July 18, 2021
Answering the call
Acts 6:1-15, 7:1-60, 9:1
We see the church is growing almost on a daily basis as written in Acts 6:1. The fact the church has decided to have everything pooled together means they need to figure out a way to meet everyone’s needs. We see in verse 1 that somehow the needs of some of the widows among those in the church are not getting everything they need. At the same time, the apostles know their primary responsibility is to continue to preach the word wherever the Holy Spirit leads them, so the apostles decide to get a few of the men from among them to meet the physical needs of those in the church. You might say a search committee was formed to find the right men for the job. It would seem the Holy Spirit led the search committee to a group of seven men who would do the job. Among the seven was a man by the name of Stephen. Once the seven were presented to the apostles, they prayed with them, laid hands on them, and sent them forward to do what they had been entrusted to do.
Another example of the unity that existed in the early church: Everyone was stepping up, willing to do what they could to make sure not only the needs of the current believers were being met, but also to show those who were not yet believers how God is working in the lives of believers. As a result, we see yet again that the number of disciples were rapidly increasing and even some of the Jewish priests were beginning to recognize that God was moving through these believers, and this movement was really of God. Even with all of this good news, not everyone was accepting and believing. In spite of all the things God was doing at this time there were still many in the Jewish community that did not believe. In fact, they believed the church was not of God at all. Stephen was especially effective in proclaiming the word of God, as well as leading the group that was making sure the church’s needs were met. There were a couple of groups in the Jewish community that took Stephen on for what he was saying and doing. This group’s desire was to prove Stephen was lying, but the Holy Spirit provided Stephen with everything he needed to show he was proclaiming the truth. These Jewish leaders were so convinced Stephen and the early church were wrong that they made up lies about him to the main decision makers in the Jewish synagogue, a group called the Sanhedrin. Sadly, those who opposed Stephen and the church went so far as to get others to testify against him with what were complete and total lies.
We are not going to read the majority of the 7th chapter, but I would encourage you to read it again to see what a compelling and gifted man Stephen was. As Stephen was asked in the first verse of chapter 7 if the charges against him were true, he went on to take the Jewish leaders through a brief history of what they all believed from their past. Stephen pointed out, however, a history that most chose to ignore about the unbelief that almost always came into play as God tried to move in their midst. You can tell Stephen was so frustrated about what was happening to the church at the hands of his own people, the Jews. He, by the power of the Holy Spirit, called it exactly as it was. Beginning with the 51st verse in chapter 7 he does not pull any punches. Can you imagine just how Stephen felt that caused him to be so blunt about his people’s past; the fact that history was repeating itself again. Listen again to what Stephen said, “You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears; you are just like your fathers. You always resist the Holy Spirit; was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute?” Wow, at this point I do not believe he was looking to win friends and influence people. It should have been so obvious to everyone that God was moving in a powerful way and that Jesus Christ was indeed the promised Messiah, but large parts of the Jewish community did not care. Stephen then made it personal to those there at that time. Stephen reminds them that, “They even killed those who predicted the coming righteous one. And now you have betrayed and murdered him. You have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it.”
There may have been times some of us here have had blowups with family, friends, co-workers, bosses and things may have gotten ugly. Here we have a man of God trying to convince the world of God’s plan and it is so obvious some of those hearing him not only do not care, but actually wanted Stephen and the church eliminated because Satan had deceived them that badly. The Holy Spirt recognized that fact and had Stephen say these blunt words maybe because there were others there that needed to know the honest truth about what was going on before it was too late for them. What was the result? After hearing Stephen lay it out, these Jewish leaders were like Nineveh in the time of Jonah. They repented and turned to God. Right? Let us read one more time and see what happened. “When they heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him, but Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see heaven open and the son of man standing at the right hand of God.’ At this they covered their ears and yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile the witnesses laid their clothes at the foot of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he fell on his knees and cried out, ‘Lord do not hold this sin against them.’ When he said this, he fell asleep.” No, not only did the people refuse to repent of their sin against God, they added to it by stoning Stephen. We can see by Stephen’s statement that when he launched against the Jewish leaders, he did not do it out of anger. He actually did it out of love. His hope and prayer were that these blunt, honest words would force them to honestly look at their lives and what is really true. However, it did not work. Satan’s hold on these Jewish leaders was so strong, they refused to see the truth. With Stephen’s dying breath, he said something that had to shake many of those there watching, as well as the ones actually doing the stoning when he asked God not to hold against them what they were doing.
The title of our sermon today is “Answering the call.” Clearly Stephen is an incredible example of that faith, that love, that commitment. How many of us would react as Stephen did? When we saw how these Jewish leaders were treating our brothers and sisters, would we react in anger or love? I pray we will never face what Stephen ultimately faced. However, God is still calling men and women to boldly step up when the occasion arises. Will we continue to answer the call? Sometimes it will not be easy. Sometimes it will come at a price. Stephen knew it was worth the cost to be obedient to God. I pray the Lord gives me the courage, the boldness, the faith and, yes, the love that we saw in Stephen. May we each in our own way continue to answer the call.
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