Sermon on Acts 6:1-9, 7:2a, 51-50
Text: In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. 2 So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. 3 Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them 4 and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”
5 This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. 6 They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.
7 So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.
8 Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. 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 — who began to argue with Stephen.
7:2a To this he replied: “Brothers and fathers, listen to me!
51 “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.”
54 When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. 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.”
57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.
59 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.
This morning, as we study God’s Word, we are going to talk about faith. Normally, when we think about faith, we think about how we are saved. Faith shows us that we have sinned against God in so many different ways. We have been selfish and self-serving. We have failed to make good confession of our faith. We get caught up in the pleasures of this life. It also tells us that we deserve God’s punishment for all eternity because of our sins. Faith, then, points to Jesus as the one who paid for our sins. It shows the fact that Jesus lived a perfect life for us. Faith tells us that Jesus paid for all of these sins on the cross. Faith takes us to an empty tomb on Easter morning and tells us that Jesus rose from the dead. This faith that trusts in Jesus alone for our salvation has been given to us by the Holy Spirit. We already have this faith. However, this morning, we are going to look at faith, more from the angle of how it shows itself in our lives. Because we have been saved, we want to show our love for God by the way that we live our lives. Here, we know that we can always continue to grow. As we study the account of Stephen, we see a person whose faith was evident in the way that he lived. As we look at this man, we pray “LORD, GIVE US STRONG FAITH!” 1. Faith That Serves. 2. Faith That Witnesses. 3. Faith That Looks To Jesus.
The early Christian church continued to grow by leaps and bounds. We know that it grew by 3,000 on the day of Pentecost. It’s hard to estimate how many were now believers. One of the ways that this Christian church showed its love for God was by selling their possessions and using the money to help the needy. They would buy food and give it to people. However, a problem arose. It says in Acts 6:1, “In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.” There were so many people receiving this help that there were some who were being overlooked. This wasn’t done maliciously. It was simply due to the fact that there were so many that the apostles couldn’t keep up. As a result, grumbling started to be heard in the congregation.
As a result, the apostles called the congregation together to find a solution. They said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” (6:2-4) They realized that, because of the duties of distributing food to the people, they were not able to carry out the main task that Jesus had given them, namely, preaching and teaching. Their suggestion was to choose “seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom.” The men that would be chosen would take care of these duties, so that the apostles could devote more time to the sharing of the gospel. The apostles saw a need in the congregation and they created a position to take care of it. These men would serve the Lord as they served the rest of the congregation.
God, also, gives all of us opportunities to serve him in the congregation. It comes in different forms, but they all help the work of the congregation. It might be that you can serve on the church council. Maybe, you can serve the congregation by being a Sunday School teacher. You can serve the congregation by putting to use the musical talents that God has given to you. Perhaps, you can serve your fellow believers by taking care of the church building and grounds. The list could go on and on of ways that we can serve.
Unfortunately, when we hear about opportunities to serve, it is so easy for us to come up with excuses as to why we can’t or won’t. ‘I”ve done my part. Let someone else do it.” “I have tried to help in the past, but no one appreciated what I was doing.” “I’m too busy.” Sometimes, there is some validity to the excuses. We may not be able to serve, as we once did. Yet, it is good for us to take a close look at the excuses that we offer. Also, it is good for us to remember why we do these things. They are not done just so that the congregation can continue to function. We serve each other out of love for the one who https://www.viagrapascherfr.com/sildenafil-generique-pas-cher/ gave us everything/ When we serve others, in reality, we are serving the Lord. So, we pray, “Lord, give us a great faith that is willing to serve others.”
Now, we specifically look at one of the men who was chose, Stephen. He was called by the congregation to assist in the daily distribution of bread. However, we note that “Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. 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 — who began to argue with Stephen.” (6:8&9) Even though he was not called to be a preacher or a teacher, he continued to share his faith with those around him. As a result of his witnessing, he faced opposition. This opposition got to the point when he was brought before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council. He was accused of speaking blasphemy against Moses and against God. False witnesses were brought in to try to find something wrong with what Stephen said and did.
You might think that this would cause Stephen to be quiet and get himself out of this situation. However, he used the opportunity to speak to this body. In the first part of chapter 7, Stephen outlines Israel’s history, especially highlighting the lives of Abraham, Jacob, and Moses. They were men who believed the promises that God had made to them. The reason Stephen did this was because he had been accused of speaking blasphemy against Moses and against God. He showed them that what he had said was completely in line with what had been said in the Old Testament.
Stephen concluded his address to them by saying, “You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One.” (7:51&52) He accused them of being just like their ancestors who persecuted the Old Testament prophets. When you read about the lives of the Old Testament prophets, you see how again and again the people resisted what they had to say. Some had to flee to save their lives. Others were killed. Then, Stephen pointed out the fact that they had prophesied the coming of the Savior. Then, Stephen got very specific with his law by saying, “And now you have betrayed and murdered him — you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.” (7:52&53) He pointed out the fact that they had put the Savior to death. There would have been no doubt as to whom Stephen was referring. They knew that he was speaking about the fact that they had put Jesus to death.
When Peter said similar words in his sermon on Pentecost, the crowd was moved to repentance and asked what they should do. Stephen faced an entirely different reaction. “When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him.” (7:54) The law had done its work in cutting them to the quick, but they refused to listen to what Stephen said. Instead, they became furious with him, because he witnessed the truth to them.
You and I are also called to be witnesses to others about Jesus. Even though we may not be a pastor or teacher, as we go about our daily lives, God gives us opportunities to tell others about the Savior. We have many instances when we can stand up for the truth, whether it is in the classroom, the job, at home, when we get together with friends. Out of love for Jesus, we tell others what he wants for their lives. Of course, we know that this will not always be well received. People will oppose what we say. They will call us “narrow-minded.” They will say that we are being “unloving.” They will accuse us of being “holier-than-thou.” They may call us “hypocrites,” because they know that we have sinned, too. If we stand up for the truth of God’s Word, we may lose friends. Family members may not want to talk to us. As a result, we might be tempted to keep quiet.
However, out of love for God and his Word, we want to witness to the truth. We point out that there definitely is a right and a wrong. We point out sin, not for the sake of making the other feel bad or so that we can feel superior to them. We point out sin, so that they can see that they have absolutely no chance of saving themselves. Out of love for them, we do not want to see them spend their eternity apart from God. So, we point out sin, so that they can see their need for a Savior. Then, we have the wonderful opportunity to point them to the one who has taken away that sin. We can tell them about the love that God has for them, both for this life and in the life to come. The devil wants us to keep quiet, so we pray “Lord, give us a strong faith that witnesses to others about you.”
As Stephen was there in the middle of the Sanhedrin, who was growling at him like a pack of dogs, God gave him a vision. “‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’” (7:55) What amazing love God showed to Stephen! Here he was facing such fierce opposition, not knowing what would become of him, and God showed him this vision of Jesus standing at the right hand of God. With this vison, God was assuring Stephen that everything that he had been taught about Jesus was absolutely correct. Jesus was not some dead prophet. Jesus was the one had come into the world to be their Savior, to be Stephen’s Savior. Because Jesus was standing at the right hand of God, it meant that he was in control of all things. No matter what might happen to Stephen, Jesus was ruling in heaven for him.
May God give us such a faith as this! There are times in our lives when it seems like we are in the middle of a pack of snarling dogs. It might be that we feel surrounded by people who oppose God’s Word. It may be that we feel almost overwhelmed with the trials and troubles that we are going through. We can be assured that Jesus is in heaven, standing at the right hand of God. We know that he loved us so much that he came to the world to be our Savior. We know that he rules the earth and promises that everything will always work out for our benefit. Because Jesus is the Son of God, he watches every moment of our lives. We know that we can count on his promise when he said, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) We can face everything that comes our way, because he loves us and cares for us. We pray that God would give us a strong faith that looks to him in every situation in our lives.
Because of this confidence that Stephen had, he was able to face what happened to him next. Throwing out justice, legal protocol, and even fear of the Roman government, they rushed at Stephen and dragged him out of the city, where they stoned him to death. Even as the stones were crashing into his body, Stephen showed his faith, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” (7:59) He wasn’t afraid to die. He knew that Jesus had come into the world to be his Savior. He knew that, when he died, heaven was waiting for him. So, he confidently faced his death. Luke uses a beautiful picture to describe Stephen’s death. In the midst of all of this violence, “When he had said this, he fell asleep.” (7:60)
We pray that the Lord would continue to strengthen our faith throughout our lives. We pray that our faith would remain strong until that day when we face our own deaths. Without Jesus, death is a scary thing. However, because Jesus came to the earth to be our Savior, we can have the same peace that Stephen had as he was dying. Death for the Christian can rightly be called a sleep. We go to sleep at night confident in the fact that we will wake up in the morning. We fall asleep in death, confident in the fact that Jesus will wake us up at the end of time. We know that we will be in heaven forever with Jesus. We pray that God would so strengthen our faith so that, even in death, we look to Jesus for our hope and our confidence.
We have spoken a great death about faith this morning. Faith is really just trusting in someone or something. There are many things in the world that people put their faith in. They put their faith in their wealth. They put their faith in their family and friends. They put their faith in themselves. However, all of these things will fail us in one way or another. We have one that we can put our faith in that will never fail us. That one is Jesus. We pray that God would continue to strengthen our faith in him. We, also, pray that God would strengthen our faith, so that we continue to live for him. We close by praying, “Lord, give a strong faith that serves you and those around me, a faith that witnesses to others about, no matter the circumstances, and a faith that looks to you in life and in death. Amen.
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