IIT UBF - University Bible Fellowship at IIT




Great is God's Faithfulness

Date: Jan. 19, 2014

Author: Bob Henkins

Acts 6:11-8:1

Key Verse: Acts 7:32

“I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”

Has anyone made a new year’s resolution? If so, what was it? The odds are, a little less than half of you made some sort of a resolution. Do any of these sound familiar, the top ten new year’s resolutions for 2014 are: #1 Lose Weight, #2 Getting Organized, #3 Spend Less, Save More, #4 Enjoy Life to the Fullest, #5 Staying Fit and Healthy, #6 Learn Something Exciting, #7 Quit Smoking, #8 Help Others in Their Dreams, #9 Fall in Love, #10 Spend More Time with Family. Now the hard question, how faithful have you been to your resolution? Again the odds are about one fourth of you have already given up on your new decision and by the end of the month nearly 40% of you will have given up. It’s hard to be faithful to our commitments. And this is when everyone is there to cheer us on, remember about half of people are in the same boat as us. But what if you had to do it alone, or even when everyone around you is trying to hinder you? Imagine how much more difficult it would be. Through today’s passage we’ll see how Stephen is challenged to keep his commitment and how he helps us remember how faithful God has been to his people even when they were not faithful to him.

Today’s passage carries on where last week’s left off. Stephen had been chosen, along with six other men to be responsible for the daily distribution of food. Stephen humbly accepted his responsibility, however he was full of God’s grace and power so not only did he hand out the food, but he proclaimed the gospel and performed many miracles as well. The Holy Spirit confirmed Stephen’s message by performing many wonders and miraculous signs, even priests became obedient to the faith. But as Stephen’s ministry became more popular the religious leaders became jealous and felt threatened, so they started to oppose Stephen. They tried to debate with him, but they were no match for the Spirit’s wisdom that was in him. So they had him arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin. But what could they charge Stephen with since he didn’t do anything wrong? According to v13-14 they made up some hokey charges and falsely accused him. They had sunk so low that they had to hire some people to provide false testimony. They said, “This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. 14 For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.” This was the same accusation that they used against Jesus. They thought, “If it worked once, it will work again.” They had warned the apostles back in Acts 4 that if they didn’t stop talking about Jesus, they were going to take action against them. The religious leader had laid the foundation and now they had the legal right to take action against them. And yet, they still had to resort to illegal activity in order to get what they wanted. However as they carry out their interrogation something strange was going on, everyone in the assembly hall couldn’t take their eyes off of Stephen, because his face was not normal, it had become like the face of an angel. I’m not sure what that looked like, but it obviously got the attention of everyone there. I believe that shows God’s faithfulness and how He is with his people. This was a sign of God’s grace and power was upon Stephen. Even with so many hostile people standing again Stephen, he was calm and unaffected because God was with him.

The battle begins as the chief priest confronts him, “Are these charges true?” At least they gave Stephen the opportunity to defend himself. This was a defining moment in Stephen’s life. What’s he going to do? He is standing before the most powerful men in the country. These are the type of men that if they accept you, you’ve got it made, but if they reject you, you could lose everything. Jesus had stood before these same men and they had him killed. If he gives them what they want, everything will stop, life will go on. Basically they want him to deny Jesus, to give up his faith and join them. They didn’t say it, but that’s what they wanted. Stephen was a threat to their way of life and weren’t going to let him continue. In reality, this wasn’t a trial it was a persuasion tactic.

What would you do if you were in Stephen’s position? There comes a time in every sincere Christian’s life, when you will face a situation like this. When you will have to make a choice: do I follow God or do I follow my own desires. You may argue that this is not Stephen’s choice they’re forcing him to do something against his will. But the truth is, no one can make you do something against your will, you always have a choice. And our natural desires are to fit in, to be accepted. That’s why peer pressure is so powerful, because most people feel pressure to conform to the peers around them. Recently, Gideon experienced this. In his current position he contacts home owners and tries to get them to make a contract with him to fix their home siding. In one neighborhood, he asked a customer and got rejected. So he went to the house next door and they accepted. Then to his surprise, another house accepted and then another and another. When the first home owner saw all his neighbors getting shiny new siding on their houses, he gave in and called Gideon wanting to get his house done too. Pressure to conform is real. It can be good or bad. The religious leaders were pressuring Stephen to conform to what they wanted and it would become a matter of life or death.

As Stephen stood there before these men, so many things probably raced through his mind but through it all he remembered God’s faithfulness. Stephen remembered how God had been with his people from the beginning, until now, even when God’s own people had rejected him. And so Stephen begins to show them how faithful God has been and how unfaithful God’s people have been. Stephen starts out respectfully in verse 2, “Brothers and fathers, listen to me! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Harran. ‘Leave your country and your people,’ God said, ‘and go to the land I will show you.’” At first, it sounds like Stephen didn’t understand the question because it doesn’t sound like it’s related at all, but it is. We saw from verses 6:13-14 that the religious leaders brought up four main issues: the Temple, the Law, Moses and Jesus. And although it doesn’t seem like it, Stephen addressed each of those issues and he puts it into the context of God’s faithfulness and mans unfaithfulness. The Jews had gotten so attached to the Temple, the Law and Moses that they began to fall into idol worship of them. All those things began to be more important that God himself. And when Jesus pointed this out to them, they had to protect their idols, so they lashed out and had Jesus killed. We always protect our idols. Stephen addressed their issue with the Temple first. They thought that the Temple was so important. Actually this was the focal point of Jewish life. Everything revolved around it and the local synagogues. But it wasn’t always like that. When God called Abraham, the Temple didn’t even exist. Stephen said, “After the death of his father, God sent him to this land where you are now living. He gave him no inheritance here, not even enough ground to set his foot on. But God promised him that he and his descendants after him would possess the land, even though at that time Abraham had no child.” (v4-5) When God called Abraham, he sent him to a place where there was nothing, except for God himself. Later they would go into Egypt but in the end they would return to that place and worship God. Look at the end of verse 7 it says, “God said, ‘and afterward they will come out of that country and worship me in this place. ” According to v7, the real goal of God’s promise to Abraham was not the land but instead the freedom to render true worship and devotion to God. This is what God really wanted, to have a relationship with his people. God loves his people and he wants to be with them.

I don’t know if you caught it, but right here we see the first part of the theme of God’s faithfulness in this passage: the theme of God promises and he fulfills his promise. Stephen said, “God sent Abraham to the place that you are now living and promised to give it to him.” God promised to give him the land – and God came through on his promise. Also the covenant of circumcision that God made with Abraham implies that Abraham would have children, and the circumcision of Isaac confirms that God kept his promise to give descendants to Abraham. We even see another promise, that God would deliver his people after they were enslaved for 400 years. (v6) God was faithful even though Abraham made many mistakes and wasn’t faithful.

Continuing on about the Temple, Stephen recounted that before it was a permanent structure, it was a tent and they moved it from place to place. And even though King David wanted to build a beautiful building, he couldn’t. Instead God had his son Solomon build it. Still Stephen pointed out in verses 48-50, “However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands. As the prophet says: 49 “‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me? says the Lord. Or where will my resting place be? 50 Has not my hand made all these things?’” The Temple was more for the people than for God. God doesn’t need something built by man to live in, heaven is his dwelling place. The stars are his window and the earth his footstool. But because of the pride of man, in what they had built and their idol worship caused them to misplace their worship.

The next thing Stephen addressed was the law and let’s take Moses with that too for the sake of time. They valued Moses as one of their patriarchs, he was the one who gave them the law. But Moses was far from perfect, in fact he was a murderer. Still was with Moses in spite of his sins and raised him as a leader for his people. Even though they honored Moses and the law, still they did not truly obey the law or follow Moses. They said they did, but in reality they did what they wanted to do. Even though God was with his people and helped them escape from Egypt by parting the Red Sea and sustaining them in the desert for 40 years, they abandoned Moses and the law. They abandoned Moses when he went up on Mt. Sinai and they asked Aaron to make a golden calf for them to worship. And they abandoned the law and followed their own sinful desires. For even now as the religious leaders stood before Stephen, they had such a desire to kill him, even though the law said do not murder. They were supposed to be God’s people and yet brought false witness and false charges against Stephen. They were full of lies, which according to Jesus is the language of the devil. (Jn 8:44) They were doing the very thing that they were accusing Stephen of.

They claimed to follow Moses but they didn’t. Moses said in verse 37, “God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your own people.” In fact all the prophets that God sent to his people, they rejected. And suddenly Stephen’s speech takes a drastic turn as he begins to point this out. Take a look at verses 51-53. “You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! 52 Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him— 53 you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.” Now Stephen strikes the nail on the head and he drives it home with a blow that shakes the religious leaders very foundation. Up until this point, Stephen has been hitting them with little jabs, left and right. For example he characterized God’s people by wisdom and favor, while he characterized the patriarchs (actually them) by anger and jealously. Then he points out how the religious leaders have constantly rejected God appointed leaders- as signified by the Hebrew in Egypt saying to Moses, “Who made you ruler and judge over us?” If you notice, Stephen makes the point that Joseph’s brothers didn’t recognize him on his first visit, but then Joseph reveals himself on the second visit – just as he is about to save them from the famine. Also the same happened with Moses, his fellow Israelites rejected him at first but when he returned he as their deliver. This happened over and over again as they resisted the Holy Spirit and killed prophet after prophet after prophet. Why? Because they spoke about the coming of the Messiah -> Jesus. And when he finally came, they even rejected Jesus on his first visit, but the story is not over yet, for Jesus will come again.

Why did they do this? The answer can be found in verses 40-41. “They told Aaron, ‘Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who led us out of Egypt—we don’t know what has happened to him!’ 41 That was the time they made an idol in the form of a calf. They brought sacrifices to it and reveled in what their own hands had made. ” Sinful people tend to take pride in their accomplishments. Then they begin to worship what their hands have made: the golden calf, the Temple, the religious system they built. This doesn’t seem to change, we always find something else to worship, like scientists worship their own knowledge and the discoveries they make. God made us, and when he did, he created us to worship him. But because of our sinful nature, we reject him and worship other things in place of him. And we are stiff-necked and stubborn in this.

Stephen hits them with the knock out blow when he yells at them calling them stiff necked rebellious people. They have hard hearts and ear plugs in. He was like, “Your ancestors killed anyone who dared talk about the coming of the Just One. And you’ve kept up the family tradition—traitors and murderers, all of you. You had God’s Law handed to you by angels—gift-wrapped!—and you squandered it!” This throws them into a flat out fury, because they know exactly what he means. They went wild, becoming a rioting mob screaming at the top of their voices and they drag Stephen out and stone him to death. Their actions prove what Stephen was saying was true. And Stephen proved that he was a sincere man of God because his actions follow that of Jesus. Look at verses 55-56. “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.” And then at 59 and 60. “While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.” Looking at these two groups, is it easy to see which are God’s people and which are his enemies? However even in all this, God is still faithful, and he is willing if only we repent of our sin and come back to him. God is faithful, even when we are not. God is with his people. One of the last things that Jesus said to his disciples was “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Mt 28:19-20) Just look at Stephen, even when he stood alone, he was not alone, Jesus was with him welcoming him into the kingdom of God. The next time you have a confrontation because of your faith in Jesus, don’t worry, remember that God is faithful and he is always with us. Don’t give in, be faithful to the end.

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