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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.
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*1 (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 that battle scene to which in the next Chapter, we turn. 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.
The context of Hosea 9:7 makes it clear that irrespective of the intellectual endowment possessed by any given person, if the mind is moved from the Lord, from His word as given, to combinations or syntheses, to syncretics or poetics when God turns His mind to a topic, and declares His word, then there is a species of irrationality which supervenes in the minds of the assailants. This is the product for persistence in error, biblically defined!
Similarly, in Isaiah 28:7ff., the Lord shows how difficult it is to find anyone to whom to teach knowledge, for they had erred to their own precious ideas. Would He have to find a babe, in order to have a mind susceptible to spiritual instruction!
Again, in 29:9-15, the Lord actually lampoons those who either say - This is a matter not to be discerned, we cannot tell what the word means ... as might have occurred in those days in this, our own land, in the Church that moved from the word of God; or else, they might say, We are not learned, we cannot read. It was not the second, to be sure, but rather the first! Either way, the word was obscured by philosophy, smitten by attack, and its ways were systematically trampled, in many a way and day, as is again made odious in Ezekiel 34, where those who should be helping, were as those who trampled the pastures and spoiled them with imperious feet.
The Good Shepherd, God Himself, would come, prophesied this prophet, and in John 10, we see how it came to be, as Jesus announced Himself this very one, the One who is God in the Flesh, who CAME as specified to do what was NOT being done and should, at least in truth and justice, have been done! He did more; but they did not even do what He had specified, defiling and not fulfilling His word.
In Isaiah 28, then, the Lord parodied the dysfunctional position by speaking of babbling, as of babes, and indicated that the time would come when He would use such 'speech' as a testimony. In the 'tongues' movement, He has duly done this. That included a species of rebuke, parody, and correction, that they might LISTEN, and not babble, and realise the futility of mis-speech.
That is not to say it is entirely wrong, just as it is in general far from being right. It can serve a corrective purpose for example.
It is just as explained in the work, A Question of Gifts, that it is a parody to humble the arrogant, and it is a device to show the glory of God when wits astray, man needs correction. It is in one sense like an antibiotic injection, to correct a disease. The very idea of using it extensively or in more than two or three individual cases at most, separately in any meeting, is thrust out in I Corinthians 12-14; and Paul makes it clear that in a public meeting, he would rather speak 5 words with his mind than 10,000 with 'tongues.' If I were a carpenter, and the master craftsman educating me told me this about a given procedure, I would certainly not be attracted to its use, where this was specified!
This movement then becomes, as so often in the history of the formal, visible church, a corrective abused, and THUS becomes an evil and error in its own right, because of ABUSE of what did have a place, and misuse of a gift for a false glory, at a premium when in fact it is very much at a discount.
Nevertheless, the babbling which replaced wisdom when the word of God was daringly assaulted as in the case in the text above, in that misled seminary in this, my land, for the training for the ministry of Jesus Christ, is a notable example of God humbling the 'mighty'. There is nothing quite so much an exposure of an error as the error itself, seen in the light of the word of God!
An example of the extent and correction of such errors as were taught may be found at
The Highway of Holiness Ch. 8.
As an illustration of the pathology of assault on the word of God, it certainly does cause amazement to realise the extent of errors resulting. But then, spiritual disease, like any other - here defined as mental and spiritual assault on the word of God and its derivatives, and therefore on the God of His word - does disenable; and anyone caught in this kind of SPIRITUAL intoxication does things hard to be believed.
The word of God, for its own part, as clearly shown in the Westminster Confession of that very denomination where this occurred to its shame, does not move from truth, and what seeks to hammer it, is hammered.
When the correctives are applied, one finds as here in Daniel, such a gamut of grace, such wisdom and such detailed and accurate prophecy as of the death date of the Messiah (Christ the Citadel ... Ch. 2, Highway of Holiness Ch. 4 cf. ) , that it is seen how God causes even the wrath of man to serve Him as He also declares (Psalm 76:10). Thus what was pointed at destruction, by being overturned leads on to construction! This by no means excuses the assault, but it DOES glorify the God of all wisdom. HE knows what He is doing, and His ways, they do not change (Habakkuk 3:6, Malachi 3:6).
The word itself: It stands. When approached in humility as a learner to be instructed, it teaches and it opens (cf. Proverbs 8:8).
See SMR Appendix D.