Tuesday, May 16, 2017

A Sermon to the Stubborn

Tuesday, May 16, 2017
“David found favor with God and asked for the privilege of building a permanent Temple for the God of Jacob.  But it was Solomon who actually built it.  However, the Most High doesn’t live in temples made by human hands.  As the prophet says, ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool.  Could you build me a temple as good as that?’ asks the Lord.  ‘Could you build me such a resting place?  Didn’t my hands make both heaven and earth?’  “You stubborn people!  You are heathen at heart and deaf to the truth.  Must you forever resist the Holy Spirit?  That’s what your ancestors did, and so do you!  Name one prophet your ancestors didn’t persecute!  They even killed the ones who predicted the coming of the Righteous One—the Messiah whom you betrayed and murdered.  You deliberately disobeyed God’s law, even though you received it from the hands of angels.”  The Jewish leaders were infuriated by Stephen’s accusation, and they shook their fists at him in rage.  Acts 7:46-54(NLT)
Stephen is generally considered the first one chosen to be a deacon to assist the apostles in spreading the Gospel, and also the first martyr for the cause of Christ.  I’m not surprised when I read the account.  He was falsely accused of blasphemy (talking against God), and distorting the truth about Moses, as well as how Jesus wanted to destroy the Temple and change everything (Acts 6:11-14)
The accusations were outlandish, so as Stephen stood before the ruling elders of the Sanhedrin council, he began his defense with an excellent lesson for the scholars, recounting Israel’s history, beginning at Abraham, and rolling all the way to the cross. 
Stephen’s sermon was going just fine with the historical background, fifty verses of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and the Exodus under Moses.  He could have ended it there and gotten a seminary doctoral degree, not to mention staving off execution!  Whenever I read these chapters I want to stop at the end of the history lesson, close my Bible and pretend everything ended well.  I think of what’s coming next and get that, Oh, Stephen, you were sooooo….. close!
But Stephen was a true meddling preacher!  After the historical introduction to his sermon he delivered the punch line:  looking the ruling elders in the eye he declared in no unmistakable way, that THEY, not he, were the stubborn blasphemers who had put the Son of God on a cross, just as they had done with every prophet that God, in His kindness, had ever sent to open up their blinded eyes.  And with that, the elders lost it and had Stephen stoned to death.  (More about that tomorrow).
What is it that makes a person step over the line when standing before powerful people when those very people hold your future, even your life in their hands? 
·       It’s the same force that compels a mother to block out every fear of oncoming traffic and rescue her child who has wandered into the street… 
·       It is the same overwhelming compulsion that causes a man to choose fight or flight depending on which better protects his family… 
·       It was the same driving pressure that moved Jesus to become the sacrifice for our sins…
It was love.
Stephen could no sooner have closed his mouth at that point in his sermon, just to keep breathing, because he knew without telling the truth to deluded, stubborn people, he would only be breathing; his living would have ended with his words.
It’s not love to stay silent if you’ve been charged with the responsibility to tell the truth!

For You Today

If you’ve ever gotten mad at a preacher for saying something that really ticked you off, well, this might be a good time to check the Stephen meter.  Was it the truth?  Did it tick you off because it hit too close to budging you out of your comfort zone?  Were you about to shoot the messenger?
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road…have a blessed day!

 I Title image:  Fra Angelico [Public domain], via Wjikimedia Commons

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