THE AUSTRALIAN PRESBYTERIAN BIBLE CHURCH - June 25, 2006
Presbyterian in background, Biblical in basis
with continuing emphasis on the
sufficiency of scripture alone for doctrine,
the scope of the love of God for salvation,
the power of God for godly living,
and the necessity of practically following the word of God, the Bible
SERMONS FROM SPEECHES - STEPHEN
I The Address of Stephen before Stoning
It is Acts 7 that you find it. It is very soon following the inception of the New Testament Church that it occurs. There had been a friction between the God-given grace of Stephen, a deacon doing practical things to help peace and need, and those who wanted to damn, indict and incite against this 'new thing'. They decided to give what in modern terms, would be called a rumble to Stephen. They slandered him, a pet device of the devil, to put about half truths in the interests of invoking prejudice so that the Gospel might be maimed, tamed or broken. You see this in Acts 6:13. Two charges were brought up: that Stephen had said Jesus would destroy the temple, and change the customs of Moses.
They felt confident in such libel, that the power of the name of Moses and the structure of the temple combined MUST doom Stephen. After all, they were BUILT on it, many thought, ignoring the fact of God, on whom both Moses and temple were built! In fact, spiritual passengers must Ö Remain on the Train of Truth, and be careful not to wander at Wayside Stations, as Stephen amply proceeded to show.
Accused of slighting the temple and mutating Moses, Stephen answered with a thrust of inspired logic. Moses, he stated, had a background, called to deliver an oppressed people. Becoming a prophet in a dramatic situation, for his people, the Jews in Egypt for some 400 years, he had the status of an Egyptian prince, and by divine miracle and multiplied power, he led out an enslaved and now captive people, to a liberty to serve God.
In a way, it was rather like the beginnings of the USA, with pilgrim peoples insisting on serving God in conscience, something now deteriorating to something close to the worship, at State level, of freedom. Israel also failed in dire measure. Let us reflect in the light of Stephen's charge.
In their own day, Moses' people rebelled against the wisdom of God, almost perpetual ingrates; and they did not enter the Promised Land, even when God put them by it, so that they might live and love Him in holiness, serving the Lord. God in Leviticus 26 as in Amos foretold what would become of them; and in the new Babylonian exile, some 800 years after Moses, for 70 years, and more excruciatingly, 40 years after the crucifixion of Christ, for far longer, they then felt the impact of virtual exile for discipline. The latter was to be for some 1900 years. How sad the fulfilment!
Stephen for his part reviewed their repeated recalcitrance in failing God, rorting and aborting, even slaying prophets, and consummating it all in the killing of the Just one, His betrayers, murderers.
Now Stephen told the seething crowd, they were once more resisting the Holy Spirit, persecutors of prophets as a race down the centuries, this becoming a virtual tradition! In fact, the Moses to whom they loved to refer, it was he who foretold the coming prophet to which they must pay attention and follow (Deuteronomy 18), so that Jesus was not abrogating but fulfilling this prophecy, and Moses.
As to the Temple, did not Solomon, when delivering the charge at the completion of this temple, declare, in the Lord's name, this ... Heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool. What house will you build for Me ? says the Lord. The temple then is a pattern, a program, not the ultimate; and it is God who says so through the mouth of Solomon. Stephen confronted them, saying in effect: You however have ignored these words and killed your Prince, maundering about your Temple and murdering the King. At this, they killed him, his face shining like that of an angel, as he proclaimed, Lord Jesus, do not lay this sin to their charge!
II The Example of a Contemporary Wander of this Kind
Just so, was the idolatry of the brazen serpent, truly once USED for its symbolic message, in the healing from snake bite (Numbers 21:9, cf. John 3:15), but later worshipped, so that the godly King Hezekiah had it ground to dust (II Kings 18:4). Similarly, Romanism uses what truly were instruments of divine teaching, in the Lord's Supper, and turned the bread into an object of the highest worship, thus transferring the glory from God to the symbol precisely as did the Jews in Stephen's day, and in that of Hezekiah (cf. SMR pp. 1088Bff.).
Some do the same with their 'Church', preferring to 'stay in' it, even when it insists on liberty to put unrepentant and active sexual perverts into pulpits, and departs from what is written in other ways with the utmost liberty. Others make of their 'Christian life' an idol, making their experience their guide. To be sure, experience is in any love! and when you obey Christ (John 14:21-23), you will assuredly gain a clear knowledge of His presence; but His word remains forever, and love is measured in conformity, not in reforming it!
III The Christ of the Speech of Stephen
Thus BECAUSE Stephen so adored the Lord, presenting His message and Gospel with purity and power both in word, and wonders wrought in Christ's name (Acts 6:8, 7:10), he did indeed have 'experience'. It followed, but did not lead his doctrine; and that followed the Lord, and His word with faithfulness. As he was slowly dying, near the end, he declared that he saw "the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at God's right hand."
Here was the resurrected Christ, which the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand denied in 1966, not being sure what to think of Him, another case of church as Lord in our own day! Praise God your Minister was there to rebut and to reject, condemn and denounce their faithless folly in so departing from the Bible, from the manifest truth and the basis of Christianity. Had this not been so, how much more would it have been a ravaging rebellion without adequate rebuke.
To be sure, it cost him a beautiful pastorate near the Malborough Sound; but what is beauty and delight, when the faithful testimony of Christ is the issue! Sacrifice is not only on crosses. It is part of living for Christ. It is the beauty of holiness which must be sought, the Author of beauty being so much more wonderful than any of His products. So did a calamity of the 20th century occur, in the fall of a once sound Church, through lack of faith.
But Stephen did not feel unsure, for he SAW Jesus Christ, and knew Him, as he entered into glory, his wounded body remaining, his spirit committed to the Lordís own hands by faith, death having no power over him.
In our day, be sure that the Lord has not forgotten you, as with all saints in all ages, you keep to His word, work for His will, seek His face, desire with eagerness your service for Him, and do nothing except by faith. Await His return with relish (Hebrews 9:28, Acts 1:7ff.), that crucified One whom Stephen saw, Paul served and this world refuses to its ruin, who yet calls to men, COME!
Abide in Him. Look how Stephen still triumphed, despite the railing against him, the misconstructions, the slanders, the inveterate, traditionalistic hatred, the unspiritual ungodly vehemence with which passions misled, seducing those who sought to end the testimony of truth which Jerusalem, under penalty already, so desperately needed! Through the grace of God, in the midst of these very things, Stephen yet lived out his life in purity of motive, of purpose and plentiful power from the Lord, attesting the truth as it is in Christ Jesus, not only freely but forcibly. In death, he conquered, in grace he prevailed, even at the end requesting audibly of God: "Lord, do not charge them with this sin."
There is the example of Christ followed, who repeatedly prayed as His blood oozed out, "Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing." (Luke 23:44). IF anyone should yet turn to Him, even any in reality and simplicity, like the thief on the cross: then at that very moment, their faith set in Him, the resurrected King and Lord who met the cross of redemption, just as to His kingdom their call came, so there would their place be.
Stephen thus recalls rigorously to the mind the fact that there is NO ONE who comes to Him, who will be cast out (John 6:37,47), not even those who have made a business of persecuting His children. God is like that. Therefore abide in Him, nestle to His feathers as chicks to the hen, as children to the father, as creations to the Creator, as the redeemed to the Redeemer. He never fails (Zephaniah 3:5). Faith receives what He offers, repentance prepares for its reception.