Teaching Sermons For Pastors and Laymen

 Two Lessons We Must Learn
Acts 6:1-15, 7:54-60

 

 

Introduction

Our study of the book of Acts makes it clear that the Church has displayed its ability to handle the opposition of an unfriendly world. 

For example, last week we read that the disciples were taken before the Sanhedrin, where they were in danger of being sentenced to a long prison term or to death. 

But God was there with them and even though several suggested severe punishments they were only beaten and told never to say the name of Jesus again, and then they were released. 

We know that they were not discouraged by the experience, because we read, “So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.  And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.” 

These Spirit-filled people had an internal nature that enabled them not only to survive the opposition from the world, but also to find a new sense of satisfaction about who they are in Christ. 

The persecution they had experienced, instead of discouraging them, made them more dedicated than ever. 

We can see then, that instead of removing difficulties, God is more interested in taking us through them and in that way our faith is strengthened.

This was the time when Church membership grew rapidly. 

It grew, because the world saw that even in the face of difficulties that believer’s lives were filled with joy. 

Outsiders watched them and listened to what they said, and the Holy Spirit used their witness to bring them to faith in Christ.

But sometimes the Church is its own worst enemy. 

It is never hurt by criticism from outside, but very often it is damaged from inside the fellowship. 

Internal problems can come as a result of the growth and influx of new people. 

Probably, a good case in point today is the impact that child abuse by priests is having. 

I personally know several who have left the Catholic Church because of how the Church has handled this problem. 

There have been many other scandals in recent years which were in the news; and they have involved other denominations. 

I hate to hear about these problems, because all the negative publicity hurts the Church of Jesus Christ and the work of His ministers. 

At this time, let’s read our scripture for today’s Bible lesson.

1 Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution.
2 Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables.
3 Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business;
4 but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
5 And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch,
6 whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them.
7 Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.
8 And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people.
9 Then there arose some from what is called the Synagogue of the Freedmen (Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and those from Cilicia and Asia), disputing with Stephen.
10 And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke.
11 Then they secretly induced men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.”
12 And they stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes; and they came upon him, seized him, and brought him to the council.
13 They also set up false witnesses who said, “This man does not cease to speak blasphemous words against this holy place and the law;
14 for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs which Moses delivered to us.”
15 And all who sat in the council, looking steadfastly at him, saw his face as the face of an angel.

But if you know the story of Steven, you know that he preached a great sermon on this occasion, but the religious leaders had their minds made up to kill him, so we read:

54 When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth.
55 But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God,
56 and said, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!”
57 Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord;
58 and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.
59 And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, “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 when he had said this, he fell asleep.

The title of the message for today is TWO LESSONS WE MUST LEARN. 

Those lessons are:
Lesson No. 1: EVEN SPIRIT-FILLED CHURCHES CAN HAVE PROBLEMS.

Lesson No. 2: GOD GIVES HIS PEOPLE SPECIAL STRENGTH TO FACE DIFFICULT SITUATIONS.

 

Here is lesson No. 1

Some in the Church were complaining. 

The text makes it appear that their complaining was like the “buzzing of bees.” 

The topic was the welfare of the widows in the congregation. 

In that day the only help that widows received came from the Church. 

There must have been quite a few widows among the worshippers, and that was the problem. 

The apostles couldn’t devote enough time to their care, without neglecting their other duties. 

Let me give you some background, which might give some more light to the situation. 

The Hellenists were Greek-speaking Christian Jews. 

They were often viewed with suspicion by the Aramaic speaking Palestinian Jews, because they couldn’t speak or understand Aramaic. 

Hellenistic widows, who were often penniless, were coming to Jerusalem in large numbers. 

These women needed help. 

It looks as if they were being neglected when food was distributed, because charitable giving was controlled by the Palestinian Jews. 

This was the first major conflict within the Early Church; and it was this problem that faced the apostles.

The problem had to be solved in a way that would not hinder the growth of the Church. 

Therefore, the apostles called the disciples together and asked them to find seven men of good reputation; wise men who were filled with the Spirit, and they would be responsible for dispensing charity to those in need. 

The term used to describe their service is “serving tables,” and that sounds like a very minor service. 

But no ministry is unimportant for a Christ like servant, for Jesus said, “I am among you as the One who serves” (Luke 22:27). 

Appointing some to care for the widows would allow the twelve to devote themselves to the ministry to which they had been called: prayer and preaching the word. 

The church today would do well to take this advice from the Twelve. 

Many times when hiring a preacher the search committee is looking for an administrator to oversee all the Church’s programs, instead of a preacher of the word. 

Pastors must be free to devote themselves to the two prime aspects of their ministry; prayer and the ministry of the word. 

Members of the local assembly must be willing to assume positions of responsibility in order to free pastors to do the jobs which they have been called to do. 

The people in Jerusalem were willing to make adjustments in their lives, if that would help to ease the conflict.

They complied with the apostle’s request by choosing seven men who would perform the duties of a deacon, and that solved the problem.

There was an alternative to having this type of problem, but that would mean that the Church would not grow. 

Most Christians would prefer that their Church grow and just deal with the problems that arise. 

The Jerusalem Church responded in a way that demonstrated that Jesus had made a difference in their lives, “Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem.” (V.7)

Now, let’s look at lesson 2: GOD GIVES HIS PEOPLE SPECIAL STRENGTH TO FACE DIFFICULT SITUATIONS.

One of the seven men chosen to minister to the widows was Stephen. 

He did much more than “serve tables”, for we are told he did wonders and signs among the people and that he went into the synagogue and preached about Jesus. 

He was opposed there by the religious leaders, but his reasoning was better than theirs. 

However, these stubborn men did not give up when they were beaten philosophically. 

They simply resorted to dishonorable tactics; making slanderous charges that Stephen had spoken blasphemy against Moses and God. 

But Stephen hadn’t done anything against Moses or God, so they brought in men who were willing to lie. 

They alleged that Stephen had spoken blasphemous words against the synagogue and the Law. 

They really stirred up the people when they alluded to a portion of his message in which he quoted Jesus’ statement about destroying the body, and it being raised again in three days. 

The same statement had been misinterpreted when Jesus uttered it; now it is misinterpreted when Stephen reported it. 

The political and religious powers became unhappy with what was happening. 

Steven was standing in the synagogue and preaching that Jesus was the Messiah, and anytime we invade the enemy’s territory, he strikes back. 

They were angry, so they seized him and brought him before the council. 

The council was the Sanhedrin, the same bunch who had put Jesus on trial. 

They believed that they were God’s representatives and that their job was to protect their religion and their way of life. 

Stephen’s message was a threat to all that; what he was preaching was new and different. 

When he poured new wine into old wineskins, the synagogue members could not handle that. 

They couldn’t stand to lose their prestige and the comforting experience that the synagogue offered them. 

They believed that the rituals and ceremonies that they performed brought them the approval of God. 

Christianity is just the opposite; it makes us uncomfortable with our sin, and with what sin has done in our world. 

The new wine of salvation by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ, could not be placed in the old wineskin of the Law. 

Grace stood face to face with the Law, when Stephen stood before the Sanhedrin. 

He was accused of blasphemy, and for that he could be put to death, but he didn’t defend himself; instead he preached what may be one of the greatest sermons ever preached. 

If you want to read it, you will find it in the seventh chapter of Acts. 

I hope you will; it’s a tremendous sermon.

Stephen dared to upset the religious world of his day. 

He preached a message that was simple, but it pierced their hearts. 

But those men didn’t have any scruples. 

According to verse 11, Then they secretly induced men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” 

They would do whatever necessary to protect the synagogue. 

Jesus had told the apostles that when they stood before the council, not to worry about what to say, because it would be revealed to them. 

Stephen was filled with the Holy Spirit and the words he spoke were directed by the Spirit, and they were powerful words. 

The Spirit inside Stephen shone through, for we read, And all who sat in the council, looking steadfastly at him, saw his face as the face of an angel. 

I believe that his appearance was altered; for his face was like the face of an angel. 

I don’t know what that would be like, but it made those men take notice and listen. 

They wouldn’t be able to stop him speaking; he would be able to finish his sermon. 

In the end, he even dared to make them feel guilty, when he told them, “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you.”  

The straight truth when worded in this manner will always bring violent reactions; and the result here was that they killed Stephen. 

This is how it happened. 

When the leaders heard this, they became furious.

They were so mad; they were grinding their teeth at Stephen. 

But Stephen was full of the Holy Spirit.

He looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at God’s right side. 

He said, “Look! I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at God’s right side.” 

Then they shouted loudly and covered their ears and all ran at Stephen. 

They took him out of the city and began to throw stones at him to kill him.

And those who told lies against Stephen left their coats with a young man named Saul. 

While they were throwing stones, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 

He fell on his knees and cried in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”

After Stephen said this, he died. 

I would say that he died well, wouldn’t you? 

Even today, Christians die well; and it’s the Holy Spirit that enables them to do so. 

John Wesley was quoted as saying, “Our people die well.” 

My grandmother was a Christian, and my mother told me that her last words were, “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” 

I think she died well, don’t you?

Conclusion

There was one person there that day, whose life was changed forever. 

Verse 58 said, “and they cast him out of the city and stoned him.  And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.”  

We are going to read about him a lot in the weeks ahead. 

He was there, when Stephen was killed and was all for it. 

He hated Christians; he was even employed by the synagogue to track down Christians and arrest them and take them to prison or as he did on this day, to see that they were no longer a threat. 

But Saul saw something that day that he would never forget. 

The Bible says, “And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”  Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.”

Finally, there are two questions which are appropriate:
1. Does anyone see Jesus in you? 

What Saul saw in Stephen had an impact on what he believed and later he would meet Jesus on the Damascus Road and he would be changed forever. 

But you may be the only Jesus that some will ever see, so we should ask the next question.

2. Are you living a Christian life or a religious life? 

Religion can bring comfort, but it will never satisfy you. 

Saul was religious; he said that he was a Pharisee of Pharisees and he was educated in the Jewish faith. 

When he pursued and arrested Christians, he believed that he was doing God’s will. 

But something was missing in his life and he knew it for the first time when he saw Stephen, who “being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!”  

Saul saw Stephen look up into heaven and he heard him say that he saw God and Jesus. 

Saul looked up, but he didn’t see a thing. 

Saul saw Jesus in Stephen and that prepared him for the time he would meet Jesus on the Damascus Road; and he would never be the same. 

We can influence others for Jesus if we live a Christian life in this world. 

We can’t change them, but we can prepare them to meet Jesus. 

So let the world see Jesus in you. 

God uses his people to witness in this way to an unbelieving world and He will change them through the power of His Spirit.

Let’s pray and ask God to use us to introduce people to Jesus.


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