Acts Devotionals

Challenging Religion

A perfectly accurate Biblical exposition does not necessary mean a good response. As a newly ordained preacher, I faced a faction in the Church who complained about my sermons. Naturally, this takes the wind out of a preacher because this is what God called you to do … explain the Bible to the saved and the lost.

After much prayer, I decided to do something I had never done before or since. I had three C90 Cassette tapes of a friend of mine with a huge Church that God had built up from nothing through him. The man was a gifted and anointed preacher. This three part series was on the Holy Spirit. I listened to each tape taking the message down word for word. I then typed out the messages and preached them word for word on three consecutive Sunday nights. The result was exactly the same. I then had peace in my heart and realized that they would not receive any Bible based exposition, irrespective who preached it. That was the high priest, Sanhedrin and Jews!

As an aside, we need to add that not every member of the Sanhedrin, which was the Jewish Ruling Council, supported the high priest and the majority. Take Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea:

Jn 3:1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council.

Mk 15:42 It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body.

1) Stephen’s accusers were either living in Jerusalem or visiting Jerusalem.

Ac 6:9 Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia. These men began to argue with Stephen, 10 but they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke. 11 Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, “We have heard Stephen speak words of blasphemy against Moses and against God.” 12 So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin.

It is important to grasp their resistance to the Holy Spirit as Stephen proclaimed the Gospel Message. You can see their wickedness in verse 11 where they persuaded men to lie and in verse 12 where they stirred the people up, getting the elders and teachers of the law to arrest Stephen and haul him before the Sanhedrin.

2) Stephen completed his defense. In compliance with the high priests request he presented his defense against the accusation that he disrespected (blasphemed) the Law, Moses and the fathers. It seems as though by the time he reached verse 50, there was “Crowd Anger and Agitation”. This caused him to rush and conclude his defense in verses 51 to 53.

3) All Stephen was doing is fulfilling the commission Jesus placed upon the Church!

Ac 1:8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Something we tend to miss or overlook is that part of the verse includes “saturation”. That is, Jerusalem to the ends of the world need to be saturated with the Gospel. That is being Jesus’ witnesses. He wanted everyone to hear and know the way of escaping “dead, obsolete religion” and finding the truth encapsulated in the Gospel.

4) The response to Stephen’s exposition in Biblical Theology:

Ac 7:54 When they heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him.

The word “heard” is telling because it means they understood clearly what Stephen was saying. Their opposition and unavailability to Truth resulted in their response.

(1) The word “furious” is translated as “enraged, cut to the heart and infuriated” in other Bible translations. The rage caused maddening, murderous intentions. It is not something that was spontaneous as their anger started well before the “court hearing” in the Sanhedrin. This was premeditation and planned.

(2) “Gnashed their teeth” reveals the depth of their wicked depravity. Jesus says those in eternal hell do just this!

Mt 8:12 “But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

As you couple these two concepts together you are able to see how far the Jews of those days had departed from God and His Truth. This is the reason they refused God’s Messiah and:

Ac 7:52 “now you have betrayed and murdered him 53 you who have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it.”

They disrespected (blasphemed) the law, Moses and the fathers because they had been given the Law which contained the Gospel Message in embryo form and once the Messiah of the Gospel arrived, they murdered Him! If they could do this to Jesus, what could they land up doing to Stephen?

5) Stephen’s unflinching response to their rage.

Ac 7:55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

(1) It is vital to understand that Stephen was not on some hobby horse activity. He was serving Jesus faithfully and was … full of the Holy Spirit. Don’t misunderstand this term. The phrase does not mean running on high octane spiritual power. Remember God is a God of order and is not confused. “Full of the Holy Spirit” implies that the source of his courage, wisdom and power to proclaim the Gospel was:

Ac 1:8 “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.”

Those three things … courage, wisdom and power to preach are what we need in our pulpits and evangelism today!

(2) What Stephen sees is vision. The purpose of this is God’s approval of his ministry. In the vision he sees the “Glory” of God which in moments would be his home. He also sees Jesus, not seat at the right hand, ready for Judgment … but Jesus standing, ready to welcome him to his eternal home … which was imminent!

(3) He then declares what he sees in the vision … using Jesus favorite title for Himself … Son of Man. This title comes from the Book of Daniel and refers to God’s Messiah.

Da 7:13 “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”

Friends, we need to be Biblical and fearless as we mingle with unbelievers. We might be their only chance to hear about Jesus.

Lord our God, please raise up fearless men of God, shaped in the caliber of Stephen in our time to challenge religion with the Gospel. Amen.

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