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OF SPIRITUAL SPLENDOUR
beyond the HORIZONS OF HUMAN POWER
SERMONS FROM SPEECHES - STEPHEN
Time to Look On to the Conclusion in the Power of God
I The Address of Stephen before Stoning
It is Acts 7 that you find it, this scintillating, piercing speech of the inspired Stephen. 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 Contemporary Wanders 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 from His mouth, love is measured in conformity to His word, not in reforming it! How numerous*1A are the seditions of spirit which afflict men, as they try to use Christ for their own purposes; but He, He has the last word, the power of operation and the end marked as from the beginning (Isaiah 46, Ephesians 1:4).
What gratitude to God we who are Christians need to have, as we perceive the divine thoroughness in exposing fraud, exhibiting truth, rescuing, Shepherd-style, His people from subtle and sometimes gross distortions, sending prophets to awaken them, to send them back to the Bible of truth and to the word of His own mouth, for the opportunity to serve Him ourselves in whatever way He chooses, knowing that His power is ever sufficient, whether in raising the body of Christ or the body of His people, as the world tries to strike them down with humbug or or harassment, with weapons of steel or of phrase.
III The Christ of the Speech of Stephen and His Call
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 virtual case of church as Lord in our own day! Whether or not they realised what they were doing (and they were amply warned!), what they said became ecclesiastically more important to them than what God had said in the Bible, and done in history.
Praise God, it was not suffered to go undenounced in vigorous terms. By His explicit guidance, the author of this volume 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.
But God! how often this two words sound the death knell of wickedness. But God put this author in that place at that time, to counter, confront and condemn the sudden malaise, the all but incredible acceptance of what surpassed rank heresy, to the point of becoming a new religion, and made mockery of all the Scottish covenanters in their fidelity, courage and determination. For all time it was recorded, this dissentient vote to the Resurrection Statement, a reality only lies can disallow, an event seen by hundreds. The truth however is notoriously assaulted by vulgarity; yet as before, it is never allowed to perish. God knows, and He has His ways of dealing with obscurantists, and the dealers of obfuscatory oblivion. Truth is. It remains so.
As this rebuke was being administered to the Assembly, the failure of nearly all to make any substantial sound in that 1966 Assembly was all but beyond the realms of marvel. That this sound was made was ensured BY God, just like the resurrection; and God, HE never fails! Praise God and to Him be glory, that HE achieved this in what was termed His Church at that time!
Nothing can ever delete it, nor the courage of the Session of St Ninian's Church at that time, in authorising the presentation by the pastor at that Assembly, of an Overture flamingly condemning the evils being wrought and demanding in Christ's name, a remedy in the field of faith and restoration of the necessary, elemental and ineradicable fact of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.
What is not founded with this in its foundation, is foundering, has foundered! Here is the work of Peter, a central apostle on a central, unique and historic occasion in the formal birthday of the Christian Church as a public institution, declaring the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from eyewitnessed fact in the presence of the apostles and brethren, to the crowd of Jerusalem, and here in his speech he not only cites the OLD Testament in its predictions, here fulfilled in that the body of Christ did not rot, but the reality of the body doing just that! (Acts 2).
While Peter spoke, the frustrated priests of the elimination of Jesus Christ campaign had nowhere to show the trophy of their tirades. It was not like the case of John the Baptist, where a troubled Herod could produce the head of John on a platter, for the satisfaction of a young girl dancer!
The carefully marked grave, forever sacred to those who loved Him and obviously marked by many (Luke 23:55), for we are dealing with people of love and life, not inane puppets, was the scene of commotion. The women came, the Christ was gone, the guards were in trouble. The combined power of Rome and the Temple authorities in concert could not detain the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
He died: He had to do so, it was the celestial script, the divine operation at its climax as foretold for a millenium (cf. Joyful Jottings 22-25, SMR Ch. 9), at the date foretold, in the context foretold, for the reasons foretold, in the national conspectus foretold, by a betrayer as foretold. He had also to rise. He was present for the death, His own; they were not present for the rising.
God is not stoppable; the guards were. Stunned by the advent of celestial power, they declared that they slept, while the precious burden was removed (Matthew 28). They had to say something. Yet if they did sleep as claimed, why did not they not stop it, the removal, however! Are we to believe every insanity and profanity which men invent, as if history were toys and facts were superfluous! Moreover, if people removed the body, and they slept, how could they know ?
Clearly, liars were the order of the day, and a cover-up by alien and unspiritual authorities which might be called Jerusalem-Gate, was in process. How has that city suffered for it! It was destroyed as predicted, and to the degree predicted (Matthew 24), but the One whose city as Lord, it was. Now a mosque disadorns the Jewish religion, looking down from the sacred mount, because of Jerusalem's waywardness, a continual divine irony and challenge to faith to return.
What then ? The fact was this: neither priest nor guard nor governor nor king could not stop Christ's departure for all their power; nor could they control His post-mortem goings; nor could they produce the body, the simple remedy to secure the Christian faith's demise. The explanation could not pass muster by reason; and the fact was this, that revelation in every single part and particle, immense on this topic in the prophets, had line by line and word by word been fulfilled in their eyes, despite their rage against Jesus Christ. He did it all, on time to the last, even to the three days as predicted, as fulfilled, as He had said would be the case (Matthew 16:21, 17:22-23): arithmetic in His pocket, corporeal power in His domain (cf. John 2:19) as the trinity operated in celestial certainty on this terrestrial operating theatre.
He, Jesus Christ, DID ALL; they could do nothing. That is the way of things when God is in action. So many seem to imagine that because God, like thought, decisions and understanding, love and hatred, is invisible, that His power is somewhat indistinct. History and prophecy in things small and great are an objective, verifiable, high profile test department to show the opposite! If people decline to investigate, scientifically this is monstrous. The facts speak with one voice, as they always do, when God acts.
It is precisely BECAUSE God is Spirit, and not limitable by mere natural laws, which are like the page divisions of a book, but not like the text within it, which the Author writes, that there is simply NO barrier to His power, to His word's fulfilment; and that is precisely why it is ALWAYS fulfilled, propose what rational test you will! That is why assaults on it, whether the written word, the Bible, or the living word, Jesus Christ, whether in history when He lived on earth, or after it, always fail. Lies have a way of collapsing, and truth of being sustained. It is difficult to fool all of the people all of the time; and when God acts, it is impossible: whether you need to have - as we did need to have, after a millenium or so - a reformation, or not!
Nor was it enough that the apostles were anointed and transformed into fearless speakers enabled with divine power to continue the work of Christ, as seen in Acts, after the resurrection of the body of Christ (Luke 24, I Corinthians 15, Acts 2); but as well, the Church grew in thousands at once, and its perimeters expanded to Europe and the Middle East, like yeast, until it became the religion of Rome. But this, it was to be only after the trials of thousands had been a test of their faith, and unspeakable degradations and tortures had sealed their testimony in anguish and blood.
Yet in New Zealand as noted in this case, people ostensibly founded on the foundation of prophet and apostle (Ephesians 2:20), Jesus Christ the cornerstone, wished to revoke its certainty, so managing to deny faith and the faith, and invent a new religion founded on air, a work of the human imagination aborting history by assault, and that 2000 years after the crucifixion, itself at the predicted date!*1 Not only so, but this projected divorce was from a resurrection is undivorceable from history or from scripture, alike*2.
When this author as an Assembly Minister acted, he was called even by a conservative leader a "fire-brand". SO be it: fire was needed when such rubbish was deposited!
To be sure, in the end, it cost this author, as Minister, 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 (Galatians 2:20). It is the beauty of holiness which must be sought, the Author Himself of beauty being so much more wonderful than any of His products (Psalm 96). 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!
Look back to the rock, Christian, from which you are hewn (Isaiah 51:1), and on, with zest and delighted anticipation awaiting His return, who came on time, who acts in time, who plans for time, who tests inside time and triumphs through it to an eternity His to give, and for eternal life to sanction (John 10:27-28, 6:47, 5:24, Ephesians 1:11). He will appear a second time without sin (having already borne ours and never having had any of His own - I Peter 2), to the final department of salvation, the resurrection of the body of His people, each in His own (II Corinthians 5), just as each baby was born in his or her own body. God is a maker of individuals, came as one, secures one by one (as in Zechariah 12-13, as in John 3:16), loves each one, and having paid for each one, keeps what is committed to Him against that day (II Timothy 1:9).
Will a man abandon his high price sports car ? Far less will God abandon what cost the life of His only begotten Son, sent from eternity to time to rescue in time, those who are His! (Romans 5:1-11)!
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, knowing that your patient toil and Spirit-given love is of divine origin and in His keeping (Romans 5:5). He has the name of all His children from the first, and keeps to the last (Ephesians 1:4, II Timothy 1:9). It was settled before time began that those who would be His were ineffacably written, unalterably secured. Church rolls may be purged, spiritual frauds exposed, but as to devils with good names, they are another field (cf. John 6:64). Just as Christ knew that Judas was a devil from the first, so He knew His own, and the one who fell in theft and then in selling Christ, that one was not His!
Man's estimates may be revised, but not God's! Man's proposals may be excised, but not the Lord's!
Prior to creation, He called and knew (Romans 8:29ff.); beyond creation, He calls and knows His people, each one. Not one fails (I Thessalonians 5:9-10, John 6:47-54, Romans 8:32). Tipsy spiritual 'tasters' may spit out, but once that water is drunk, that food is eaten, yes ONCE it is true, then for all time, it remains. NEVER will such a one who once drank, thirst; and never will the One who should eat that sacrifice, in spiritual terms receiving Him into the soul, fail (John 6:51). The continual coming is the product of the first coming, for of this the product is eternal life!
He KNOWS His sheep, and they know and follow Him, and they shall never perish: He says so in John 10. That is the way with this Shepherd. They enter by the door which is HE, and then they WILL BE SAVED.
As to salvation: He managed the coming, the miracles of testimony and compassion, the death in purity and with forgiveness on His lips as programmed from Isaiah 53, and in Him the resurrection came on time; and so in all time He does what He pleases with the salvation gift. What He pleases is this: that whoever eats of this bread, should live forever, whoever drinks of that water, it would be IN HIM, a well of water SPRINGING up to eternal life.
That is the way it is. Mouthing doesn't do it. Drinking does! Vocables don't do it; faith does. It does it because it receives what is so freely offered, life eternal (I John 1:1-4, 5:11-12). Look ahead then with joy, work fearlessly, testify triumphantly, and function freely in Him, knowing that with everlasting joy on their heads, come His redeemed to their destiny!
As to the Lord, He never fails (Zephaniah 3:5). Faith receives what He offers, repentance prepares for its reception.
See for a demonstration in flight of such things, On Stand-By but Not in Flight, with such categories as The Dream-Time Christian, The Western Dream-Time Chnstian, The Free-Style Christian, The "My Works" Christian, The 'Gay' Christian, The Part-Time Christian and many more.
In this, the word and the deed separate! In News 121, 122 also you see in contemporary development, the ludicrous outcomes that use 'Christian' with the sort of looseness which many who for centuries have attacked the Bible, have deployed. However, when one considers Isaiah 29:13, cited by Christ, the times comes when words have to be examined, not for what they say, but ... for what they mean! Matthew 7 from Christ, shows the nature of such cases, and exhibits that searching phrase, 'wolves in sheep's clothing' (7:15
*1 See Highway of Holiness Ch. 4.
Great Execrations, Great Enervations, Greater Faith Ch. † 7;
Barbs ... Appendix 3,† Biblical Blessings Ch. 15, Extended Endnote 2,
Acme Alpha and Omega Ch. 11, With Heart and Soul, Mind and Strength Ch. † 3,†
The Magnificence of the Messiah, Endnote 1,†
Dastardly Dynamics Ch. 11,
SMR Ch. 6 and† Index,
The Kingdom of Heaven Ch. 9, Section 14,
Joyful Jottings 25, A Spiritual Potpourri Chs. 15, 16,
Stepping Out for Christ Ch. 5, Things Old and New Ch. 2, Excursion 2A;
Light of Dawn Ch. † 3,
Beyond the Crypt ... Ch. 2;
Dizzy Dashes, Heady Clashes and the Brilliant Harmony of Inevitable Truth Ch. 2;
Spiritual Refreshings ... Chs. 5, 6,
Ancient Words, Modern Deeds Ch. 8 (on resurrection and Lazarus, yes and both with Jerusalem); contrasting Greek bodily terms - Let God be God Ch. 2 ;
and New Zealand Dizzy Dashes Ch. 6,
The Frantic Millenium and the Peace of Faith Ch. 4