AUSTRALIAN BIBLE CHURCH – July 5th., 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
In last Sunday's sermon concerning the testimony of Stephen, we left him with this aspect in view: 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.
THE ARGUMENTATION FOR CHRIST
He was not a modern pseudo-Christian, objecting to truth, repelled by argumentation. Indeed, so much and so well did he present the grounds for holding to Christ, that like Paul (Acts 13:17, 17:2,17, 18:4), reasoning concerning the faith became for him a major focus and feature. Thus opponents heard him speak, and sought to overturn his words, to stigmatise as false his presentations. It appears to have been rather like our time testifying as a Church in Adelaide University, where the truth presented could not be met, could not be overturned, people scarcely able to contain their rejection.
Unable to reason, they slid this way and that, one major controversialist leaving the room, defeated in challenge, to speak outside the place of testimony where challenge was made, and any might confront. A materialist, he failed to materialise at the site, disappearing into the dim mists of failure, like those who, failing in a tennis match, then play safely on their court at home. But this is not play. It matters! Stephen was facing it, and let us extend a little the spirit of this fury.
There is a fury that readily comes; and this one met in New Zealand, both in the South Island and in Wellington, when the Presbyterian Church there was rejecting the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, as integral to the faith, even receiving those who denied it, while in the annual Assembly, severely limiting time for argumentation. It was becoming as if it were an appallingly run debating society in some third-rate school. The same furious laxity was met earlier in theological training in Melbourne, when the Bible was treacherously under unsustainable assault, and was overcome in Sydney when many tried unsuccessfully to keep my ministry out of the Church, since I insisted on the truth of the Bible, not as a butt for ideas, but as a block, a rock of solid, impermeable truth.
There is a venom to which Christ is the antidote! There were then false accusations, as in New Zealand, where a major newspaper tried to exclude the simple fact of my denunciatory testimony in Assembly against its false Resurrection Statement, from public knowledge. They would not listen. A sort of Spring fever, lashed with Northern tropical winds, combined to make people not only unwilling to hear, but incensed at having to do so, intent on silencing the speaker. Threats were made. Some tried to shut me out by withholding contributions for salary, hiving off. Presbytery will deal with you! cried the Assembly bureaucrat in Wellington, and they duly arrived to do that! But the Lord had been glorified: He had a man in Assembly who cordially and formally denounced their corrupt Resurrection Statement, whatever devious means to suppress this fact were deployed. This nothing alters.
Again and again one has met this. There is a certain sulphurous feeling about it, an intensity which seems to link hatred, accusation, slander and evasion, with fury. It is like a smell, or a flame test in chemistry, or lines in an astral spectrum. You come to be able to recognise it. It was just such a spirit of spoiling disdain and defamation which met Stephen, as it has smitten many others. This then is a particular spirit: Stephen met it squarely with clear testimony and bold speech.
How terrible! for here was this man Stephen, not even an apostle, doing GREAT signs and wonders WHILE presenting Christ as THE Messiah, the FULFILMENT of the prophecies, the CENTRE of attention, the criminally crucified Son of the living God, the answer to need, the presenter of power and peace. For those set alight by hell (James 3:5-6, II Cor. 11:13-14, Jude 13), it is bad enough to say the truth clearly and forcibly; but to stay on and SHOW the power of God together WITH the speech: this rent their hearts and disturbed their consciences. What could be done!
Like lava, stirred from the depths, their pressures within spilled out. With their dealings with Stephen, it led directly to murder. Reputation-murder is a modern norm in some countries, while in the Sudan the physical kind abounds. Lately in India, we read of reports in Orissa of a vile and violent assault on hundreds of churches, fearful attacks all evidently based on simple guesswork, that someone adverse to Christians had been shot. While nothing of evidence appeared, the assumption led to multiple deaths, imaginary reprisal, hypothetical revenge. Yet the blood is physical.
It is time to realise, once and for all, that there is no innocuous religion, but that specified evidentially by God, in the Bible, in Jesus Christ. Hindus may not often emulate Moslem terrorists, but it can happen. Desire for the cultural, the national or the historical religion of one's ancestors can become so great that killing is the third option. The other two ? to listen and reject, and not to listen at all.
That is, these are the options excluding faith and salvation, which is the ONLY ONE which GOD offers. It is time also to understand, and to do so rigorously, that GOD is the ONLY supreme Being, and that He has determined HIS own way to pardon and peace by repentance for sin, defined by the Bible, acceptance of Christ as the divine, and incarnate Saviour, the sin sacrifice, bodily raised, showing us what God has in store. Indeed, Jesus Christ was personally filled with humility and service, to show us an example to follow. Reject this, and NOTHING of God is left. This is the ONLY DOOR (John 10:9). It has power, pity, example, morality, spirituality, grace, mercy and it has been brought right to our orb. This calling card, the colour of flesh, and its distribution marked by blood, it is the only One from the God of truth. THIS real estate agent MADE the earth. Reject Him at your peril.
We do not seek harm to any, but good for all; and hence the very concept of force for those who reject Him is for us madness (cf. John 18:36, Hosea 9:7). HIS is not that sort of a kingdom. Faith is not inspired by gelignite. Thus religion after religion arises in this way and that, asserts itself like a bull-dog when people come near, and new religions are made to try to please all patrons (cf. Galatians 1:9-10), while world leaders make up their own in the United Nations, with notions incredibly arrogant, putting words in the mouth of morality, while with seething unbelief, giving directions to man.
Repression in Iran, as in Iraq notoriously in Hussein's day, and subversive persecutions are far more numerous than realised; while intensive prohibitions abound as in Saudi Arabia, and restrictions, sometimes by law, sometimes by murder, sometimes by forbidding churches to be built, are widespread in this world. Even in Egypt, accounts of obstruction are heard. Many in the 'West' shut the eyes; but this in history tends to lead to painful penalties when sleep departs.
THE EVENTUATION FROM ARGUMENTATION
Hence as Stephen argued cogently and irresistibly from the Bible that Jesus was, as He is, the Christ, the Messiah, the firm and final answer without change, advance or incubation of others, there were very strenuous objections. There were those who acted to sidetrack the religion from its singular centre, as now do the sects, as do Islam and Romanism ((as seen in SMR pp. 911ff., 1032-1088, with More Marvels Ch. 4, and Sects, in detail), as indeed some New Age advances to people and various synthetic arrangements to bring all together, into one inglorious and explosive mixture of opposites. Even if the Bible can, for the time, be denied freely in the midst of such activities in the 'Western world', when a factitious unity comes for a time to a desperate civilisation, force will as is normal where truth is abominated, soon be used (cf. Revelation 13,17).
Psychology, slyness or doctrinal slither turns biblical command to exclude, into spiritual toleration that smiles and includes, allows divine affirmation to be turned into free choice. Indeed, broadly, prohibitions on fellowship where the Bible is contravened, these with gall become invitations! "WHY," said Jesus Christ, "do you call Me Lord, Lord and not do the things I say!" (Luke 6:46). The reason in the end, it is rebelliousness.
With the assault on Stephen, the problem was their rebelliousness against God, to be sure; but they certainly separated from him, though their hearts had already separated from God. In their separation zeal, they annulled his very earthly existence. If only they had followed the rules, and not turned saint into criminal. That however is the way of this world, so that Christ could and did say: "That which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God" (Luke 16:14).
Thus came action! The people who were in line with those who assassinated Christ, now faced Stephen. Using fury and slander to protect their darkness, being unable to answer him, such was the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke (cf. Luke 21:15) - another marvellous fact frequently fulfilled, the people decided to act. It all came with seizure and wanton rush (Acts 6:12, 7:57).
In what way to act ? Why, they resolved it! Shut down the lungs which animated the vocal cords and still the tongue. Let's be physical, then, and describe the reality which assassination entails, the entirety of the preposterous presumption against the God of grace and glory, of daring to kill what He has both made, saved, called and sent with the message necessary for man to live forever, and indeed for any to avoid the shame and the guilt of ignorant self-will. Does it help to kill truth ?
As murder was in their hearts, so had lies been in their mind. Consider the trial before this dénouement. Truth being immaterial, they tried to condemn through false witnesses, like those assailing Jesus the Christ, earlier. Initial force was used. Having stirred up the people, they SEIZED STEPHEN. What was to be done ? They COULD NOT overcome him in argument!
It seemed important; and God not ruling their hearts, therefore they lied. Furious tongues sent spurious darts. This is one way of resisting the truth. They “established” or set up “false witnesses”, people whom they held in place like treasures, to make it appear that instead of Stephen showing Christ, as the Bible does, as the fulfilment of the words of the prophets in general and of Moses in particular (cf. Deuteronomy 18), he was speaking "blasphemous words against Moses and against God."
Did they set these up, as with Judas, by money ? or by giving a sense of prestige to lying adventurers ? We do not know, but the thing was organised: a psychic force at least was used to secure false charges. Indeed, in this case, as in that of the lies against Christ, they 'secretly induced' men to say pat the prescribed slander.
People were set up, held in reserve to thrust against Stephen. Such, one has learnt, is a CHIEF method of Satan, in seeking to sneak into Churches, as he did into the PC of Australia, attacking through paid professors the entirety of some books of the Bible with such a ludicrous feebleness that it was all but impossible to believe that such infantilities could be invented (cf. Isaiah 28:9ff., 29:10ff., Ephesians 4:17-19, Hosea 9:7).
Such however is that strange hatred of the word of God, which inflames, animates and brings something like cursing to the mouths and hearts of many, who call themselves either Christians or those who HOPE they are! Yet this lying was not enough. Their folly was exposed, even if rage erupted. There was much to gain, though in the end through their self-serving folly, all was lost!
THE GLORY OF GOD IN THE FACE OF CHRIST JESUS
The familiar formula was followed. Arrest, false charges, false witnesses, temper instead of reason and condemnation instead of ascertainment of evidence.
Thus Christ was charged also with speaking blasphemous words against both Temple and Law of God (John 2:19-20, Mark 14:55-64). Against their new prey, they went into some little detail: Stephen, they urged, claimed - "Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs which Moses delivered to us." False is this to the preaching in view with apostle and saint at that time. Firstly, it is NOT blasphemous to point out that just as Moses predicted a prophet would come to supersede his own place, so He came: for fulfilment is a matter of fact; and HE in Himself replaced the Temple.
IF He so came, then it is duty to believe and receive Him. IF He did not, then not.
The evidence was not in point, however, in this furore. Stephen having doubtless in his argumentation, shown that fulfilment was precisely what Christ FACTUALLY did, the only recourse of intensive, spiritually dynamised unbelief was to murder. Displace God and kill.
It can be in stages. First attacking Stephen's reputation with all these false and furious words, they then pronounced judgment and flying into rage, moved into a tumult to kill, kill!
The Christian Church MUST be stopped: this was the same point as before, when CHRIST must be killed. In a vast, growing, highly attested body in Christ continually exhibiting with the power of word and deed, the reality of the Messiah, felled as foretold, as shown in the early chapters of Acts, it seemed necessary to remove the irresistible force of persuasion in Stephen. What then ? Fall on the sword of truth; but if it cannot be shattered, then kill the swordsman.
Next, they let him speak, and to that, Lord willing we shall return. But if he is to speak, he must first be undercut. The first thing that is noted in this meeting with the Council, the epitome of unbelief (and as such an enduring challenge to 'trusting in the system' in any church situation, rather than following the word of God – for these men became murderers in their repulse): what was this first thing ?
It was the face of Stephen. It shone like that of an angel (Acts 6:15), while they prepared to digest his words, and then his life, in their spiritual bowels, without mercy. As with Christ, so here, the question is asked: “Are these things so ?” Stephen's speech is a classic of confrontation, information and disputation. The thrill of his inspiration is reserved for next Sunday. Remember meanwhile that God without glow is like the sun without heat. WALK then in the Spirit of Christ as the train runs on the track. God, says Peter (Acts 5) “gives the Holy Spirit to those who obey Him.” Always in the Christian, Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27) sheds light on your way.