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Warriors and Martyrs

Acts 7:51-60 
 
 

"'You stiff-necked people with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are always resisting the Holy Spirit; as your forefathers did, so do you. (52) Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They even killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become. (53) You received the law under the direction of angels and yet have not kept it.' (54) When they heard these things, they were enraged in their hearts and gnashed their teeth at him. (55) But Stephen, filled by the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven. He saw God's glory, with Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and he said, (56) 'Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!' (57) Then they screamed at the top of their voices, stopped their ears, and rushed together against him. (58) They threw him out of the city and began to stone him. And the witnesses laid their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul. (59) They were stoning Stephen as he called out: 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!' (60) Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, 'Lord, do not charge them with this sin!' And saying this, he fell asleep." (HCSB) 

 In the first 50 verses of chapter 7, Stephen summarized the plight of the Jewish nation from their inception with the Abrahamic covenant through their wilderness wanderings to the establishment of the monarchy. He wasn't saying anything that his audience didn't already know and understand to be true.  His tone was gentle and matter of fact.  But with verse 51 he turned a corner, as is evidenced by his words "You stiff-necked people." 

 Throughout most of the sermon, Stephen reaches out to his audience by being inclusive.  He shows that throughout their history it was "us" against "them."  But with verse 51 he excludes his listeners from the "us" and puts them in the "them" category, right alongside the Egyptians and other enemies of Israel.  As you can imagine, these men of Israel didn't like his accusation. 

 In Stephen's estimate, it was their forefathers that resisted the Holy Spirit.  It was their fathers that persecuted the prophets.  It was them who had betrayed and murdered the righteous one.  They were the recipients of the law, according to Stephen and they had not kept it.

 Their blood boiled.

 The temperature began to rise when Peter and John disobeyed their order to stop preaching and teaching in the name of Jesus, and it continued to escalate when they filled all Jerusalem with His teaching, as is evidenced by the flogging they gave the disciples in the last chapter.  But now, they'd had enough. Not even the calming words of Gamaliel could stop them now.  Stephen had cut through the quick and accused them of not keeping the law keeping the law was something they prided themselves on.

 So they rushed him and stoned him to death.  It was customary when stoning people to throw them from a high peak, then if the fall didn't kill them, to throw rocks at them and roll boulders onto them until they died.

 Why would Stephen provoke these men like this?  Acts 6:5 says that Stephen was "a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit." (NASB) 

 Would a man who is controlled by the Holy Spirit be provocative?  Galatians 5:22-23 says "But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives, he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, [23] gentleness, and self-control. Here there is no conflict with the law." (NLT) 

 Did Stephen's words show love?  Did they show joy?  What about peace, were they peaceful words?  Did they demonstrate patience?  In your opinion, were they kind, did they show kindness?  What about goodness and faithfulness?  How about gentleness?  Where his words gentle.  Did they demonstrate self-control?

 When I was a boy growing up in church I had an inner conflict, that in many ways, I'm still resolving.  I began to fell that to be a good Christian I couldn't be a real man.  I felt the church telling me to dress up, behave myself, sit still and be well mannered and refined.  In other words, they were telling me to be more like the girls, and if I would, I'd be a better Christian.  Maybe that's why women attend church at a 2 to 1 ratio to men.  We've turned the religious experience into a tea party and missed the masculine side of the Christian walk.

 Do you think Peter's shoes matched his hemline or he gave a rip whether his tie picked up the colors of his shirt and jacket?  Come on, he was a smelly fisherman who was lucky to remember to wash the crud off his feet.  And what about John the Baptist now here was a guy that could light up a room when he entered.  Really, you'd know he was coming a mile away, because you'd smell him first.  These men were on an adventure of their lives.  They were radical men following a revolutionary teacher.

 Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying being rude and crude are Spiritual gifts.  I'm just saying being refined and well groomed aren't either.  Those are surface issues and have more to do with a person's culture than they do their faith.  To put it another way, our goal is not to tame our men and get them to act more like women, but it is to call them to a radical lifestyle of surrendering themselves totally to Jesus Christ. 

 The men's movement of the 1990's did a lot to call men out to be involved in their families and their churches.  It called men to live holy lives and to be accountable to one another.  Which I applaud.  I just don't think it is enough.  In his book, Wild at Heart, John Eldredge encourages men to seek more than accountability partners, he encourages them to find co-laborers.  He writes, "Thanks to the men's movement the church understands now that a man needs other men, but what we've offered is another two-dimensional solution: 'Accountability' groups or partners.  Ugh.  That sounds so old covenant: 'You're really a fool and you're just waiting to rush into sin, so we'd better post a guard by you to keep you in line.'  We don't need accountability groups; we need fellow warriors, someone to fight alongside, someone to watch our back."   (http://www.freshministry.org/illustrations.html)

 We need to call men to be warriors  to join the revolution that Jesus Christ established when He died on our cross and rose from a borrowed tomb.  A revolution that calls them to minister out of the depth of their souls and give everything they have.  For most it means to live for the faith, for some it means they will die for their faith.  Like Stephen did.

 Look at Stephen's response to the stoning in Acts 7:55-60, "But Stephen, filled by the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven. He saw God's glory, with Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and he said, (56) 'Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!' (57) Then they screamed at the top of their voices, stopped their ears, and rushed together against him. (58) They threw him out of the city and began to stone him. And the witnesses laid their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul. (59) They were stoning Stephen as he called out: 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!' (60) Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, 'Lord, do not charge them with this sin!' And saying this, he fell asleep."

 Yes Stephen was filled with the Holy Spirit.  Verse 55 says so.  Also, if you look closely, you will see the evidence of the fruit of the Spirit in his sermon and his response to the stoning.  For one, he loved enough to confront.  You know, a hug isn't the only way to communicate love.  Kids, your parents are showing you that they love you when they discipline you too. 

 Look at his final words,  "Lord, do not charge them with this sin!"  Those are words dripping with love.  Only a Spirit-filled man could respond to this obvious injustice with such love.  His love is obvious.  Do you also see joy?  I'm sure Stephen wasn't happy about what was happening to him, yet his words "Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!" contain a measure of joy.  He certainly was at peace in the situation, and his ultimate act of forgiveness shows kindness and goodness.  What about faithfulness?  Would you say Stephen was faithful?  Of course he was.  He was faithful to the death.  Does he demonstrate gentleness?  I think so, don't you?  And what about self-control?  Again, I believe he did.

 Stephen was a faithful, spirit-filled man who died like he lived on mission for God.  He held nothing back;  he went all the way.  In all probability God won't ask you to die for your faith, but God does ask you to die to self and live for Christ.  Will you take that challenge, wherever it leads?
 

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