Do Good Works; Acts 9:32-43

Main Point: The resurrected Jesus is doing good works through his people.

We are back today in the book of Acts and, Lord willing, we will work our way through the book of Acts over the next several months. Specifically, we are in Acts 9 and the transition from Saul back to Peter. We shifted away from Peter in chapter 6 with the calling of the seven to serve with the apostles. As Acts 6 continues, the focus moves to Stephen. There is an increase of persecution and preaching. After Stephen is killed in chapter 7 the church is scattered. Philip is the focus of Acts 8 and Philip preaches to Simon the Magician and the Ethiopian eunuch. Chapter 9 opens with the conversion of the persecutor who had two names: Saul among the Jewish people and Paul among the Greek people. Saul is born again and begins preaching the gospel. The Jews hunt Saul to kill him but when he finds out about their plans he escapes. The escape of Saul from Jerusalem to Tarsus brings us back around to Peter about 2/3rds through Acts 9.

Ultimately, it looks like Luke (who wrote the Book of Acts) is tracing Peter’s whereabouts so that we are ready for the hugely important conversion of Cornelius in chapter 10. Acts 10 and the conversion of Cornelius helps us understand why we do not follow all the law the way the Jewish people did.

But, before we get to chapter 10 we need to look at good works in Acts 9. We need to understand that Jesus is working through his church; every Christian is gifted to work. So, we don’t work in order to get saved; we work because we are saved. Ephesians 2:10 says, “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” You don’t work to get saved; God works in you and then you work. It is our union with Christ which empowers our work for Christ (Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-8). Jesus is alive and well and working through his church.   

Let’s consider the good works of Acts 9:32-43. We see the saints healing, helping, and raising. Let’s get to work! (Read 9:32-43).

I. Do good works by healing (32-35)

What are we all called to do?

  • We all have the call to build one another up

We’re going to talk through the details and even consider if we should seek to revive the dead. But before we do that, it is important to nail down a proper understanding of the gifts of the Spirit that enable us to do good works. The fundamental spiritual gift given to every Christian is a saving knowledge of Jesus as Lord. It is by the Spirit that we say, “Jesus is Lord” (1 Cor 12:3). The gift of the Spirit given to every Christian is the gift of personal allegiance to Jesus Christ. We have been bought with a great price. Jesus is our Lord.

Bigger still, our individual union with Christ is the source of our union as the church. The church, the body of Christ, is filled with different gifts. We all have the manifestation of the Spirit and that gift is for the common good (1 Cor 12:7). So, we have our shared confession of Jesus as Lord and we have different gifts (1 Cor 12:27-31). Brothers, are we all going to do exactly what Peter did? No, we have different gifts. Sisters, will you all do exactly what Tabitha did? No, you have different gifts. We will all be working but we will not all work the same way. We will all devote ourselves to good works that put the same glorious God on display. But these good works will look different. Our union with Christ and our diverse gifts are blessings for the body. We all have the call, 1 Corinthians 14:26, to build one another Let’s get to work! Look at Peter’s work

  • The healing of Aeneas

Look back at Acts 9:31. The church is no longer experiencing a high level of persecution. There is peace and the members are building one another up. They fear the Lord, they are comforted by the Holy Spirit, and the church is multiplying. The increase of peace and the multiplying of churches means Peter is on the move. Where is Peter going? Verse 32, Peter is going here and there throughout the area surrounding Jerusalem.

In verse 32 we come across a city new to us. The city is Lydda and Lydda is about 30 miles northwest of Jerusalem. Lydda is about 10 miles from Joppa on the Mediterranean Sea. Joppa is the port city that Jonah ran to when he was running away from God. As the gospel spreads and churches are formed, we see the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise in Acts 1:8. Holy Spirit empowered witnesses are going out from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.

Now, what do we find in Lydda? There are saints in Lydda and saint is another word for Christian. We are saints, set apart for God’s use, made holy through Jesus Christ, and gifted with the Holy Spirit. Connecting verses 31 and 32, the church is made up of saints.

Among the saints in Lydda is a paralyzed man named Aeneas who has been bed ridden for 8 years. Look at what happens in verse 34, “Peter said to him, ‘Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed.’ And immediately he rose.” First, I need you to notice who does the healing. Does Peter heal Aeneas or does Jesus? Jesus, who is alive and well is doing the healing. Jesus works his works through us! Second, there is a pattern developing in the Bible connecting the work of Jesus, the work of Peter, and the work of Paul. Jesus healed a paralyzed man in Luke 5 and another in John 5, Peter heals a paralyzed man in Acts 3 and another in Acts 9, then Saul heals a paralyzed man in Acts 14. The disciples imitate their teacher.

Looking at resurrections, Jesus raised the widow’s son in Luke 7 and Jairus’s daughter in Luke 8. Peter raised Tabitha from the dead in Acts 9 and Paul raised Eutychus in Acts 20. The point being made here and that needs to be fleshed out in your life is that Jesus works through his people. If you belong to Jesus, you have work to do and power to do the work.

How do we figure out what to do? It is in discipleship relationships and entering into various ministries of the church that we discover our gifts and begin learning how to use those gifts. Peter learned by being discipled and we are no different. We have differing gifts, but we are all meant to learn how to use those gifts through discipleship. So, the application here is to get involved and ask for help. We need help setting up and serving for our members’ meeting next Sunday morning. We will celebrate the Lord’s Supper next week and it takes work to bake the bread and set up the cups. Vacation Bible School is coming June 15, and we need your help. There are teaching opportunities through Sunday school now and AWANA when school starts back. Our summer mission trip needs workers, and we need members to help us keep track of our missionaries’ needs. We have sick and struggling members who need your prayers. There’s work to do! Talk to an elder or a deacon and we’ll get you working.

Look at the results of Aeneas’s healing; we are after the same results. Look again at verse 35, “And all the residents of Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord.” Turned to the Lord is salvation language. When Paul is writing about how the Thessalonians were saved he said, “you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1 Thess 1:9). They were saved to serve!

Becoming a Christian involves turning from idols to God. A person turns from chasing after the world to chasing after God. Becoming a Christian means starting the fight against the destructive things the world wants in order to gain the good that God promises. And we need Christ for this fight. So, we turn to the Lord for direction and for strength. We pray. We fight. We grow in godliness. This is what the Spirit does in those who turn to the Lord. May God use your good works to show his goodness to your neighbors and may God use your preaching to turn your neighbors to the Lord. Do good works! Seek the good of others. Pray for healing!

II. Do good works by caring for the poor (36, 39)

Let’s start big and then get into the details

  • We all have the call to help those in need

Titus 3:14 says, “let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful.” Galatians 6:10 says, “as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” 1 John 2:15 calls us away from loving the things of the world so that we can lovingly meet the needs of our brothers and sisters (3:16-17). James 1:27 defines pure and undefiled religion as visiting orphans and widows in their affliction and keeping oneself unstained by the world.

Jesus’ plan is to work through you. Jesus’ plan is to work through you by you meeting needs in his name. Your good deeds, your helping people in need, is a big deal advancing the kingdom and bringing healing. Keep helping! Let’s look now at

  • The generosity of Tabitha

We’re in Acts 9:36, “Now there was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which, translated means Dorcas. She was full of good works and acts of charity.” The translation of her name from Greek into English is unfortunate, but she was truly a lovely woman. Her name means gazelle and she had the one-two punch of good works and helping the poor. Here is a woman, a disciple, who Jesus is working through to bring good to her neighbors. Looking down in verse 39 we see that Tabitha was an accomplished seamstress and generous with her work. The widows were mourning her death and proving her abilities. Tabitha took care of people. What are your neighbors going to say about you when you die? Ladies, will your neighbors say “Who,”, will they say, “Good riddance”, or will they say, “What a loss”?

Now ladies, does this passage command you to leave here and learn how to sew? No. You are not commanded to sew any more than verse 34 commands you to make your bed. Though I do recommend sewing and making your bed! The point is that Tabitha was a faithful follower of Christ seeking to use her gifts and resources to do good to her neighbors. Ladies, Jesus wants to work through you, you are disciples of Christ, go and do good works. Go and meet needs. Let’s commit ourselves to helping like Tabitha.

Now let’s take up the resurrection in verses 37-43

III. Do good works: the resurrection (37-43)

  • The resurrection/resuscitation of Tabitha

I use both words because I want to be clear that what happened to Tabitha was more than a resuscitation and less than the resurrection. This is more than a medical resuscitation using CPR and this is less than a resurrection unto a glorified body; Tabitha was raised but died again.

Let’s look, verse 37, “In those days she became ill and died, and when they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room.” The normal practice was to bury the dead before sunset. Why did these Christians not follow the normal practice of almost immediate burial? I believe there is a desire for her resurrection.

Lydda and Joppa are close, about 10 miles apart. Apparently, the church heard about Peter being in Lydda and they heard of the miraculous healing of the paralyzed man. So, they sent for Peter and Peter goes with them to Joppa. They take Peter to the upper room and there the widows of the church are weeping. Tabitha is dead but her body is there.

Starting in verse 40 I want to show you how Peter the disciple is following the example of Jesus his teacher. Peter put them all outside, just as Jesus did when he raised Jairus’ daughter (Mt 9.25). Peter then knelt down and prayed because the power to heal came from Jesus; Peter’s power did not come from himself. Peter said, “Tabitha arise” just like Jesus said “Talitha arise” (Lk 8:54). After speaking to her, Jesus took Talitha by the hand and raised her (Mt 9:25). After speaking to her, Peter took Tabitha by the hand and raised her. Jesus called Talitha’s parents and gave her back to them. Peter called the saints and gave Tabitha back to them. Peter did the good work of raising the dead and this was a great good for the church.

Verse 42 gives us the results, “And it became known throughout all of Joppa and many believed in the Lord.” The physical resurrection of Tabitha led to spiritual resurrections when the people heard the voice of Jesus, believed, and were given eternal life. There is a physical resurrection and there is a spiritual resurrection (John 5:25). The hour of physical resurrection is coming; we live in the hour of spiritual resurrection. When the people saw the miracle and heard the gospel they came to life. They believed in Christ.

This is such a crucial phrase that we must define it every time we see it. What does it mean to believe in Christ? We defined turn to the Lord from verse 35 as turning from idols to serve the living God. This is a change of direction. While turning deals with the direction of your life, believing in the Lord deals with delight and dependence. Believing in the Lord is seeing that he is worth turning to; gaining him is worth leaving these things behind. Believing in the Lord is seeing the resurrected Jesus and seeking him as your greatest treasure. There is delight and there is dependence.

If you are not a Christian, imagine for a moment that there is a God and when you die, he will judge you according to his own perfect righteousness. What are you going to depend on, trust, or believe in? You can believe in yourself; you can believe you have done enough good works to not only offset the bad but also attain the level of the very righteousness of God. You can try to earn your salvation by your works. You can believe in you or you can believe in the Lord. To believe in the Lord is to trust that Jesus lived, died, and rose again to forgive you and give you the very righteousness of God. Believe in Jesus and put your trust in his good works!

Belief is dependence but dependence is not only for judgment day. Belief in the Lord is for every day. I have yet to master John 15:5 so I bring us back to it repeatedly. Jesus said, He is the vine and we are the branches, apart from him we can do nothing. If we abide in him and he abides in us we will bear much fruit. It is depending on Jesus every day that leads us to a place of fruitfulness in God’s kingdom. Peter turned to the Lord, believed in the Lord, and was fruitful. May we follow Peter’s example in repentance and faith.

I have good news. You can be saved today. Repent to God, believe in Jesus, and you will be saved. That is good news! Let’s wrap up with some quick thoughts about raising the dead.

  • Resurrections are incredibly rare

How many resurrections have you experienced? I’m not talking about resuscitations (which are miracles in themselves). I’m talking about dead for hours, washed up by Wiley’s funeral home, and then brought to life. Resurrections are rare. Think about the 4,000 years of history recorded in the Bible. How many resurrections are there? There are 9 resurrections in the Bible plus the saints that were raised at Jesus’ death.[1] If we are generous and say 91 people were raised at Jesus’ death that would put the resurrection count at 100 in 4000 years. That’s incredibly rare. But

  • Resurrections will be incredibly common

Revelation 20 and John 5 point to the resurrection of all people. Listen to Jesus in John 5:28, “an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” What happened to Tabitha will happen to all.

Think for a moment about what side you will end up on. When Christ raises your body and brings you into judgment will you enjoy the resurrection of life or suffer the resurrection of judgment? The good news is you’re not dead yet! Turn to the Lord, believe in the Lord, and by the Lord’s power do good works. Because of the redeeming power of Jesus, you can enjoy the resurrection of life. You can be saved. Repent of your sins and believe in Jesus. Come tell us and seek baptism. We want you to be with him.

Here’s our last question for this morning,

  • Should we seek to revive the dead?

What do you do when your Dorcas dies? After reading these accounts, it is natural to ask the Lord for a resurrection. I think of the death of my wife or one of my children. I would ask for a miracle, but I hope they would be a little disappointed if I got it! Going through death to the Father is better than staying in this life no matter how good it is here.

Think of Jesus celebrating the good of his return to his Father through death and resurrection. The good of the Son being with the Father should even overrule the disciples’ grief (John 14:28). We need to think of the apostle Paul telling us that to live is Christ and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21). Church, let us return to a biblical view of death. To remain in the flesh is necessary on the account of others but to depart and be with the Lord is far better. Here is our delight- to depart is far better. And here is our dependence- to remain and do good works is necessary. Let us trust the Lord and do good. Let us long for the good of being in the fullness of the presence of the Lord. Should we seek to revive the dead? Probably not, to depart and be with the Lord is far better.

Father, we ask that men and women would repent, believe, and seek baptism today. Jesus, thank you for redeeming us through your death, empowering us with your life, and unity us as the church. Holy Spirit, give gifts to your church. Empower us to work because we are saved. Correct us anytime we try to earn our salvation by our works. We pray especially for the women of Mambrino. We thank you for these disciples and ask that they would be full of good works and generosity.

God, show us your glory. Open our minds and strengthen our hearts to see your greatness and desire you above all else. It is you we long for; you are our desire. If it is your will that we remain, help us to work hard for the good of others. Use us to heal the sick, help the needy, and raise the dead. Use us to bring many sons and daughters to salvation. We pray these things longing for Jesus’ return. Amen.

All I Have is Christ


[1]https://www.learnreligions.com/people-raised-from-the-dead-in-the-bible-4109363

Discuss Acts 9:32-43

  • In what way did God comfort, challenge, or correct you today?
  • Do you think you should be doing good works? Why? What is the gain?
  • Why is the Spirit-given ability to say “Jesus is Lord” the fundamental spiritual gift that unites us and empowers us? See 1 Corinthians 12:3.
  • In the church, we share the same confession of Jesus as Lord but we all have differing gifts. How can you use your gift to build others up and protect the unity of the church?
  • Do you like the idea of calling every believer a saint? Why is it correct to call every Christian a saint?
  • Acts 9:32-43 makes the point that Jesus is working through his people. If you belong to Jesus, how is He working through you?
  • Describe how God turned you from chasing after the world to chasing after God.
  • Who is sick and what would it look like for you to pray for him/her to be healed?
  • What do you want your neighbors to say about you when you die? How can you depend on Jesus and do good deeds?
  • What does it mean to believe in the Lord? Do you believe in the Lord?
  • What do you think about your coming death? Are you ready? How can you get ready?
  • Why would a resurrection like Tabitha’s be a good thing? Why would a resurrection like Tabitha’s be a disappointing thing?

Discuss Acts 9:19-31

  1. In what way did God comfort, challenge, or correct you today?
  2. Here is the talk by Tim Keller titled, “Peace in Times of Suffering and Uncertainty”. To begin, you’ll want to scrub forward to the 11 minute mark. This will help if you are asking, Why are so many people so afraid?
  3. What does it look like for you to be daily led by Jesus? How does the comfort of the Holy Spirit guard your mind in these uncertain days?
  4. Read Matthew 5:35 and 6:27. How should the authority of Jesus effect our anxieties? See Matthew 28:18, Colossians 2:10 and Colossians 2:15.
  5. Calling on Jesus’ name involves two cries, “Save me!” and “Help me!”. What does calling on Jesus to save you from God’s wrath look like and what does daily calling on Jesus for help look like? Why can we trust Jesus to save us and help us?
  6. Who is the one non-Christian neighbor you are praying daily for? For resources and helps click here.
  7. How effective is your daily Bible reading for producing peace and comfort in these days? Who will you reach out to for help? (Your pastors are a good place to start)
  8. Will your current practice of studying, understanding, and believing the Bible cause you to endure difficulty, suffering, or persecution? How do you know?
  9. What particular things these days show your weakness? How can you boast in them such that the power of Christ rests upon you?
  10. What is the fear of the Lord and how can you grow in your fear of the Lord this week?
  11. Talk with someone about the ways the Holy Spirit is comforting them.
  12. Take a moment to write out a list of people who are making decisions about the corona-virus and pray for them. Think about local, state, and federal government. Remember doctors, nurses, and managers of nursing homes.
  13. As you daily pray for your fellow church members, pray that each of us will mature in the faith, share the faith, walk in the fear of the Lord, and walk in the comfort of the Holy Spirit.

The Miracle of Conversion

Text: Acts 9:1-19

Main Point: We are brought to life by seeing the glory of Christ.

Today we get to celebrate the miracle of conversion and conversion is change. Growing up, I remember being awestruck by those 15 passenger vans that were converted into trucks. It had a van up front and a truck bed in the back. Sometimes I would see one with half a van front and a truck bed on the back. The conversion from a van to a truck was a thing of beauty. I wanted one!

There are wonderful conversions all around us. A caterpillar is converted into a butterfly. A cow in the field is converted into a hamburger on my plate. A dilapidated building is converted into a warm and welcoming home. A barren tree in the winter is converted into a fruit bearing tree in the summer. A hater of Jesus Christ is converted into a disciple and apostle of Jesus Christ.

In Acts 9, we see the miracle of conversion. According to 1 Timothy 1:16, Saul understood that his conversion is meant to serve as an example for us. The grace, mercy, and transformation we see in Acts 9 is for us today. Jesus Christ is wonderfully kind and patient. The King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, deserves all glory and honor. What we must do is see and savor that glory. What we must do is preach the gospel which is the display of the glory of God.

Reading 2 Corinthians 4, we see that Saul never got over his conversion and he understood that what happened to him happens to every person who becomes a Christian. The pattern of 2 Corinthians 4 goes like this; we are all like Saul. We all start with hardened minds (3:14), veiled hearts (3:15), and blinded minds (4:4). The mark of a convert is seeing and loving the great worth of the resurrected Jesus Christ. A non-Christian has no taste for the greatness of Christ. A Christian is set on knowing Christ. Through conversion, we move from refusing Christ to following Christ. We are a church that seeks and celebrates the conversion of our neighbors. Saul’s conversion is meant to be an example for us. Let’s look.

Read Acts 9:1-20

The one who hated and hunted the disciples has become a disciple. The one who despised the claim that Jesus is the Son of God is now rejoicing in Jesus, the Son of God. This is the conversion of Saul and the mercy he received is the same mercy available to us today. Let’s track with Saul as he is converted by seeing the glory of Christ, knowing that our neighbors will also be converted when they see the glory of Christ. We begin with the problem

I. We are bound up in darkness

Before conversion,

  • We have hardened minds and veiled hearts

This truth comes from 2 Corinthians 3 and 4. Speaking about his Jewish neighbors, Paul wrote, “to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts” (3:14). Have you ever seen a couple and thought to yourself, “what does she see in him?” Your heart is veiled to what is lovely about that person. The one whom your heart is repealed by is the same one that her heart is drawn toward. In this instance, your heart is veiled; you don’t appreciate what is lovely about that guy. Our hearts are veiled, keeping us from seeing the glory of Christ.

Thinking more broadly, to call a heart veiled is the same as calling it a heart of stone. And a heart of stone is incapable of affection. A veiled heart is incapable of loving that which is good. We need the veil removed, we need the stone heart busted up and replaced with a heart of flesh. The glory of Christ, revealed in the gospel, breaks up our stony hearts.

In 2 Corinthians 3:14 and 4:4, Paul also points to the problem of a hardened mind. A person with a hardened mind is a person who refuses to consider the facts. In an argument you may hear a person say, “I don’t want to confuse you with the facts.” This attack means you are not willing to think about what is true. You are so set in your way of thinking that you have no room for truth. Our minds, set on this world, and our enemy, blinding our minds against the truth, do not want us to consider the glory and worth of the resurrected Jesus. Praise God, the gospel of Christ penetrates our stubborn minds!

When Saul took the gospel to his neighbors in Damascus, and when we take the gospel to our neighbors, we need to know what we are up against. We are up against veiled hearts that cannot love Christ and hardened minds that do not want to consider the claims of Christ. We are all like Saul

  • Saul had a hardened mind and a veiled heart

Let’s work through our passage in Acts 9, beginning in verse 1, and find examples of a veiled heart and a hardened mind.

Saul is full of hatred toward everyone who follows Jesus. He is breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord. Verse 2, he sought permission to extradite any Jew who held to Jesus as the only way to the Father and the high priest gave Saul permission to imprison both men and women who confessed Jesus Christ as Lord.

It is fair, looking back at Stephen’s speech in Acts 7, and Saul’s presence and approval of Stephen’s murder in Acts 8, that Saul was not moved by Stephen’s preaching. Saul’s mind was hardened to the truth of the resurrection and deity of Jesus Christ. Saul is what Stephen called a stiff-necked person, uncircumcised in heart and ears, he always resists the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:51). Saul’s heart is veiled, and his mind is hardened. He will not listen to the claims of Christ crucified and raised. He will not tolerate any who live a life dependent upon Jesus Christ. Saul will stop at nothing short of squashing the spread of the gospel. That is, until Saul is stopped by the spread of the gospel.

We are all bound up in darkness and

II. We must be delivered from darkness

Here in verse 3, we get a picture of the miraculous conversion of a soul. We need to ask the question how is a person changed?

  • Saul was changed by the glory of Christ (3-10)

In 2 Corinthians 4, Paul explains this step of conversion as God shining in our hearts the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (v6). Just as God spoke in creation to create light in this world, so also God speaks into our hearts to create light in our hearts. In conversion, darkened hearts are brought into the light. The light is the knowledge of Christ as the resurrected Son of God who rules over all things.

Before conversion, our hearts love to hide in the dark and pursue self-centered desires. Before conversion, our minds are darkened and cannot see a better way. But then Jesus breaks through.

Acts 9:3, ‘Now as Saul went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him.” God is shining the light of his glory on Saul. God is showing Saul the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Verse 4, Saul falls to the ground, and Jesus asks him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” This is the beginning of Saul’s undoing. Saul is not persecuting some heretical group of nut-jobs. Saul is opposing God himself. Saul’s response is tentative, “Who are you, Lord?” There must be some understanding of deity due to the sheer weight of glory that blinded him, but Saul’s mind is hardened and his heart veiled. How can this Jesus who disgusts Saul be fully God? Saul is being led to repent; Saul must change his thinking about the person and worth of Jesus. Jesus is not dead; Jesus is alive. Jesus is not just a man; Jesus is fully God.

The answer of verse 5 would have pierced Saul’s hard heart, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” For two times, for clarity, Jesus affirms that Jesus is alive and that attacking disciples is the same as attacking the Son of God (4, 5). Here is the glorious unity of Christ with his church. Jesus has always been with and for his people in every phase of life. The resurrected Jesus is our head and we are his body. We are united to him and he cannot forsake us. Jesus feels your pain and knows your struggle.

Saul is now face to face with the resurrected Jesus and its time to stop running. Jesus, who feels the pain of his church, also understands the difficulty of Saul’s conscience. It is hard to kick against the goads.

When a farmer begins to use a young ox to plow, that ox doesn’t want to obey. The ox’s heart is veiled, and his mind is hardened; that ox won’t plow. So, the farmer fastens a sharp stick to the plow and when the ox kicks, the ox kicks the goad and is pricked. To kick against the goads is to stab oneself; it is to hurt oneself. Saul the hunter had no idea he was being hunted. Seeing the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, Saul becomes submissive.

Saul asks, “Lord, what will you have me to do?” He must rise and enter the city. Saul is not going to persecute the disciples. Saul must now wait to be healed and helped by the disciples.

Verses 7-9 bring in the witnesses. Saul’s companions could hear the voice but not make out anyone. During Jesus’ final week, the Father spoke to him in answer to prayer (John 12:27-30). The people around him heard the voice but couldn’t make it out. Some said it thundered while others said it was an angel. The voice of God is heard here in Acts 9 with the same effect. They see the light but not Christ. They hear speaking but cannot make out the words.

Acts 9:8, they lead Saul by the hand into Damascus. Verse 9, Saul is undone. He fasts and prays for three days. It will be fun one day to ask Saul what was going through his mind during those three days. Most likely, it was repentance concerning his sin of rejecting Christ and persecuting the church. Saul was radically reconsidering all he was living for; this is conversion, changing your mind about Jesus so that it changes the priorities of your life. For now, Saul is waiting. He needs to be discipled.

  • Saul was discipled by a disciple (11-19)

Just as Jesus confronted Saul, so now, Jesus confronts Ananias. Verse 10, all we know about Ananias is that he is a disciple. Ananias is a follower of Jesus. Maybe Ananias was in Jerusalem at Pentecost; we don’t know. In Acts 22:12, Paul says that Ananias was “a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there.” This means Ananias was a Jew converted to Christianity when God used the gospel to shine the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus into Ananias’ heart.

In a vision, Acts 9:10, the Lord Jesus calls Ananias and Ananias answers, “Here I am, Lord.” Jesus then sends Ananias to Saul. Saul is praying, and in a vision, Saul sees Ananias lay his hands on him and Saul will regain his sight. Ananias gets a vision of a vision, but Ananias doesn’t want to go. Ananias knows how much evil Saul has done to the saints in Jerusalem. Ananias knows Saul has permission from the high priest to imprison all who call on Jesus’ name.

But Jesus calls the shots, we do not. The Lord says, verse 15, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” Saul is an elect vessel, chosen by grace, to take the gospel to the nations. The only reason Saul has been chosen for salvation is that his salvation proves the mercy of God. Jesus doesn’t save the worthy and the well. Jesus came for the sick and the unrighteous.

The persecutor will now be persecuted. The hunter will be hunted. The jailer will be jailed. Why? Saul has seen the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ and all that matters is following Jesus. No matter the cost, Jesus is the way.

Back to Acts 9:17. Ananias goes to Judas’s house on Straight Street in Damascus. There he finds Saul and Ananias lays his hands on him saying, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

How it must have encouraged Saul to be called brother. Saul has found his place in the family of God at last. Scales fall from Saul’s eyes and he is filled with the Holy Spirit. There are no apostles present, just a disciple obeying Jesus. Saul receives the Holy Spirit and then is baptized. Saul’s conscience is relieved, his eyesight is restored, he is filled with the Holy Spirit, and baptized. Now he eats, gains strength, and spends his time with the disciples in Damascus.

Here is Saul’s conversion. He has gone from hating Christ and seeking to destroy the disciples to following Christ and learning from the disciples. Now, Acts 9:20, Saul is going to the synagogues and proclaiming that Jesus is the Son of God! When God shines the light of the gospel into our veiled hearts we are converted. So, I must ask

  • How were you converted?

Have you been converted? Have you come to see and savor the glory of God in the face of the crucified and resurrected Jesus? When you sin and see your guilt, do you call upon the name of the Jesus as your only hope? When you read the Bible does your mind sense the call to follow Jesus’ commands? When we gather for worship, is your heart drawn to celebrate the great worth of Jesus Christ? Is your heart unveiled and your mind softened?

It can be today. You can be converted. Repent and be baptized, everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). You will be converted.

Conversion happens when we hear the gospel and God shines that truth into our hearts. The good news is that you can be reconciled to God. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you have done. You may be the most vile hater of Jesus. Saul’s conversion proves Jesus will give you mercy and grace. You can be forgiven and restored to God. You can receive the Holy Spirit and be given the wisdom and strength you need to live this life. You can be saved because God loves to save sinners. Repent, believe, be saved, and then what?

Verse 20 tells us that immediately Saul proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God!” Saul took the gospel to his neighbors. We must do the same.

III. Who’s your one?

What I want you to see from this passage of Scripture is this, what God did to Saul on the road to Damascus is what God wants to do among our families, friends, neighbors, and coworkers. There are some unrepeatable aspects of Saul’s conversion like physically seeing the resurrected Jesus, being blinded by a great light, being called as an apostle, and being healed by a guy named Ananias. But, as the references to 2 Corinthians 4 and 1 Timothy 1 have shown us, there are some repeatable aspects of Saul’s conversion. What happened to Saul is meant to be an example to us. Yes, that means there is hope for the most hardened blind hater of the gospel. The main aspect of Saul’s conversion that we want to see repeated all around us is the saving display of the glory of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our lives and our words are meant to put Jesus on display for the salvation of our neighbors.

  • We are called to shine like lights

Jesus tells us, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

The way you talk to your neighbors and coworkers is meant to prepare them for the gospel. Your friends are meant to see the way you treat your parents and notice there is something good and different about you. The people around you are meant to see the way you serve others and live an honest life and wonder about you. Your purity, your work ethic, your humor, your hope, and your love are meant to show the greatness of our God. But get this, works are insufficient for salvation. No one is going to be saved because you live a Christian life. You must open your mouth.

  • We must share the gospel

The gospel is the good news that Jesus, fully God and fully man, lived a righteous life, died an atoning death, and rose victorious from the grave to bring us to God. The gospel is the light of the glory of Christ (2 Cor 4:4). Our calling is to sit down with our neighbors and coworkers to explain the gospel and help them understand. We must talk about Jesus in order for the gospel of Jesus to shine forth. Deeds are not enough. We must share the gospel. So, here’s where I want each of us to start as we seek the conversion of other.

  • Commit today to pray daily for the salvation of one person

In Romans 10:1, when Paul thought about the unbelievers around him, he wrote, “my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.” In the pew rack in front of you, there is a prayer guide for each of you to use over the next 30 days. I want each of you to take one. I have been using this guide for the last 30 days and it is legit. The prayers are biblical and powerful. The commitment to pray everyday keeps the spiritual needs of my neighbors in the front of my mind.

Inside the booklet you will find a bookmark. I want you to take out that bookmark and think of one person, a teammate, a neighbor, a coworker, or a family member whom you want to see converted to Christ. Take a minute to write that person’s name on that card. Now look at the booklet, each day you have a short Bible reading and a prayer to get you started praying. If you use the youversion Bible app, you can find the Who’s Your One Bible Reading plan there too.

Here’s the goal. Start praying today for your one. Keep praying daily over the next three weeks and look for an opportunity to share the gospel or invite that person to worship with you on Easter Sunday. I will do my best to preach the gospel and give you plenty to talk about with your one. You pray, I preach, and then you work to make a disciple. We have given you evangelistic Bible reading plans to use. You’ll see those coming around again soon. We have given you training and encouragement to share the gospel. Now we want to equip you to pray for the conversion of your neighbors and coworkers and friends at school.

Let’s start today, open up to page one, and let’s pray together. God is working the miracle of conversion through people like me and you praying and preaching the gospel. Jesus is wonderfully kind and patient; he wants to display his mercy and kindness through us. Let’s pray.

Discuss Acts 9:1-19

  1. In what way did God comfort, challenge, or correct you today?
  2. How should what you heard today effect the way you live tomorrow?
  3. Who is your one? Who is the one person you will pray for and seek his/her conversion to faith in Christ?
  4. Do you agree with the statement that conversion is seeing and loving the great worth of the resurrected Jesus? Why or why not?
  5. How can you be a source of glory for the conversion of your neighbors?
  6. Seeing that our neighbors have veiled hearts and hardened minds, what should we do?
  7. How does the unity of Christ with his people help you endure suffering?
  8. Seeing the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ made Saul submissive to God. How should this truth shape the way you parent your children?
  9. Using Acts 9, explain how discipleship works. How can you make disciples?
  10. Have you been converted? How were you converted?
  11. Your purity, your work ethic, your humor, and your love are meant to show the greatness of your God. How can you grow in Christ-likeness?

Discuss Acts 8:9-25

  • In what way did God comfort, challenge, or correct you today?
  • Building on what you heard today, how do you plan to follow Jesus?
  • According to Matthew 24:24 and 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10, what is the role of magic or the godless use of power?
  • Read Acts 8:9-13; 13:4-12; and 19:11-20 then summarize what these passages reveal about magic. See also Leviticus 19:31; Deuteronomy 18:8-12; 1 Samuel 15:22-23; Galatians 5:19-21; Revelation 9:20-21; 18:121-24; 21:8; and 22:15.
  • What was missing from these believers’ lives?
  • What is wrong with making Acts 8:14-24 normal for the Christian life?
  • Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed and were baptized? How do you know?
  • Are you doing or believing something that is creating sinful division in the church?
  • Looking at Acts 8:21 and 23, do these characteristics describe someone who is inside or someone who is outside of the church?
  • Why is repentance a necessary part of conversion?
  • Why is repentance only a part of conversion? Where do repentance and faith lead us?
  • Why do we need the Holy Spirit to lead and fuel repentance and faith?
  • Simony became a term to describe the sin of buying a position. In what ways are you tempted to use money to influence the church?
  • In what ways does your faith exceed the belief of the demons (James 2:19)?

Discuss Acts 8:1-8

  1. In what way did God comfort, challenge, or correct you today?
  2. How should the truth you heard today effect the way you live tomorrow?
  3. How do you keep your joy while daily sacrificing and suffering for others?
  4. Is Jesus a bad shepherd for sending his people out as sheep among wolves (see John 10)? Why or why not?
  5.  When is it wrong to run from persecution? When is it right to run from persecution? Think at the level of motivation and fear.
  6. What does it look like for you to daily commit yourself to the Lord’s care and for his use?
  7. How should faith-filled rejoicing and weeping look in your life?
  8. Does your participation in funerals strengthen our Christian community? How can you grow in this area? How can you include your family?
  9. Why does preaching some truth and some error create a false religion?
  10. What is the significance of calling miracles like healings and exorcisms “signs”?
  11. How can you use your spiritual gift as a sign that points to Jesus?
  12. The way you love and value Mambrino Baptist Church is meant to be a testimony to the reality of Jesus’ power and kingdom. How can you grow in your love for these people?

Acts 7:54-60 Follow Jesus

Main Point: Jesus is worthy of life and death.

It seems everyone these days is comfortable with an Olaf-Jesus. Everyone likes a nice Jesus who gives warm hugs and makes no demands on our lives. If you are emotionally weak and need a Jesus to help you sleep at night, then so be it but keep your fairy-tale Jesus to yourself. To the world, a nice Jesus who makes us nice is quite nice. But a glorious Jesus who is worthy of every square inch of our lives is another matter altogether.

Jesus is the One for whom all things exist. All things are from him, through him, and to him (Colossians 1:16-17). The claim you must struggle with is this: you exist because of Jesus and you exist for Jesus. Your finances and your possessions exist because of Jesus and for Jesus. We spend and we save because of what we believe about the worth of Jesus. Your sexuality exists because of Jesus and for Jesus. We do what we do with our bodies because of Jesus and for Jesus. To make the claim as clear as possible, Jesus is the appropriate goal of everything you do. All things are from him, through him, and to him. You do what you do because of what you believe about Jesus.

You see, following Jesus is directly tied to worshipping Jesus. You will follow Jesus to the extent that you see and feel the worth of Jesus. The greater his worth, the further and faster you will follow him. The bigger his worth, the greater his influence. The lesser his worth, the more you will ignore, distain, or outright hate him.

The two paths of hating Jesus or following Jesus play out in Acts 7. Stephen is a man who saw the great worth of Jesus and therefore lived a life of worship. Stephen did what he did and said what he said because he saw the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Knowing the worth of Jesus and making the worth of Jesus known were driving factors in Stephen’s work. The council of Jewish leaders, the very men who had recently interrogated and executed Jesus, were now ready to lynch Stephen for blasphemy. They heard Jesus make himself equal with God and they killed him for it. They heard Stephen proclaim the resurrected Jesus is equal with God and they will kill him for it.

Let’s read. Acts 7:47-60

There are some important lessons for us to learn from Stephen. Here is the first

I. We follow a Jesus that is hated

But why was Jesus hated? Was he hated because he healed the sick and fed the poor? No. Early on John records this fact, “This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (John 5:18).

Fundamentally, their hatred was religious. Jesus was messing with their understanding of the Sabbath. And being more than a prophet, Jesus was claiming equality with God. The fully divine Son of Man is the One Stephen preached

  • Stephen preached Jesus the Righteous One

Back up a few verses to Acts 7:52, “Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, who you have now betrayed and murdered.”

The prophet Isaiah was persecuted by the Jews and Isaiah said this about Jesus, “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous and he shall bear their iniquities” (Isaiah 53:11). Isaiah pointed past the sacrifices of bulls and goats to the death of the Righteous One for sins. Moses promised another prophet like himself would come and the people must listen to him. Moses, Isaiah, and Stephen pointed to Jesus. Stephen points us to the Son of God who offers forgiveness of sins because he took our sins upon himself.

Here is the gospel, 1 Peter 3:18, “Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.” 1 Corinthians 5:21, God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Stephen preached Jesus the Righteous One who makes people righteous by taking away their sin. Jesus brings change.

  • Preaching Jesus is demanding change

These Jewish leaders, members of what is called the council, believed they were righteous. They sought to obey the law of Moses, they tried to follow all their rigorous Sabbath rules, they offered the sacrifices of Moses, and they tithed according to their understanding of Moses’ commands. The problem is the law and the sacrifices pointed toward Jesus and the perfect salvation he brings, but the Jewish leaders refused to listen to Moses who pointed to Jesus.

Listening to the Gospels, we see Jesus demanding that prostitutes, thieves, and hypocrites change. Prostitutes and thieves heard Jesus offer them forgiveness and they felt their need for forgiveness. They knew they needed to change and so they received Jesus gladly; in Jesus is forgiveness and hope! When these religious leaders heard Jesus call them white-washed tombs outwardly clean but inwardly full of dead man’s bones, they hated the idea that they needed to change. But Jesus offered to forgive them all and change them all by taking their sin and giving them his Holy Spirit. Stephen’s point is these men, the council, refused to follow the law and Moses to Jesus.

Here is the crossroads. If you see Jesus as fully God with the authority and power to forgive sin and empower a new life of holiness than his offer is great news. But if you see Jesus as an imposter then his claim about your sin and his offer of a new life is at best a joke and at worst the grossest of blasphemies. You see

  • Preaching Jesus can produce rage

Both Jesus and Stephen were calling these leaders out on their hypocrisy and lawlessness. In verse 53 Stephen said, “you received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.” Jesus offers you life with God and you reject it.

It is the case that telling people the thing they love, their very way of life, is actually lawlessness produces rage. When you preach Christ who demands change, do not be surprised when people rage. People will tell you, “how dare you say I am wrong, or I need to be forgiven, or I need to change.” But our idols of religion, wealth, sexuality, and power cannot remain alongside Jesus. Expose some sin, preach Jesus as the only righteous answer who demands change, and some people will rage. Church, we follow a Jesus who was hated because he offered to forgive and change sinners. We will be hated when we preach Jesus and call people to repent and follow him. The reality of hatred means we need to be clear about Jesus. Who are we following? Is Jesus worth it?

II. We follow a Jesus who is at the Father’s right hand

Jesus is the living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious (1 Pt 2:4). The natural thing to do is to reject Jesus. We hate what Jesus does but what Jesus does is God’s perfect plan. Our greatest good is seeing Jesus for who he is.

Look with me at Acts 7:55, “But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.”

  • Heaven is a spiritual place and so requires the help of the Holy Spirit to see

One of our struggles is that we have grown up in an American culture that preaches the sufficiency and autonomy of the individual. We can do anything we set our minds to. We can build the tower of Babel and bring God down. We have the resources and ability to accomplish anything. But the reality is the spiritually dead cannot see the spiritual worth of Jesus. Plus, physical eyes capable of only taking in physical realities, cannot see the spiritual realm. Unless spiritual beings choose to make themselves known, they will never be seen. Our physical eyes cannot see spiritual beings because light waves and optic nerves are not capable of taking in the spiritual. So, of course science cannot prove the existence of the spiritual. Asking science to prove the existence of the spiritual is like asking a cup measure to tell you the temperature of the sun. A cup measure can’t get to the sun and even if it did, a cup measure doesn’t have the capability to measure temperature.

Acts 6:3 tells us that Stephen was a man full of the Holy Spirit. It is this same fullness in Acts 7 that enables Stephen to look into heaven and see the glory of God. Now, the number of people in the Bible who God enables to see his glory, or a glimpse of heaven, is quite small. There is Moses, Isaiah, and Ezekiel in the Old Testament. Paul talks about this vision in 2 Corinthians 12 and John gets this vision in Revelation 1. What we make of these events is this: the blessing of seeing heaven this side of death is extremely rare.

On this rare occasion, the Holy Spirit enabled Stephen to gaze into heaven and see the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. So, Heaven is a place and Stephen is able to look into it. This points toward heaven being a place or a location that is now spiritual not physical. Our physical eyes cannot see it. So what should we do?

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 explains what we should all expect. “Though our outward self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

During these days we look to the things that are unseen. We don’t see the resurrected Jesus with our eyes, but we comprehend the truth with our minds and seek the benefit by faith. We don’t see the Holy Spirit with our physical eyes; we believe he has been given to us and is empowering us. We don’t see heaven; we believe it is a spiritual place made ready for everyone who follows Jesus. Today we think and understand; one day soon we will see. For a very few, a rare glimpse may be given. Today we ask for the Holy Spirit to give us the ability to look ahead at the reality to come. We ask the Spirit to help us believe and we ask the Spirit to help us when we doubt. We need the Spirit’s help to see Jesus.

Here’s our next fact about heaven

  • Heaven is a spiritual place where the glory of God and Jesus currently dwell

Stephen sees a Jesus who is equal with God. This is why the council rages and the people kill Stephen. Stephen claims to see a fully divine Son of Man that stands as an equal with the glorious God. The people want to kill Stephen for this claim. Connect what Stephen sees in verse 55 to what he says he sees in verse 56. He sees the glory of God and Jesus at God’s right hand. He says he sees the Son of Man at God’s right hand.

Stephen sees the fulfillment of the prophet Daniel’s promise. Daniel 7, Daniel saw one like a son of man who is given an everlasting dominion, an indestructible kingdom, and the worship of the nations. This is the final straw. When Stephen claims Jesus is the Daniel 7 Son of Man the people scream, plug their ears, and rush Stephen. Why is this such a big deal?

I could stand on the street corner and proclaim that Kobe Bryant is the son of man and no one would care because the title son of man means nothing to our culture. In Stephen’s day, this title Son of Man was everything. The people were looking for the Messiah, the deliverer, the son of man. For Stephen to say Jesus is the Son of Man and these guys killed him is an unbearable offense. According to the council, Stephen is claiming too much of Jesus and must be stopped.

What Stephen sees is an infinitely worthy Jesus. Stephen sees Jesus who has received an indestructible kingdom, an everlasting dominion, and the worship of the nations. Stephen saw the sovereign Jesus at the Father’s right hand. Stephen saw a Jesus worth dying for. Knowing the place and rule of Jesus gave Stephen boldness and courage.

  • Stephen saw the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God

Now this is curious because every other reference to the Son of Man at God’s right hand has the Son of Man seated (Ps 110:1; Mt 26:24; Eph 1:20; Col 3:1; Rev 14:14). So, when Jesus said, “from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the power of God and coming with the clouds of heaven” the council raged. (Mk 14:62; Lk 22:69).

Why then does Stephen see the Son of Man standing? I believe Jesus is standing looking on and caring for Stephen in his final hour. Our King is not cold and aloof eating grapes in a palace somewhere out there. Our King is a shepherd who cares for each sheep. The Shepherd is standing caring for and receiving his precious sheep.

Will we receive the same vision as Stephen? Probably not. We likely won’t see the spiritual with our physical eyes. In the moment of dying we likely will not see Jesus standing at the Father’s right hand. But immediately after our physical death, when the body goes cold and the soul goes to be with the Lord, we will see Jesus at the right hand of glory. Think on these things today, believe them, grab onto them by faith. Soon your faith will become sight.

Ok, let’s follow Stephen’s journey home

III. Stephen followed Jesus unto death

Let’s do a quick recap

  • These Jews understood that Stephen was making Jesus equal with God

It is not Stephen’s tone of voice that is hard to hear. The content of Stephen’s preaching is unbearable. The customs of the day demanded that the blasphemer should be stopped with stones and listening ears should be protected from hearing such awful words. Stephen’s vision of the resurrected Jesus standing by the glory of God was unbearable to the people. So, verse 58, “they cast him out of the city and stoned him.” Death for blasphemy.

I want to note at this point that this is another Trinitarian passage. We see the Holy Spirit on earth filling Stephen, and we see Jesus and God as equals in heaven. The Jews understood what Stephen was saying. Do we? They understood Stephen was preaching Jesus as the Son of Man.

  • Stephen was killed for preaching Jesus the Son of Man

Remember what Daniel said about the Son of Man. The Son of Man has an everlasting dominion, a kingdom that will not be destroyed, and to him belongs the worship or service of the nations. There is nothing better or stronger than Jesus. There is no one bigger or stronger than Jesus. The kingdom of the Son of Man is worth losing everything to gain. Stephen saw Jesus clearly and so was willing to die to make him known.

The point is, it is not enough to love Jesus in your home. We must get out in the world and proclaim the Jesus of infinite worth. We must preach the good of Jesus and call people to follow him. We must commit ourselves to the care of our Shepherd. Stephen shows us how to do this in our deaths.

  • Stephen committed his spirit to God

In verse 58 we are introduced to a man named Saul. This is preparing us for the conversion of this hypocrite into a humble and bold follower of Christ. Stephen’s death points us to the fruit of Saul’s conversion.

Verse 59, “And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’” Just as Jesus died committing his spirit to his Father in Luke 23:46, so now Stephen commits his soul to Jesus. This also proves Jesus’ equality with God. We are to pray to Jesus as we pray to God. We are to commit our souls to Jesus as Jesus committed his soul to God. The Father and the Son are different persons but possess the same deity.

Think on this with me, everyday living is practice for the moment of dying. The person who commits her body and soul to Christ everyday will have little trouble committing body and soul to Jesus at her death (Rom 6). Finding Jesus trustworthy today will lead you to find Jesus trustworthy at your death. Make it a practice when you wake in the morning to pray, “Jesus today I commit myself to you, lead me and keep me.” When you come to die pray, “Jesus I commit myself to you, lead me and keep me.”

Jesus is worthy. Jesus has conquered death. Jesus is fully God. He can be trusted. Like Stephen, we must commit ourselves to Christ and like Stephen, we must love our enemies.

  • Stephen loved his enemies

Jesus died committing his soul to the Father. Stephen died committing his soul to the Son of Man. Jesus died praying the Father would forgive his executioners (Lk 23:34). Look how Stephen died. Acts 7:60, “And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’”

Stephen is the winsome radical. Yes, he cared for the widows and the poor. Yes, he healed the sick. Yes, he preached the everlasting dominion, eternal kingdom, and infinite worth of Jesus. He called out sin and pulled no punches. And in all of this his desire is for his neighbors, even his enemies, to find forgiveness in Christ.

Stephen preached boldly and loved deeply. Stephen died following Jesus seeking to make Jesus known. This must be our goal.

  • You must decide to follow Jesus

Church listen to Jesus, he is demanding change. The way we are using our bodies, our minds, and our souls must follow the ethics of Jesus’ kingdom. Seeing Jesus’ worth, we must leave all other claims behind and worship him with our lives.

And following Jesus starts with repentance and faith. We have turned away from God and gone our own way. Jesus knows us, he died knowing we run away! He also died because he wants us to return to his care. Jesus is the way back to God, not our works. And praise God there is no bait and switch in the kingdom. Leaving our ways behind will be hard, giving up your identity and your ways is no easy decision. But leaving our ways behind for Jesus’ kingdom is the best decision. Like Stephen, Jim Elliot died to make Jesus known. Jim Elliot said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

Jesus is better. His kingdom is infinite. Let’s go to him and commit our selves to him. We can trust him with our bodies and souls.

 

Jesus, we commit ourselves to you now, lead us and keep us. Take us up to the blessings of eternal life with you. Cause us to glorify the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Use us to bring many sons and daughters to salvation. Like Stephen, cause us to preach boldly and love deeply. Cause us to glorify your great name, the name of Jesus, Amen.

Your God is too Small; Acts 7:1-53

Main Point: God is fulfilling his covenant promises and thereby increasing and expanding worship.

Today we will look at Stephen’s sermon recorded in Acts 7. Last week we saw that Stephen was a winsome radical. Stephen was known to be a good man. He was full of the Holy Spirit, faith, wisdom, and grace. Acts 7 shows us that Stephen was a man who saw the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Stephen listened to the word of God, believed God’s promises, and had a passion for his neighbors to worship God.

Think about the worship of God like a car you drive every day. Your everyday driver requires regular maintenance to keep it working properly. You must monitor tire pressure, change the oil and air filter, rotate the tires, and get the alignment checked. If you do not keep up the maintenance on your car it will start running rough and eventually it will break down. You have to listen to the manufacturer and maintain the car or you’ll end up with a big block of useless metal.

The Jews of Stephen’s day had stopped maintaining the vehicle of worship according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Imagine you’re at a barbeque and a mechanic is there. The mechanic tells one of your friends it’s time for a transmission flush, and your friend punches the mechanic in the face. How dare you try to change my car!

Ok, first, let’s think in broad terms. Looking at human history and God’s plan to restore sinners to himself, there will be necessary changes as God’s covenant promises are fulfilled. As promises are made and as promises are kept, the worship of God will increase. Big picture, according to the covenants, we should expect worship to change. The vehicle of worship is going to get hot-rodded according to God’s covenant plans.

Think now in narrow terms. Looking at what it means to live daily worshipping God, abiding in Christ, and led by the Spirit, you will need to maintain your faith. We must daily depend on Jesus.

Let’s listen to Stephen’s sermon. Read Acts 7:30-53

Stephen is the mechanic who is calling the people of God to repair and maintain right worship. God is fulfilling his covenant promises and thereby increasing and expanding worship. In this sermon, Stephen moves through the covenants with Abraham, Israel, and David. Stephen ends with God’s intended goal, New Covenant worship through Christ.

I. Start with Abraham (1-8)

Now we’re in verses 1-8. Are you there? The right worship of God is built on God’s promises to Abraham

  • God covenants with Abraham

I want you to follow along with me in your Bible. Verse 2, the God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when Abraham was in Mesopotamia. Understand here that God is not bound to the city of Jerusalem. God spoke to Abraham in Mesopotamia and in Haran and in Canaan. God is bigger than one city or one country. Two details are important here. First, Stephen calls God, “the God of glory.” God is the God of great worth, the greatest worth, and he is therefore worthy to be praised. It is fitting to give our praise to the One who is infinitely praiseworthy. The God of glory is creating a people through Abraham. Second, Stephen calls Abraham “our father.” Stephen is not distancing himself from the Jewish people; Abraham is our father. The point of Stephen’s sermon is the Jewish people have distanced themselves from God. Keep that in mind, Stephen is driving toward a point and that point is that the Jewish people have moved away from God and it is the Christians who are staying close.

Look on into verse 8, “And he gave him the covenant of circumcision. And so Abraham became the father of Isaac, and circumcised him on the eighth day, and Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob of the twelve patriarchs.” The point of the covenant of circumcision is that Abraham will have children and those children are a part of God’s covenant people. But God is not simply after lots of children.

  • God promises to make Abraham into a worshipping family

Look back at verse 7, “’But I will judge the nation that they serve,’ said God, ‘and after that they shall come out and worship me in this place.’” God’s goal is to gather his people so they can worship and serve him alone. So yeah, the worship of God in the temple is a great blessing but the worship of God in the temple is far from the only blessing. Worship in the temple is good, but far from the highest and best form of worship. Let’s trace how Abraham’s people get there.

II. Abraham’s family despised their deliverer (9-16)

Now we’re in verses 9-16. Are you there?

  • God rescued Joseph in order to preserve Abraham’s people

Verse 9 tells us, “the patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt.” These sons of Jacob did not want their brother. They hated him and rejected him. They almost killed him, but Judah talked them into selling Joseph into slavery. This means Joseph is leaving Canaan, he is leaving the Promised Land, will God be with him? Is God only the God of the geography around the temple in Jerusalem? No, look on in verse 9, “God was with Joseph and rescued him out of all his afflictions and gave him favor and wisdom before Pharaoh, king of all Egypt, who made him ruler over Egypt and over all his household.”

As history goes, there is a world-wide famine that puts Abraham’s family and God’s promise in danger. The answer, according to God’s promise to Abraham, is for Abraham’s people to go to Egypt. The brothers make two trips and on the second, Joseph reveals his true identity and sends for Jacob. God cares about Abraham’s family.

Verse 15 makes this point, even though Abraham’s people are outside of the land,

  • Abraham’s promise stands

Verse 15, “And Jacob went down into Egypt, and he died, he and our fathers, and they were carried back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham had bought for a sum of silver from the sons of Hamor in Shechem.” God’s people, Abraham’s family, hold onto the promise. This is our land, we will return, and we will serve God in that land. They are looking for restoration, the fulfillment of God’s promises.

Along comes Moses and everyone hates him like they hated Joseph. With Moses we come to our third point

III. Abraham’s family repeatedly despised their deliverer (17-41)

Now we’re in verse 17. Are you there?

  • God’s covenant people were despised (17-19)

We need to understand that even though the people are hated and slaves in Egypt, they are still God’s covenant people. Look at 17, “But as the time of the promise drew near, which God had granted to Abraham, the people increased and multiplied in Egypt.” God’s people are not first defined by the land in which they live. It is God’s covenant that marks them out and gives them life. But God’s people are in a hard place. Here’s the next step

  • God sent Moses to save Abraham’s family (20-25)

What does verse 20 say about Moses? He was beautiful in God’s sight. God preserved Moses from death in order to deliver God’s people. Just as God preserved Joseph from death in order to deliver God’s people, now it’s Moses’ turn.  Down to verse 23, “When Moses was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brothers, the children of Israel.” The covenant promise stands! These people belong to Abraham. God made a promise to them and God keeps his promises.

Verse 24, Moses sees an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, so Moses avenged the Hebrew and killed the Egyptian. Here’s why, verse 25, “Moses supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand.” Moses is bringing freedom, Moses is bringing God’s promises, but they don’t want it.

  • Abraham’s family rejected their ruler and judge (26-29)

They reject him. The next day, Moses tries to break up a fight between two Hebrews and the bad guy says, “Who made you ruler and judge over us?” The answer is, God did, but they don’t want Moses. Abraham’s people reject their salvation through Moses’ hand. They don’t understand and Moses, verse 29, flees. But catch our next point

  • God is not bound to the Promised Land or to Egypt (30-34)

Moses runs to the land of Midian and the angel of God appears to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai. Stephen reminds us, the God of glory is not bound to the temple, he shows up in a burning bush in Midian! Look at what God says, verse 32, “I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob.’ And Moses trembled and did not dare to look.” Moses is instructed to take off his shoes because he is on holy ground, on the side of a mountain in Midian! God is not bound. God is God over Midian and God is God over Egypt. He sees his people and will deliver them. God sends Moses to deliver his people. But again,

  • Abraham’s family rejected their ruler and redeemer (35-40)

Verse 35 reminds us that the people rejected Moses earlier, but God again sends Moses to rule and redeem the people (35). Abraham’s people don’t want their savior but he’s coming to save them nevertheless! Verse 36, Moses leads them out with apostolic signs and wonders. The exodus happens and the Red Sea parts so Abraham’s people can return to the land. Skip down to verse 38, then Moses receives the law from God. Moses receives living oracles. God advances the covenant with Abraham by making the covenant with Israel. God kept his promise and made Abraham into a great nation of people. They are headed toward the land and they need to know how to live as God’s people in God’s land. So, God gives his people his good law. God also gives the people the tabernacle so they can make sacrifices and meet with him there. God’s law covers every aspect of life because God wants his people to worship him in every area of their lives. Major changes are introduced through Moses and the covenant with Israel.

But verse 39, “Our fathers refused to obey him.” Abraham’s people don’t want the true God. Abraham’s people would rather be slaves of Egypt and worship idols. Verse 41, “They made a golden calf and rejoiced in the work of their hands.” The people reject Moses, God, and the right worship of God.

But check this out, God promised a second Moses. Verse 37, “God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers.” This truth is big. God’s people should look for a second deliverer who will save the people and advance God’s covenant promises like Moses. This prophet like Moses will bring redemption, law, and changes to worship at least as big as Moses. So, who is this prophet like Moses?

Peter preached Jesus the second Moses in Acts 3:22 and Peter’s point is Stephen’s point. Jesus is the bigger and better Moses. Listen to him! God has always defined his people by their obedience to the covenants and prophets. To reject the prophet Moses is to forfeit your place in God’s people. To reject the prophet like Moses, to reject Jesus, is to forfeit your place in God’s people. It doesn’t matter if you have circumcision, the temple, the law, and the land, if you don’t listen to Jesus then you have lost it all. It doesn’t matter if you get baptized, gather with the church on Sunday, and do good things. If you don’t have Jesus, you have lost it all.  Everything hinges on Jesus.

Here’s our next point

IV. Abraham’s people always struggle with right worship (42-53)

Now we’re in verse 42, are you there?

  • Abraham’s people were often idolaters (42-43)

Verse 42, “But God turned away and gave them over to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets.” Stephen then quotes from the book of Amos. Abraham’s family was going through the motions of offering sacrifices to the God of Abraham, but they actually worshipped the false gods of Egypt and Canaan. What we need to see is that Stephen jumps from the wilderness generation coming out of Egypt in verse 41 to the people being exiled to Babylon in verses 42 and 43. That’s 800 years in a verse. Stephen’s point is that God’s people have often worshipped idols while outwardly they looked like they had it together. Having circumcision and the temple is no guarantee of faithfulness. You can have those things and not worship God.

So, it is Stephen who understands and honors Moses and the law. Stephen obeys Moses by listening to Jesus. The charge against Stephen shouldn’t stand. It’s the Jewish people who have failed to listen to Moses because they failed to listen to Jesus, the prophet like Moses. Stephen should be acquitted of all charges about the law. But what about the temple? We get to the temple in verse 44

  • Abraham’s people erred by limiting worship to the temple (44-50)

Now we’re in verse 44, you there?

Remember, God didn’t ask for the temple; that was David’s idea. God has the heavenly tabernacle and he had Moses pattern the tent of witness accordingly. Verse 45, God was with Joshua and the people when they entered the Promised Land. The temple isn’t necessary. God is necessary. God is with them and God drove out the people of the land.

But then David gets a guilty conscience because he lives in a paneled house while the ark of the covenant lives in a tent. David asks to build the temple and his son Solomon gets to build the house.

Concerning the temple, this is crucial, look at verse 49. Solomon built the temple and said, “Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands” God says through the prophet Isaiah, “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest? Did not my hand make all these things?”

No one with a right and big view of God would think God could be limited to the temple. If heaven is his couch and the earth is ottoman, then God is immense. The temple is a suitable place to meet to worship God, but it is blasphemous to think the greatness of God is limited to that tiny temple space. God is bigger!

Now remember, Jesus is advancing the covenants and worship like Moses. It is Jesus who said the hour is coming when neither on the mountain in Samaria nor in Jerusalem will the people worship the Father (John 4:21). The fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham, the fulfillment of the new covenant, means true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth (John 4:24). True worship is not bound to the temple. True worship is bound to the gift of the Holy Spirit and the truth of Jesus Christ. God seeks worshippers, but

  • The most natural thing is for unspiritual people to resist the Holy Spirit (51)

And looking at verse 51, what is resisting the Holy Spirit connected to? Three things in verse 51, resisting the Holy Spirit is linked to being stiff-necked, uncircumcised in heart, and uncircumcised in ears. A stiff-necked person can’t turn and look elsewhere. A stiff-necked person will not bow or bend. This is connected to a heart that does not love the things of God and ears that will not hear the things of God. So, the Holy Spirit is making Christ known. You hear the songs, you read the Bible, and you hear the sermons, but your heart is cold. The glory of God in Christ is worthless to you. You stop up your ears with tradition, pleasure, and bitterness. You refuse to truly worship God.

Stephen says, in the end of verse 51, that this is normal for the children of Abraham, “As your fathers did, so do you.” This pattern of resistance continues on today. Like those of Stephen’s day

  • We need and we hate correction (52)

Look at verse 52. God sends his prophets to his people. Why? The prophets had two main jobs. Prophets called Abraham’s people back to lives of right worship and prophets announced the coming of Jesus. The Righteous One of verse 52 is Jesus (Acts 3:14). The prophet’s job was to expose sin and hold out the coming deliverer-Messiah as the answer.

And what the people did then we do now; they hated correction. We hate correction. Having my dark and dangerous sins exposed is the best thing that could happen to me but having my sins exposed is the one thing I don’t want to happen. We honestly expect the mechanic to tell us there is never anything wrong; that’s foolishness. Each of us in this room, all of us here, need the regular call to return to right worship. We need realignment. We need to meet the Righteous One everyday through the word and prayer because we are weak, foolishness, and bent toward sin. We need to gather together with Abraham’s family because when we gather Christ is among us.

Let’s get even more specific

  • Jesus brings change

It is true that we love a domesticated Jesus who stays in his Sunday box. We love a Jesus who makes no claims on us and is perfectly happy with us. Our culture cannot stand a Jesus who makes demands on our money, sexuality, and politics. Like the Jews of Stephen’s day, we cannot stand a Jesus who makes demands on our worship. They killed the Righteous One and we reject him.

It is frightening to think we despise a glorious Jesus who is worthy of all-encompassing worship. We want Jesus to stay in his Sunday box. We want Jesus to be normal and live on the fringes of our lives. But if you limit Jesus to your Sunday mornings and a little prayer each day then your god is too small.

The Righteous One is worthy of all-encompassing worship. Get Jesus out of the Sunday box because he has a good plan for your guilt and temptation. Get Jesus out of the box because he has a good plan for your work. Get Jesus out of the box because he has wisdom and power and grace for you to parent your child or your teen.

Jesus is the promised offspring of Abraham. Jesus fulfills all the promises. Though you have despised him, like Joseph’s brothers despised him, Jesus will take care of you in your time of need. Though you have neglected Christ as your way of salvation, he will be a faithful king who will redeem you. Jesus is the better prophet and as the Son of God he is worthy of all obedience. Listen to Jesus and worship Jesus because you were made to worship him. Abraham’s people do all of life depending on Jesus. The temple and the customs of Moses are good but far too small. Jesus is bigger and better. Jesus advances the covenants and advances worship.

So, let’s worship him. We want to give you the opportunity right now to follow the covenant with Abraham to God’s intended goal; we want you to worship Jesus. The way we worship Jesus is we listen to Jesus and depend on Jesus. Jesus is the reason we sing and repent and love and serve. Jesus is the solid rock. Let’s build our lives upon him.

Winsome Radicals; Acts 6:8-15

Main Point: Life with Jesus makes us winsome radicals

In our day when radicalization is a big business and a big concern, it can be strange to hear a call to radicalize. So, it is crucial that we hold fast to the adjective. This is a call to become winsome radicals. Our way of life, our conversations, and our thinking should be characterized by urgency, and it must be a gracious urgency.

There are far too many hateful radicals. Spend a little time watching the news or on facebook and twitter and you’ll find plenty of flaming darts dipped in hate. It seems we are rapidly losing the ability to engage opposing ideas, critique opposing ideas, and call for opposing action without being hateful. We are also losing the ability to be questioned, critiqued, or opposed without interpreting that action as hate. Anger without hate seems almost impossible. The passionate pursuit of truth in good, kind, and productive ways must be regained. We need to be winsome radicals.

We have access to God through Christ. With God, we have love, grace, power, purpose, hope, belonging, and a future. Everything the FBI has identified[1] as necessary to prevent hateful radicalization is provided for us in Christ. The problem seems to be that all these blessings make us winsome, but we have lost our urgency. We may have lost our radical. Instead of kindly and lovingly engaging darkness, death, and error for the good of our neighbors, we are tempted to do nothing.

Ajith Fernando, long time pastor in difficult places in India, issues this call to be winsome radicals. For the hateful radical, the life of Stephen and the grace of God call us to continue doing good and do so with love. For the winsome bum, the life of Stephen and the grace of God call us to get after the good and continue with love. Let’s read and pray that God makes us winsome radicals for his glory and the good of our neighbors.

Read Acts 6:7-15

I think the reason we have this story in the Bible is to stir us up to think like Stephen and live Spirit-filled lives like Stephen. Who he is and what he believed are crucial for us this morning. As we can, and as the Lord wills, we are to imitate Stephen our brother. Let’s start here.

I. Stephen was a winsome radical

He was committed to doing the most good. Stephen corrected error and taught the truth. Stephen helped the poor and healed the sick. Stephen lived his life in such a way that put the truth and power of Christ on display. Stephen shows us the way of love.

So, who was Stephen?

  • Stephen was one of the seven

Looking back at Acts 6 we see that a problem arose in the early church; some poor widows were overlooked in the daily distribution of food and money. A group of seven men was chosen by the church to take over this ministry. Stephen was one of these seven leaders.

Looking at Acts 6:3, Stephen met the requirement of being of good repute. Stephen was known by his neighbors for having a good reputation. He did good to his neighbors and kept his promises. This is good evidence for the winsome part of our charge. Stephen was no scoundrel; he had a good reputation and we must pursue the same. We must love and serve.

Verse three gives the second requirement, be full of the Spirit and wisdom. Being full of the Spirit and wisdom is a way of living life. Wisdom is the ability to see what God wants. The power of the Spirit is the ability to do what God wants. So, Stephen models a commitment to understanding God’s Word through careful study and Stephen models a prayerful dependence on the Holy Spirit to accomplish God’s will. We must be obedient men and women of the Word.

Look at verse 5, Stephen was full of faith and of the Holy Spirit. This means Stephen knew what needed to be done, Stephen was empowered by the Holy Spirit, and Stephen acted on faith by stepping out there and doing the deed. Stephen heard what was being said, understood the error, was led by the Holy Spirit to teach the truth, and then acted in faith by opening his mouth and speaking the truth.

The picture here is seeing what needs to be done, being convicted to do it, and following through in faith to do it. It’s hearing some false idea that opposes Christ, being convicted to challenge the idea, and then following through with loving faith to bring correction. Wisdom, the Spirit, and faith should mark our lives. Don’t be idle! Be a winsome radical.

Looking at the big picture, keep sight of the fact that Stephen was a servant. Stephen was a winsome radical committed to doing good to the widows in the church and the sick in his community. Stephen was a winsome radical teaching the truth concerning God’s Messiah and correcting errors among his neighbors. Stephen was one of the seven and

  • Stephen was dependent on Christ

Look at this quality of our brother in Acts 6:8, Stephen was full of grace and power. The power is the power of the Holy Spirit leading and strengthening Stephen. He was a man of prayer and a man of faith. Grace is new; Stephen was full of grace. This appears to be more than Stephen was gracious, or Stephen was nice. Full of grace points to Stephen’s dependence on God’s grace. Stephen was full of grace because he found the grace of God that covered his sins, overpowered his weaknesses, and lovingly corrected his beliefs. God was kind to Stephen because of Christ and the experience of God’s kindness filled Stephen with the ability to be kind.

Full of grace and power, Stephen did great wonders and signs among the people. Like the apostles (5:12), Stephen was able to heal the sick and cast out demons. But it was here, while doing good and teaching truth, that Stephen ran into problems. Verse 9 tells us that Stephen was debated by Jewish leaders from the local synagogues. Synagogues were normally community groups that gathered on the Saturday-Sabbath to worship God and to hear the Word of God taught. These synagogue leaders were going after Stephen to correct his teaching about Jesus, the temple, and the law. But look at verse 10, “But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.”

Stephen was a Christ-preaching, Spirit-filled, and truth-defending man committed to doing good to others. This way of thinking and living and loving transformed even Stephen’s face. Look over at verse 15, “all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel.” Compare Stephen’s face to the Jewish leaders in 7:54, “Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him.”

Stephen was a winsome radical while the Jewish leaders were hateful radicals. Stephen sought to share Christ in order to give life. The leaders sought to crush the gospel and take life. This moves us to think about how the way of Christ is often opposed. The fact is

II. Radicals are often opposed

The good Stephen pursued is for our example while the opposition Stephen experienced prepares us for the same. Remember,

  • Jesus promised this would happen

Jesus said, “Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues” (Mt 10:17). Jesus said, “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (Mt 10:22). Jesus said, “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19).

Being a winsome radical means seeing lives transformed. Being a winsome radical means being opposed.

  • Opposition can take many forms

So far in the book of Acts we have seen insult (Acts 2:13; 1 Pt 4:14), arrest (Acts 4:3; 5:18), warning (Acts 5:28), beating (Acts 5:40), imprisonment (Acts 5.18; Rev 1:9), and soon we will see even death (Acts 7:58). Notice how the people opposed Stephen.

Look at Acts 6:9 with me, “Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and disputed with Stephen.”

The picture is one of an international group made up of freed slaves and immigrants from Rome, North Africa, Asia, and Asia Minor. These Jews were in Jerusalem because they had worked hard and sacrificed much to be near the temple. The temple and the law were their lives; they were radicalized.

So, they can’t stand to hear Stephen say that Jesus has fulfilled the law and is better than the temple. They rose up and disputed with Stephen. The law and temple, as they know them, must remain. The synagogue leaders engage Stephen in a heated exchange of ideas. There is an argument, possibly a formal debate. They disagree openly with Stephen telling him that he is wrong to believe what he believes about Jesus. They attempt to prove Stephen is wrong, but as we saw earlier, they could not withstand the wisdom and Spirit. Stephen was a man of the Word, a man of prayer, a man seeking the Spirit, and a man of faith. He stepped into the argument and engaged the ideas with power and purpose. Stephen wanted them to turn from their unbiblical ideas about Jesus and become followers of Jesus. Opposition usually starts here, in the area of ideas and words. Like Stephen, you need to be ready to defend the faith you proclaim.

Our desire is for our friends, neighbors, and coworkers to believe in Jesus. Looking at Stephen, we need to be ready for those times when we argue powerfully and persuasively but the call to repent and believe is rejected. What happens next to Stephen? Look at Acts 6:11, “Then they secretly instigated men who said, ‘We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.’”

When the Jewish leaders could not defeat Stephen’s ideas in a fair exchange; they resorted to spreading lies. It is possible that people who reject Jesus will tell lies in order to discredit or destroy you. But Jesus said, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Mt 5:11-12). It is normal to love people, seek to win people to Christ, be rejected, and be lied about. This happened to Jesus; it can happen to you.

Our hope is that opposition stops with debates and lies, but sometimes opposition escalates to violence. Look at verse 12, “And they stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council.” If they can’t win with ideas and words they will win by force. Be ready for intimidation. Strength will be used to silence you.

The next step of opposition is they twisted Stephen’s words in order to condemn him. They wanted him dead. We are now in Acts 6:13, “and they set up false witnesses who said, ‘This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs of Moses delivered to us.” Verse 13 makes it clear that these are lies. They set up false witnesses against him in order to condemn him. They want to take Stephen down. Trace the line of opposition and be prepared when your time comes. There is debate, lies, intimidation, and condemnation.

Before we get to Stephen’s speech in Acts 7, I want to dig in a little to Stephen’s theology. I think we can summarize Stephen’s beliefs with this statement

III. Jesus brings a radical fulfillment

It is important to know that the Jews of Stephen’s day viewed the temple as the place of God’s presence. The temple proved God was with his people. For many, to lose the temple is to lose God.

And the law is the wonderful expression of God’s will. The God who is with his people through the temple is the God who directs their lives for good through the law.

Moses was instrumental in all this. Moses received the instructions for the tabernacle which would be made permanent with the temple, and Moses received the law. To speak against Moses is to speak against the will of God. But here’s the problem,

  • Many Jews had an unbiblical view of the law and temple

With typical clarity, John Stott summarizes the problem at hand, “Nothing was more sacred to the Jews, and nothing more precious, then their temple and their law. The temple was the ‘holy place’, the sanctuary of God’s presence, and the law was the ‘holy scripture,’ the revelation of God’s mind and will. Therefore, since the temple was God’s house and the law was God’s word, to speak against either was to speak against God or, in other words, to blaspheme (Stott, 128).

Ok, this is key, it was Stephen’s biblical understanding of the person and work of Jesus that made him critical of his neighbor’s practices. It was tasting the fullness of Christ that made Stephen long for others to come with him. But it was not simply that some of the Jews were not ready to take the next step in God’s plan of redemption. The problem here is more complex than helping ready people get started. Many Jews had added unbiblical traditions to God’s commands. Many Jews had elevated the temple itself, and the gold of the temple, above God’s universal rule and world-wide redemption.

Stephen was opposed because he made it known that Jesus is better. Jesus is better than the law. In fact,

  • Jesus is the fulfillment of the law

Stephen was working out the implications of Jesus’ claim, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Mt 5:17). Jesus’ righteous life fulfilled the requirements of the law. The death of Jesus on the cross satisfied the requirements of the law. Jesus’ way of life is exactly what God intended when he gave his people the law. But in Stephen’s day, the people’s way of life had strayed from God’s commands. So, Jesus called them hypocrites and said, “In vain do they worship me teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Mt 15:9). They were guilty of adding to God’s law and even allowing the people to break God’s law. Jesus was keeping the law while they were breaking it.

Jesus explained his way compared to their way by referring to wine. Old wine well-aged is better than new wine. Jesus’ old pure way of faith and obedience is better than their new way. Besides, if you put new wine into old wine skins it will burst the old and both will be ruined (Lk 5:33-39). Their disobedience was ruining the godly way of life. Jesus calls us to faithful living. Stephen understood this truth, lived this truth, and called his neighbors to obey this truth. Jesus is the fulfillment of the law. Follow Jesus, not the commands of men. Concerning the temple,

  • Jesus is better than the temple

In Matthew 24, Jesus predicted the destruction of the temple, but he never said he would destroy it. Referring to himself, Jesus said, “something better than the temple is here” (Mt 12:6). Jesus offers better access to God than the temple offered. Jesus is a better sacrifice for sins than those offered in the temple. Jesus is a better priest than those found in the temple. In every sense, Jesus is better than the temple. But now, Jesus did not think the temple was a mistake or a joke. The temple had played its role in God’s plan and was now superseded by the better. The people of God and the presence of God are bound up in Jesus, not in stones.

In a profound sense, worship at the temple was the engagement period and worship through Christ is the marriage. The temple had a wonderful role to play in God’s plan, but that plan had come to an end. The better life, planned from the beginning, had now come in Christ. But the people could not let go of the stone temple. They had no eyes to see the greater glory of Christ. They had no taste for the purity of true holiness. Stephen saw, Stephen tasted, and he wanted them to come with him to Christ.

Church, we must be a people who believe big, wonderful, and true things about the Son of God. The truth is that believing in Jesus changes us

  • Life with Jesus makes us winsome radicals

When God drew you to Jesus and gave you eyes to see his glory and a heart to follow his ways, he called you to die to yourself. Our ideas of holiness, our ideas of worship, and our ideas of loving and serving others are far too small. None of us in this room is guilty of thinking too much of Jesus. True, the life of the kingdom will be marked by difficulty. But life with Christ, the kingdom of God, is worth selling all that you have in order to be with him. We look into history and we see winsome radicals who with joy sell all that they have to gain that kingdom (Mt 13:44).

We press on because Jesus is bigger and better than we right now understand. Commit yourself to the call to make disciples of the glorious Son of God. Prepare yourself. Prepare yourself for the good, the bad, and the ugly of following Jesus. There will be victories won and battles lost.

I began with Ajith Fernando’s call to be winsome radicals. It is fitting to end with Fernando’s words, “The gospel is by nature so radical that all serious Christians will sooner or later find themselves challenging people in the way they think and act. Stephen shows us that when we face opposition in such situations, we should remain winsome” (249). This way is a way of love. So church, we have work to do. We must make disciples. As we go to love and serve and endure, we must remember that Christ is with us. He will hold us fast.

[1] https://www.fbi.gov/cve508/teen-website/why-do-people-become-violent-extremists