AUSTRALIAN BIBLE CHURCH – June 28th., 2009
A CONTINUATION OF THE ORIGINAL THRUST AND BASE OF
THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH OF AUSTRALIA,
ON CHANGELESS BIBLICAL LINES
CENTRIFUGAL FROM HIMSELF,
CENTRED IN CHRIST
We have seen something of Josiah and Hezekiah in our review of the positive powers available as one abides in the word of God.
STEPHEN : CENTRIFUGAL FROM HIMSELF, CENTRED IN CHRIST
Today, we take a hero of faith, work and witness, whose contribution rose to a crescendo, like a constructive atomic bomb, before those who heard the impact, fearing truth, as they had feared its source in Christ, made sure of one thing.
That ? they ensured the destructive consistency of their work, and if you will, having participated at least in spirit in the murder of Christ, felt this to be quite inadequate. That, it was simply not enough. Remove the tree, burn the fruit! … except that they chose stones instead. Kill Stephen.
You may recall how they earlier lusted to kill evidence, in this case, Lazarus whom Christ resurrected after four days, lest his appearance persuade too many and 'all the world' should go after Christ. What a tragedy that would have been, a little look at this so precious, so surviving, so conniving world will show! They were thorough, but as darkness loves to descend in the affairs of men, so the light had more vigour, more wonder, more beauty, and the episode of one man, Stephen, in the work of the followers of Christ, has become an example of the power and beauty of holiness of the God of truth! When costing an operation, it is well to consider the loss of the infinite. Evidently, these did not! The more fruit dies, the more stones lie ready to find their way to become new trees.
Stephen evidently showed a fervent faith, an empowered ministry, a healing gift, a close argumentation concerning Christ, a fearless courage for the teaching of the word of God, an incandescent challenge to those who rejected the faith and a glow with the glory of God at his death at the remorseless hands and seething hatred of those who sought to reject not only Christ, but the very point of His mission. Deicide to avoid national suicide was the call (John 11), but they failed in both.
THE FELICITY OF FAITH
Look first, at the account of who was this Stephen, and what he did. He was not an apostle, and seemingly was not an elder, but a deacon, one helping the apostles to get on with their specialised work of preaching teaching and prayer. As such he was appointed (Acts 6:3-7). With this division of labour, the work prospered greatly: "the word of God spread and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem." So effective was the work, indeed, that an amazing dent was made in the armour of an unbelieving priesthood (one recalls the attacks of the priestly party as in John 11, their sedition to the spiritual work of God!). Thus "many of the priests were obedient to the faith."
Notice that word 'obedient'. They did not, then, just say, 'Oh well, I guess you are all right. I'm all right, you're all right, we're all all right.' That is not obedience to the faith which says there is NO OTHER NAME given to men; and adds 'no other name under heaven', and then insists, 'by which we must be saved' (Acts 4:12). Salvation is the determinant. In mathematics you sometimes have an entity called a 'determinant' which shows whether such and such a feature is or is not present.
Here the determinant is
whether JESUS CHRIST is present in the faith of the person concerned as
firstly, the Saviour;
secondly, the ONLY Saviour.
Thirdly, He is the one without whom you will NOT be saved;
and fourthly, the divine requirement is that you MUST be saved.
If you resist and do not repent, hell is in the offing, for what has eternal value has eternal results. Hell, it is that hopeless offscouring of the irretrievably impenitent, that engulfs; for if you still reject this way, given by God, then it rejects you and you are out of the way for good (John 3:36). Life will never be yours, then, but shame will be.
Thus in this period in which the deacons were appointed, there was this stress on OBEDIENCE. People often do not like this. They would have any God who merely performed a few psychic or economic tricks for them; but being in the service of God, as inventions needing Him, as lovers of truth, this they so frequently detest. Obedience ruled, then: these converted priests were not free thinkers who happened to go to church. Instead, they were OBEDIENT to the teaching, to the need of salvation, to the figure of Christ as the Son of God, and people believing, followed them.
As to Stephen's own nature, he was one of those who, to meet apostolic requirements, had to be “of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom”. Stephen in particular was (Acts 6:8) “full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people.” They evilly sought to frame him.
THE OPERATIONS OF FAITH
Now the writing of Luke, who was used to present the Acts of the Apostles, is full of care and precision, suitable for a physician. It has been investigated right down to titles used for officials, and has been acclaimed particularly. Thus, in addition to the fact it is scripture, it is written by one tender in terminology. Stephen, we read, was FULL of faith and power. This is not some sunset eulogy: it means that faith had a strength that irradiated his being, that it was joined to the power of God which was most notable, and this even reached to the point that he did WONDERS. In the Bible, this is a very special term (used for example in Acts 2:19), indicating something prodigious. There ‘wonders’ was coupled with 'SIGNS': these together, signals of the closing of the Age! would come in its time.
Stephen also had these two terms used of his work, wrought by the Lord, 'signs and wonders'. There was however this distinctive: he did 'great wonders and signs'. Even in this category, the term 'great' is used as well. How great is a wonder that is a great one! God was evidently using this man, this deacon in massive ways; and further, he did these exploits 'among the people.' In their midst, he could be seen, doing his deacon's work of caring for the poor, distribution and the like, keeping peace; but with this came an overplus, a downpour of grace one might say, and this with power. It was like heavy rains, with sudden rushes of gushing waters overflowing the gutters.
What could be done by his enemies ? What could he do for his Lord ? Next Sunday, we shall plan to discover these things and consider these divine dealings in a way which should encourage and strengthen those of the faith of Jesus Christ, outlasting this world, which becomes so soiled, that spiritual life is like a sun in the midst of its shade, a refuge in the Lord, where it has no repose and a joy of heart, where gaiety and gloom vie, each one for the more attention in this world.