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Monday, November 22, 2021

This Sermon Might Get You Stoned

Next Sunday is the beginning of Advent—a season of waiting and preparation as we prepare for Christmas.  Next Sunday, we will begin a new series titled “In Between”, which considers those times in life when we feel stuck in between; and it also considers what happened to God’s people in the 400 years in between the completion of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament.

But in order to prepare for a sermon series about the time in between the Old and New Testaments, we need to summarize the Old Testament.  And so, my first thought was, “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool to do a sermon where you cover the entire Old Testament in 25 minutes or less!” Yeah, that was my first thought.

My second thought was, “They’ll kill you.”

A lot of people shy away from the Old Testament.  It’s ancient material and it can be difficult to read.  But the Old Testament makes up 85% of the Bible. 
If you read the entire Bible in one year and you start reading in January, you won’t even get to the New Testament until November and then you’re done at the end of December.

And so I thought, How can I summarize the entire Old Testament in 25 minutes? And if I can, they’ll probably stone you to death like they did in the Old Testament!  Then I realized, there actually was a Christian in the New Testament who preached a sermon that summarized the entire Old Testament today.  And they actually did stone him for it!

And so for today, I want to read this mans sermon to you.  His name was Stephen.  He is known as the very first Christian martyr who died for his faith in Jesus.  According to Acts 6:8, “Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed amazing miracles and signs among the people.”  Stephen was one of the first deacons of the Christian church, who did pastoral visits and helped run a program to feed the poor, orphans, and widows in the community.  But the Jewish leaders of the town were jealous of Stephens wisdom and influence so they accused him of blaspheme and brought him before the high council of Jerusalem.  This is the sermon Stephen preached in his defense.

Acts 7
1Then the high priest asked Stephen, “Are these accusations true?”

This was Stephen’s reply: “Brothers and fathers, listen to me. Our glorious God appeared to our ancestor Abraham in Mesopotamia before he settled in Haran. God told him, ‘Leave your native land and your relatives, and come into the land that I will show you.’ So Abraham left the land of the Chaldeans and lived in Haran until his father died. Then God brought him here to the land where you now live.

“But God gave him no inheritance here, not even one square foot of land. God did promise, however, that eventually the whole land would belong to Abraham and his descendants—even though he had no children yet. God also told him that his descendants would live in a foreign land, where they would be oppressed as slaves for 400 years. ‘But I will punish the nation that enslaves them,’ God said, ‘and in the end they will come out and worship me here in this place.’[c]

“God also gave Abraham the covenant of circumcision at that time. So when Abraham became the father of Isaac, he circumcised him on the eighth day. And the practice was continued when Isaac became the father of Jacob, and when Jacob became the father of the twelve patriarchs of the Israelite nation.

“These patriarchs were jealous of their brother Joseph, and they sold him to be a slave in Egypt. But God was with him 10 and rescued him from all his troubles. And God gave him favor before Pharaoh, king of Egypt. God also gave Joseph unusual wisdom, so that Pharaoh appointed him governor over all of Egypt and put him in charge of the palace.

11 “But a famine came upon Egypt and Canaan. There was great misery, and our ancestors ran out of food. 12 Jacob heard that there was still grain in Egypt, so he sent his sons—our ancestors—to buy some. 13 The second time they went, Joseph revealed his identity to his brothers,[d] and they were introduced to Pharaoh. 14 Then Joseph sent for his father, Jacob, and all his relatives to come to Egypt, seventy-five persons in all. 15 So Jacob went to Egypt. He died there, as did our ancestors. 16 Their bodies were taken to Shechem and buried in the tomb Abraham had bought for a certain price from Hamor’s sons in Shechem.

17 “As the time drew near when God would fulfill his promise to Abraham, the number of our people in Egypt greatly increased. 18 But then a new king came to the throne of Egypt who knew nothing about Joseph. 19 This king exploited our people and oppressed them, forcing parents to abandon their newborn babies so they would die.

20 “At that time Moses was born—a beautiful child in God’s eyes. His parents cared for him at home for three months. 21 When they had to abandon him, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him and raised him as her own son. 22 Moses was taught all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was powerful in both speech and action.

23 “One day when Moses was forty years old, he decided to visit his relatives, the people of Israel. 24 He saw an Egyptian mistreating an Israelite. So Moses came to the man’s defense and avenged him, killing the Egyptian. 25 Moses assumed his fellow Israelites would realize that God had sent him to rescue them, but they didn’t.

26 “The next day he visited them again and saw two men of Israel fighting. He tried to be a peacemaker. ‘Men,’ he said, ‘you are brothers. Why are you fighting each other?’

27 “But the man in the wrong pushed Moses aside. ‘Who made you a ruler and judge over us?’ he asked. 28 ‘Are you going to kill me as you killed that Egyptian yesterday?’ 29 When Moses heard that, he fled the country and lived as a foreigner in the land of Midian. There his two sons were born.

30 “Forty years later, in the desert near Mount Sinai, an angel appeared to Moses in the flame of a burning bush. 31 When Moses saw it, he was amazed at the sight. As he went to take a closer look, the voice of the Lord called out to him, 32 ‘I am the God of your ancestors—the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.’ Moses shook with terror and did not dare to look.

33 “Then the Lord said to him, ‘Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground. 34 I have certainly seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their groans and have come down to rescue them. Now go, for I am sending you back to Egypt.’[e]

35 “So God sent back the same man his people had previously rejected when they demanded, ‘Who made you a ruler and judge over us?’ Through the angel who appeared to him in the burning bush, God sent Moses to be their ruler and savior. 36 And by means of many wonders and miraculous signs, he led them out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, and through the wilderness for forty years.

37 “Moses himself told the people of Israel, ‘God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from among your own people.’[f] 38 Moses was with our ancestors, the assembly of God’s people in the wilderness, when the angel spoke to him at Mount Sinai. And there Moses received life-giving words to pass on to us.[g]

39 “But our ancestors refused to listen to Moses. They rejected him and wanted to return to Egypt. 40 They told Aaron, ‘Make us some gods who can lead us, for we don’t know what has become of this Moses, who brought us out of Egypt.’ 41 So they made an idol shaped like a calf, and they sacrificed to it and celebrated over this thing they had made. 42 Then God turned away from them and abandoned them to serve the stars of heaven as their gods! In the book of the prophets it is written,

‘Was it to me you were bringing sacrifices and offerings
    during those forty years in the wilderness, Israel?
43 No, you carried your pagan gods—
    the shrine of Molech,
    the star of your god Rephan,
    and the images you made to worship them.
So I will send you into exile
    as far away as Babylon.’[h]

44 “Our ancestors carried the Tabernacle[i] with them through the wilderness. It was constructed according to the plan God had shown to Moses. 45 Years later, when Joshua led our ancestors in battle against the nations that God drove out of this land, the Tabernacle was taken with them into their new territory. And it stayed there until the time of King David.

46 “David found favor with God and asked for the privilege of building a permanent Temple for the God of Jacob.[j] 47 But it was Solomon who actually built it. 48 However, the Most High doesn’t live in temples made by human hands. As the prophet says,

49 ‘Heaven is my throne,
    and the earth is my footstool.
Could you build me a temple as good as that?’
    asks the Lord.
‘Could you build me such a resting place?
50     Didn’t my hands make both heaven and earth?’[k]

51 “You stubborn people! You are heathen[l] at heart and deaf to the truth. Must you forever resist the Holy Spirit? That’s what your ancestors did, and so do you! 52 Name one prophet your ancestors didn’t persecute! They even killed the ones who predicted the coming of the Righteous One—the Messiah whom you betrayed and murdered. 53 You deliberately disobeyed God’s law, even though you received it from the hands of angels.”

Summary of the Old Testament
In this long passage, we see a short summary of the Old Testament.  It is not all inclusive.  You may have noticed some key stories missing like the creation story, Noah and the Ark, and several others.  You're not going to get everything in the cliff notes version.  If you want the full story, you have to read the whole Old Testament, but Stephen gave a good summary.

The Old Testament is the story of how people turned their backs on God and God began working to restore the relationship.  God chose Abraham to represent God to the world.  Then God raised up a nation from Abraham's descendants, Israel, to bring God Light into the world.  When Israel became selfish and forgot about God, God sent the prophets to remind them.  But ultimately, Israel failed to represent God to the world.  But God would still use this broken vessel to bring about the world’s salvation through Jesus, a Jew of Israelite ancestry.  God would send His Messiah to be His perfect representative, to be all that Israel failed to be, who would restore the broken relationship between God and people.  Jesus is that Savior. 

Acts 7:54-59
The Jewish leaders were infuriated by Stephen’s accusation, and they shook their fists at him in rage. 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand.
 56 And he told them, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand!”

57 Then they put their hands over their ears and began shouting. They rushed at him 58 and dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. His accusers took off their coats and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul.

59 As they stoned him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 He fell to his knees, shouting, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!” And with that, he died.

Some Take Homes for You
What and incredible, tragic, and yet somehow also hopeful story!  From it, I want to give you three practical takeaways for your life.

Don’t stop up your ears. 
If you’re so dead set on drowning out the voice, you might do something terrible.

Stephen’s murders weren’t thugs.  They weren't excons.  They weren’t gang members or murders.  They were religious people, holy men, priests, prophets, and healers.  Unfortunately, they were so wrapped up in their own ideas and passions and politics they would rather murder someone that have their beliefs challenged.

They remind me of a lot of people I see in America today.  We are so divided, with everyone clinging to their own tribes of people who believe just like they do.  And if anyone in their tribe dares to change their mind about something, the people in their own tribe will be the first ones to destroy them, because you can't dare challenge the beliefs of the tribe.

This way of thinking (and not listening) leads people to say and do the most horrendous things.  People are mocking others who don't believe like them, giving death threats to politicians who dare to go against their tribes, and even acting out with violence and domestic terrorism.  People do terrible things when they stop up their ears.

What views do you hold today that are so sacred for you that you won’t give them up no matter what—even if God himself challenged you on them? I implore you to ask God to examine your heart and reveal anything there that is wrong and needs to change.  I I implore you to listen to Him; don't stop up your ears.

When trouble is raging all around you – look up.
Stephen looked up to Heaven and saw the glory of God.

When life has got you beat down or when real trouble surrounds you, look up and find hope and refresh your attitude.  Things are not as bad as they seem.  When you are sad or angry or depressed or overcome by any strong negative emotion, it can darken your perception of reality to the point that you feel nothing is good or right and there is no hope at all.  You can't see clearly to make good decisions and our attitude makes everything seem wrong.  Look up to Jesus and find hope and He will help you put things into proper perspective so you can find hope and make better decisions.

Even Stephen—who was literally surrounded by an angry mob about to murder him—was not as bad off as it seemed on the surface.  Stephen looked up saw the glory of God and it put everything in perspective to the point he could pray for his murders.  If we can do that when things are really bad, we may see God is still in control.  He’s still sitting on His thrown.  We have already won the victory.  And that ay help us find a way out of our bad circumstances.  But even if it doesn't, the worst thing that can happen is we die, but then we enter the glorious eternal life God gives His children through Jesus Christ where there will be no more suffering or sickness or sorrow or pain, forever.  Whatever sufferings we face now is nothing compared to the eternal glory Christ has in store for us.

Pray for your enemies.
Stephen prayed for the very people who stoned him.  That’s what God’s people do.  We should follow Stephen’s example and learn how to live as a Christian in a hostile world.  We should stand up for our beliefs and clearly articulate what we believe and why and even challenge others when they are not  living right.

However, w must resist the urge to become so angry and enraged we act like murders.  The solution?  We must do what Jesus said--sincerely love and pray for our “enemies” and the people who persecute us.  Otherwise, we become no better than the enemies of God.  Some will say, “Well that doesn’t do any good.”  Look at Saul.

Acts 7:58  says the people who stoned Stephen laid their coats at the feet of a man named Saul.  Saul spent the first half of his life on a mission to stamp out Christianity.  He traveled around the world having Christians arrested and killed.  Then, one day, the risen Jesus appeared to Saul in a light that blinded him.  He was unable to see until a Christian prayed for him and healed him (see Act 9).  Saul became a Christian and spent the rest of his life as the greatest Christian evangelist of the New Testament.  That %15 of the Bible people like so much (the New Testament), half of it was written by Saul.  You and I are probably sitting here as Christians today because of Saul.  And this episode of Stephen's murder and the way Stephen prayed for his murders is partially the cause of Saul's conversion.

So, don't stop your ears up to God's voice.  When things get bad, look up to God.  And pray for your enemies.

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