on our the stoning of Stephen (11.1.06 sermon summary)

In this message, we covered Acts 6.8-8.3. The stoning of Stephen is one of those pivotal events in the life of the church where God moved the people of God out of Jerusalem in keeping with his plan in Acts 1.8. Our proposition for this message was: Man’s fight against God is futile – it is doomed to fail. Better to suffer on the side of God than ‘win’ on the side of Satan. The first thing that we see is that the fight against God depends on false charges – the synagogue that opposed Stephen (or synagogues, commentators hold to 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 synagogues) was likely Stephen’s own synagogue. There is even some speculation that Saul was a member of this synagogue also, but that isn’t clear. At any rate, these men were fighting against Stephen, but they were really fighting against God. And the fight against God depends on false charges, like “God isn’t fair” or “How could a loving God allow my loved one to suffer so?” etc.

Stephen’s answer shows that the fight against God cannot silence the faithful witness. Now Stephen’s sermon doesn’t sound like much of a defense to our ears, but the Jews definitely got his point. The Bible Knowledge Commentary has an excellent summary and suggests these three threads working their way to the conclusion of his message: 1) God has always used change to develop the true worship from Abraham to now, so the change under Christ isn’t unexpected 2) God has blessed his people outside of Israel, so God’s worship is not limited to this land or this temple [an important point especially for the Hellenistic Jews] and 3) Israel through its history has resisted and disobeyed God, virtually from the beginning until now. This last was Stephen’s main point, which got through loud and clear, and stirred up the opposition.

The Jews thought they would silence the church with this opposition, but the last point of my message was the fight against God will find the seeds of defeat in its moment of apparent victory. Stephen’s death was a victory for Christ in itself, as his vision of the standing Christ proves. But even Saul, filled with rage and wreaking havoc of the church proves the victory for he becomes the answer to Stephen’s final prayer, “Lord lay not this sin to their charge.” And the church is scattered all over Judea and Samaria, in keeping with Acts 1.8. And they go preaching. Tertullian’s famous saying, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” Well, that isn’t actually what he said, but it is close. Here is what he really said: “The oftener we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow; the blood of Christians is seed.”

May God help us to preach the word and expand the kingdom without being martyrs, but if necessary, let us be martyrs.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3