Standing On The Shoulders - Acts 7:1-60 NIV
Continue the new Acts study - Sequel & Requel. Our 17th today. Why study this? Because we need to know that the Christianity we enjoy today came to us at great cost. Yes, Jesus' sacrifice. But also many more
#1 - God sometimes uses ____________ to advance the gospel of Christ.
This is our starting point - and it's very challenging. That the God Who loves us, Who gave up His very Son for a relationship with us, will allow His children, sometimes, to be martyred to advance the gospel of Jesus.
“At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at [Stephen], dragged him out of the city and began to stone him.” Acts 7:57-58a NIV
Persecution has been very real and sometimes cost has been all. Nearly all the disciples were executed. James beheaded in 44AD. Phillip crucified in 54AD. Matthew was killed by a halberd ax in 60AD. James (brother of Jesus) was beaten to death. Matthias was beheaded, Andrew was crucified, Mark was torn to pieces, and Peter was crucified upside down. Jude, Bartholomew, and Thomas were also martyred. Paul suffered martyrdom in Rome where he was beheaded.
Ignatius of Antioch (35-107), disciple of John, bishop. Earliest post NT martyr. Wrote 7 letters along the way from Antioch (where people first called "Christians" to Rome, where he was fed to lions for sport.
Polycarp (69-156), disciple of John. Bishop of Smyrna. While uneducated, may have been the first to compile, edit & publish NT. Refused to burn incense to Roman Emperor. Knew Roman soldiers coming for him. Friends urged him to run. Waited for them. Lively debate with local proconsul Statius Quadratus, who threatened to burn him at stake. "Why wait? This fire burns for a moment." Told soldiers they didn't have to nail him to stake. He wouldn't leave fire.
John Huss (1369-1415) discovered the Bible later in life and trusted wholly in the Scriptures "desiring to hold, believe and assert whatever is contained in them as long as I have breath in me." Excommunicated. City of Prague placed under interdict - no citizen could receive communion as long as Huss continued ministry. Argued against pope &indulgences century before Luther. Burned at stake. Recited psalms.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945). Seminary teacher. Helped organize the confessing church which argued against Hitler as Christian, held Bible and Christ as 1st loyalty. Wrote "Cost of Discipleship" in 1937, a call to more faithful and radical obedience to Christ and a severe rebuke of comfortable Christianity: "Cheap grace is preaching forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession. … Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate."
A sober reminder that Jesus told us to count the cost. Pick up cross.
“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first... Remember what I told you: 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” John 15:18, 20 NIV
For some, picking up the cross means costing everything. Willingness!
#2 - God is strategic in His use of martyrdom. He doesn't call _______________ to it.
Yet while Jesus expects our willingness and placing Him first in our worship, even above our own lives, He doesn't ask this of everyone. Notice that with Stephen, not all the other disciples on that day.
Strategic Aim #1 - To connect a _____________ .
We cannot understand Stephen's martyrdom without also understanding his preaching in chapter 7. He had been challenged regarding his blasphemy against God. So he very carefully recounts the story of the OT. Starts with Abraham. Isaac. 12 Patriarchs. Circumcision. Joseph. Egypt. Slavery. Moses. Burning Bush. 40 years in the wilderness. The 10 Commandments. Joshua. David. Solomon. So far so good. But then...
“You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit!” Acts 7:51 NIV
So long as message was about other people, even ancestors - no problem. But when Stephen connects the dots between the sins of the fathers and the sins of those listening - He's guilty and worthy of death. Just as an aside, was this blasphemy? Was there an insult against God? We often confuse when we don't like what we're hearing - an insult against us - and blasphemy against God. When the one offended is a religious leader, watch out. Easy to confuse. God is god and we are not.
Strategic Aim #2 - To connect a _______________ .
Sometimes God uses the martyrdom of someone to inspire others who have the ability to accomplish great things for Christ. We don't know what Stephen may or may not have done with the rest of his life had he not been martyred. But we are very much aware of one person who was influenced greatly...
“Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul." Acts 7:58b NIV
Paul: “When the blood of your martyr Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him." Acts 22:20 NIV
God used the martyrdom of all the apostles (except John) for us to be convinced of the reality of Jesus' resurrection. For what man would die for a lie? Ignatius would not be known today were it not for the 7 letters he wrote on the way to Rome. And consider that one of those 7 letters was written to Polycarp, who would go on to great leadership himself and martyrdom himself. Martyrdom advances the kingdom of God because it inspires the faith in those who are watching like nothing else will.
Martyrdom is not the only kind of trial or difficulty that connects a message or a person to advance the kingdom of Christ. Most Christians never have to face such a difficult calling. But we are all called to choose Christ as not only our Savior, but also our Lord. Nothing can ever come ahead as priority of our worship of Jesus. When we choose to follow Christ over whatever other trial or temptation comes our way...
#3 - Even in the trial of martyrdom, God In Three Persons never ________________ us.
“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.” Acts 7:55 NIV
One other incredibly important reason to talk about this is not just that overcoming such a difficult path as martyrdom connects a person and/or God's message when referring to others, but it's also very personal! We discover for ourselves that God is real. That He never forsakes us. That no matter how great our faith was before the trial, it comes out even stronger after the trial. There was nothing more solid that Stephen could say with his dying breaths - He was full of the Holy Spirit, that he saw the glory of God, and that he witnessed Jesus standing at God's right hand. It was the witness of a Heavenly citizen, where faith is no longer needed because we live constantly in witness and worship of God Himself.