Friday, March 11, 2016

A case against Compromise

Read Acts 7.

This is one of those chapters that causes us to pause and realize we are treading on some holy ground.  Stephen, a recently appointed Deacon in the Jerusalem church, was arrested for preaching that Jesus was the Christ.  Like Jesus, he was brought before the council and falsely accused by lying witnesses.  When given his opportunity to respond, Stephen delivered one of the strongest messages in the Bible.

Amazingly, with the few resources available to him, Stephen succinctly and accurately walked through the rudimentary teachings of Genesis (verses 2-16) and Exodus (verses 17-44).  Then, briefly mentioned Moses' successor, Joshua and two of Israel's kings, David and Solomon.  Along the way, he quoted Amos 5:25- 27 and Isaiah 66:1-2 from memory.  This he did in front of the nation's learned leaders and scholars of the Sanhedrin.

In the New Testament accounts, the council was always offended when a person outside their ranks instructed them in the Scriptures.  But what really set them off was Stephen's closing paragraph in verses 51-53.  He bluntly and rightly accused them of the following:
-Stiff-necked.  In other words they were obstinate, stubborn and unyielding.
-Uncircumcised in heart and ears.  They performed an outward religiosity but had hardened their hearts toward God and could no longer hear the truth of God's word.
-Resist the Holy Spirit.  Jesus said in John 16:8-14 the Holy Spirit would convict of sin, convince of truth, and point people to glorify Jesus.  But because they rejected the truth, they rejected the Holy Spirit's attempts to prick their conscience.
-Persecutors of preachers of truth.   Stephen tied them directly to those who rejected the Old Testament prophets.
-Murders of Jesus.  It was this High Priest and this council that took Jesus to Pilate and stirred up the crowd to chant for Barabbas.
-Did not keep the law.  The pride of these religious leaders, especially the Pharisees, was their idealism in perfectly obeying the Law of Moses and their traditions.

Instead of being broken hearted and repenting before God of their multiple sins, they became angry and filled with such resentment that they immediately committed a second recorded murder.

Taking such a bold stand for the faith cost Stephen his life.  However, there was One in heaven who personally observed the entire incident and was pleased with His servant.  Jesus allowed Stephen to get an advance glimpse of the throne.  Indeed, he saw Jesus, not sitting but standing to welcome home this faithful man with those words of "well done."  

In a secular culture that increasingly demands Christ followers to be accepting of sin,
In a religious culture where the Bible is forsaken for cultural acceptance,
In a positive thinking culture that encourages a prosperity gospel with good thoughts and words of peace toward everyone,
Stephen provides a benchmark of one who obeys God rather than men.

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