going to find out even more about him today.
Here’s what happens:
(Acts 6:8 – 7:2) – NLT
8 Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed amazing miracles and signs among the people. 9 But one day some men from the Synagogue of Freed Slaves, as it was called, started to debate with him. They were Jews from Cyrene, Alexandria, Cilicia, and the province of Asia. 10 None of them could stand against the wisdom and the Spirit with which Stephen spoke.
11 So they persuaded some men to lie about Stephen, saying, “We heard him blaspheme Moses, and even God.” 12 This roused the people, the elders, and the teachers of religious law. So they arrested Stephen and brought him before the high council.
13 The lying witnesses said, “This man is always speaking against the holy Temple and against the law of Moses. 14 We have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy the Temple and change the customs Moses handed down to us.”
15 At this point everyone in the high council stared at Stephen, because his face became as bright as an angel’s. 1 Then the high priest asked Stephen, “Are these accusations true?” 2 This was Stephen’s reply:
Now, we’re going to do something we’ve never done before.
Stephen’s going to give quite the speech here.
And rather than me just read through screen after screen, I’m going to have Tim Wilson come up here and read Stephen’s speech for you.
I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but I think sometimes when the passage is a little longer, we can tend to just zone out, read, and not think about it.
So this morning, I want you to just listen. Maybe even close your eyes if you want, and picture the scene as Tim reads you Stephen’s dramatic speech to his Jewish accusers.
(Tim READS SPEECH)
Thanks. It really seems like Stephen’s speech ends rather abruptly. And that’s probably because this happens. Here’s the 7 verse closing summary Luke gives us to this passage.
(Acts 7:54-60) – NLT
54 The Jewish leaders were infuriated by Stephen’s accusation, and they shook their fists at him in rage. 55But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 56 And he told them, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand!” 57 Then they put their hands over their ears and began shouting. They rushed at him 58 and dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. His accusers took off their coats and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 As they stoned him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 He fell to his knees, shouting, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!” And with that, he died.
CONTENT OF STEPHEN’S SPEECH
Ok. That’s intense. Let me try and make some sense of Stephen’s speech first.
If you just glance at it, it tends to look like he was just summarizing the OT.
But really, his words are very pointed and purposeful
These Jewish leaders want to KILL Stephen because they feel Christianity is bringing an end to the Jewish faith.
Really, Christianity was supposed to be the consummation of the Jewish Faith
“Christianity was supposed to be to Judaism like” a butterfly is to a caterpillar. Or like a House is to a foundation.
It’s the desired outcome.
But some of the Jewish leaders at the time didn’t want to change.
So what Stephen is doing is he is trying to show them that their way of doing things isn’t supposed to be permanently set in stone.
And in fact, their way of doing things isn’t even that Biblical in the first place.
For one, the Jewish people of the time were obsessed with the land of Israel.
Everything had to happen in the Holy Land of Israel. That’s where God moved.
But we see in Stephen’s speech that God moved all over the place.
God spoke to Abraham in Mesopotamia and Haran. Blessed Joseph in Egypt, spoke to Moses in the desert. Gave his people the law at mt. Sinai.
None of those places are Israel.
He’s trying to show them that Christians can worship God ANYWHERE. God isn’t confined just to Israel.
He does the same thing with the temple. He shows them that God’s people can worship Him anywhere, not just at the temple in Jerusalem.
He points out that the burning bush was holy ground, words of God came at Sinai, They could worship at the tabernacle, He points out that God does not dwell in houses made by human beings.
There is no “Sacred Space.”
It’s not like we can only worship God in a church.
Which might be intuitive to you sitting in a gym, but a lot of people, ironically, still struggle with this, and get caught in thinking God can only be worshipped in church
And then, thirdly, Stephen frequently points out to them that their people have constantly rejected God’s representatives:
Joseph was rejected by patriarchs, Moses rejected by Jews when he tried to lead, Moses rejected in the desert again, and on and on…
Jesus himself points out how the Israelites have always killed the prophets that God has sent to them.
And now, and now, God has sent them THE prophet that Moses said would come.
He sent his messiah…and what did Stephen say they did to Him as well?
They killed Him.
And what’s going to happen to Stephen?
They’re going to kill him.
I mean, it’s a little bit crazy if you think about it.
He summarizes their own Bible to them, and for that, he gets stoned.
It goes to show that some people hold more dear their ideas on what “religion” should be about, than they do the their faithfulness and obedience to God.
Do you know what I mean?
I mean, unfortunately, how often do we see people who get SO worked up about things of the faith. And get SO worked up about each other?
I’ve seen a decent amount of Christian fighting in my life.
It’s usually humorous at first.
I don’t mean to judge, BUT….
I mean, God loves everyone, BUT what you’re doing
And then eventually the gloves come off. And someone storms out of the room because their theological position or concept of how a church should be run is challenged.
And often, sadly we care more about being right than obeying God.
OR, we care more about preserving our SYSTEM than obeying God.
I have a friend who’s a very successful church planter.
There was another church in his town that wanted to plant another one of their churches from their denomination (diff. from his) in a town 4 miles away.
He offered to help them and even send them some people as his church had grown quite large, but before he did, he asked them this question:
“I gotta know. Are you more concerned about reaching people for Jesus or more concerned about starting another church for your denomination.”
And they answered. Starting a church that looks just like the rest of our denomination.
Which is crazy! But that’s the thing, often we’re so tied to our systems, that were unable to hear God challenging us.
And that’s exactly what happened to Stephen.
The Jews were unable to get past their own systems and see that God was moving mightily in their time.
My goodness! Jesus Christ just came to earth! And they missed it!
The thing I love about Stephen is that he’s a much better fighter than the Christians we mocked earlier.
The book of Acts talks a lot of Stephen’s character in the 2 chapters that cover him.
We learn that Stephen was full of faith(6:5), full of wisdom (6:5), full of God’s grace (6:8), and the people couldn’t stand up to his wisdom.
He’s really quite the person.
He’s got this balance of being a miracle-working defender of the faith. This balance of being incredibly wise yet reliant on the Spirit of God.
And Stephen is what I would call a “winsome radical”
He brings the HEAT, but with the face of an angel.
I mean think about that. Sounds like an oxymoron.
The fire and brimstone –face of an angel preacher.
And the oxymorons continue.
The man was stoned and then asked God to forgive the people stoning him.
This is not your typical angry cynic.
The other night I was at the gym.
And AS I was running to my Robin Hood Prince of Thieves theme song pretending I was Robin Hood saving the day, I happened to glance up at the TV’s
And it was one of those Cable “NEWS” channels where they do a lot of yelling.
And everyone’s a cynic. Everyone’s convinced that the person on the other side of the debate is a phony, an idiot, or just in it to sell books.
So, they do a lot of angry confronting of each other. Except most of the times, they’re not even confronting each other.
They are just ripping on cleverly edited sound bites of their opponent.
And unfortunately, this has become our image of what it looks like if you want to radically confront the opposition.
Lots of yelling and name-calling.
But look at Stephen. Very different.
He is passion and righteous anger combined with the face of an angel and overflowing forgiveness.
Or, think of it this way.
What if these news pundits got really out of hand, and one of them grabs a mob of people and stoned the other one.
Can you picture them getting stoned and saying, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin.” Forgive them.
No, you can’t picture that.
WHAT’S REALLY INSIDE
SO Stephen is the ideal picture of who we want to be.
And who you would want to be if you were pressed.
In fact, let’s start thinking of it that way.
Let’s put ourselves in Stephen’s shoes. Or sandals.
It’s probably too hard to imagine in today’s American context, but let’s fast forward, and pretend it’s the year 2021.
Change can actually happen quickly in a culture in even 10 years.
Take Egypt for example. From where they were in 2005 to where they will be in 2015 (whether good of bad is yet to be determined), but is going to be very different.
So, let’s just pretend things go south here in America, and opposition to Christianity rises insanely fast.
And one day, you are called into your boss’ office and told you are being fired for mentioning Jesus at work. It’s over. There’s nothing you can do.
What would you say?
Or, what if you were at a House Group or a Bible study in your home, and the police came and told you that you were going to be arrested?
What would you say? What would you do?
Or, what if you were even grabbed like Stephen, and the people were so angry with your faith, that they picked up rocks, ready to throw them at you?
What would you say? What would you really do?
No, really. Think about it. What would you do?
It’s actually important to ponder it through scenarios like this because it’s through difficult situations that our true character is revealed, not through just having a conversation with someone at Starbucks.
Any one of us can sit across from someone at a coffee shop and say God is wonderful, but can you do it when the pressure is on?
Or, WILL you do it? Will you faith kick in or will self-preservation kick in?
Good questions to think through. And if you’re not sure what you would do, let this be a moment where you commit to know God better
Because, we all will be tested
(1 Peter 1:7) – NLT
7 These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.
D.L. Moody, the Billy Graham of the 1800’s, said once, “Character is what a man is in the dark.”
And I would also say it’s a little like this.
Here’s a bottle with a something inside. Pretend this bottle represents our character.
At first, you might look at the pretty outside and think, “Oh, that’s a lovely person. They look really nice. Seem really nice. Everything just appears really good.”
But how do you find out what’s really inside?
You squeeze it. You apply pressure.
So when we squeeze it, we find out, what’s really inside! (squeeze bottle)
But, that’s like life. Often, the content of our character, and the depth of our faith in God, isn’t truly revealed until pressure is applied in our lives.
Stress is a pretty good revealer of faith and trust.
And in the most intense moment of his life, Stephen steps to the plate and is able to pull from deep inside of him and speak boldly of who God is.
So, back to where we started. Put yourselves in Stephen’s shoes and pretend the end has come for you.
And maybe it hasn’t even come violently or through persecution, but it’s the end.
What are you going to be able to pull out from inside of your character and from the Spirit of God?
What could you say to your friends and family in your last hour?
And let’s be honest. We can’t expect to utter powerful words about Christ at the end of our days if we aren’t building towards it now.
It’s not just going to magically happen in our last days.
And even if we uttered spiritual words, no would believe us anyway if the story of our lives never reflected it.
You can only pull out who you ARE inside at the end
Now, granted, like Stephen, you will have the strength of God…don’t get me wrong.
You know people like Stephen, people like Zach’s grandpa, or I even think of my wife’s grandma who died 2 years ago in her early 90’s.
She was a lover of God and wasn’t afraid to let you know it.
And at her end, she could still boldly speak of God.
She knew Him well.
Her whole life backed up her words.
And, yet she knew, it wasn’t by anything she had done, but by His grace. And she knew that well. Real well.
Well, enough to make an impact.
And just like Stephen’s actions are going to be a major catapult to the church to get out, as he said, and start taking the Good news beyond Jerusalem,
So did these people’s lives have an impact on not just themselves, but on the people beyond them and the generations that came after that.
And so I ask you this morning….
Is that happening in your life? Think about it now. Will the generations of your own family be living passionately for God?
And I would caution you. Do not wait. Do not put it off.
Don’t say, “meh, I’ll get serious about my faith when I have kids. Or when my kids are in school. Or when they’re done with school.”
Build a foundation now, so you can make an impact when these things come along. PLUS, we don’t know our timeline!
Jesus speaks right to this notion in the book of Luke
(Luke 12:16-21) – NIV
16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ 20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
21 “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”
Fall in love with Him now. This is the God that sent his son to take your place.
It’s crazy! He came and he died for us! He forgave us.
And here’s where it gets crazier. He’s still forgiving us! We’re still forgiven. Even though we continue to often ignore Him after He’s already handed us eternal life.
Give Him your heart. Give it to him fully.
Because, listen, we will be tested. We will experience suffering. We will be squeezed, and pressed.
And when that happens. You want to be ready.
Because when it happens, the real you will come out.
And you want that “real you” to be a person who’s been renovated by the King of Kings.
You want to already know how to rely on God in those situations.
I don’t care who you are, where you’ve been, or what you’ve done…God wants to use every single person in this room in a mighty way. Yes you. He really does.
So start trusting Him now, so He can use you in a mighty way later. Or maybe even sooner than you think. But trust Him.
Copyright: David Sorn
Renovation Church in Blaine, MN
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