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Forgiving Through the Pain

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“Forgiving Through the Pain”

Acts 7

Introduction

Three men appeared before the pearly gates of heaven.  They were to appear before St. Peter for admittance. 

The first man said, "I was a minister of the Gospel for 40 years."  St. Peter looked at him and said, "Would you stand to the side while I consider your case."

A second man appeared and announced, "I was a bishop in the church for 50 years."  St. Peter looked at him and also said, "Would you stand to the side while I consider your case."

A third candidate stepped up.  "I was not a minister, just an auditor with the Internal Revenue Service for ten months."

"Step right in," said St. Peter, bowing low.

"Wait a minute!" shouted the bishop.  How is it that this IRS clerk is permitted to enter the pearly gates before two ministers?"

"Well, said St. Peter, "THE WAY I LOOK AT IT IS THAT THIS IRS AGENT SCARED THE DEVIL OUT OF MORE PEOPLE IN TEN MONTHS THAN EITHER OF YOU DID IN A LONG LIFETIME!"

What do you fear?  (Pause)

Oh, I am not talking about snakes and heights and public speaking.   Not even terrorist attack.

When you lay in bed at night, what do you fear?

Basic psychology 101 tells us about Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

  • Biological/Physiological Needs
  • Safety/Security Needs
  • Love/Belonging & Recognition Needs
  • Ego & Self Esteem
  • Self-Fulfillment/Actualization

We can only begin to have the needs higher up on the pyramid if the needs below that point are basically met. 

And when those are threatened, we become afraid.

While I don’t buy into the underlying Buddhist concepts in Star Wars, Yoda is right in part when he says that “Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.” –Yoda.

We read such verses as:

I John 4:218: There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

Romans 8:15: The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.

This morning, I want to look at a man, who lived and died without fear.

Oh, I am not saying that in his entire life he never knew fear.  But fair or not, many times lives are judged by one event, one instance.  (Jim McKay-“they’re all gone”)        

And in the case of Stephen, we remember him as a fearless witness for Christ.  

We meet him first in Acts 6.  The Grecian widows were complaining about the treatment they were receiving in the distribution of food to the poor and seven were appointed to take leadership in that regard:  (Read 3-6)

He was selected as a leader to serve the Body of Christ during the early church. Acts 6 tells us he was a man of honest report, full of the Hoy Spirit and wisdom. He was a man full of power, who did great wonders and miracles among the people. He was also a man full of faith.

The next chapter & a half tell the rest of the story of Stephen. 

Read 6:8-15.

Beginning in 7:1, Stephen’s sermon is recorded. 

Stephen has been falsely accused of speaking against the Temple. Now he says that the Temple is not necessary for worshiping the true God!

A.     Israel was favored by God before possessing either its Tabernacle or two Temples (7:1–38).

1.          As illustrated by the life of Abraham (7:1–8)

a.      God led him into Canaan (7:1–4).

b.      God promised him that his seed would possess Canaan (7:5–7).

c.       God gave him the seal of circumcision (7:8a).

d.      God gave him Isaac, the heir of the covenant (7:8b).

2.         As illustrated by the life of Joseph (7:9–16)

a.      God protected Joseph the prisoner in Egypt (7:9) : God was always with him.

b.      God promoted Joseph to prime minister over Egypt (7:10–16): God gave him favor with Pharaoh.

3.         As illustrated by the life of Moses (7:17–38)

a.      His first 40 years, in Egypt (7:17–28): God promoted him.

b.      His second 40 years, in the Sinai desert (7:29) : God prepared him.

c.       His final 40 years, en route to Canaan (7:30–38): God empowered him.

B.     Israel was faithless to God after possessing both its Tabernacle and two Temples (7:39–53).

1.      They rebelled during the Tabernacle period (7:39–43a, 44–45).

2.      They rebelled during the first Temple period (7:43b, 46–50).

3.      They are rebelling during the second Temple period (7:51–53): Stephen now utterly condemns his audience with a threefold indictment:

READ 51-53

a.      They are heathens at heart and deaf to the truth (7:51) .

b.      They betrayed and murdered their own Messiah (7:52) .

c.       They are deliberately disobeying God’s laws (7:53) .

What happens to Stephen? v. 54ff (READ 54-60)

What kind of man was Stephen

6:3-full of the Spirit & wisdom

6:5-a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit;

6:8-a man full of God's grace and power

 (THEME): Stephen learned to substitute faith for fear and thereby was able to

I.     Triumph Over the Fear of Rejection

Some people are quick to attack & alienate people. But that was not the case with Stephen.  He was chosen as one of the seven because he was “full of the Spirit & wisdom.”

His task was a “people-task”

It involved taking care of the widows.  That is not a task for a brusque or someone who is harsh in their speech. 

Sometimes “people persons” can be afraid to alienate others.  Relationships are so important that they are afraid to confront.

And yet we see that he did not fear rejection by his own people. 

“We must not mind insulting men, if by respecting them we offend God.” --St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople and Church Father (349–407)

He recounts the deeds of Moses and the faithlessness of the people, reminding his accusers of the idol worship of their ancestors. Then he turned on them saying, “You stiffnecked & uncircumcised in heart & ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit, as your fathers did, so do you.” (v. 7:51)

Infuriated by his statements of truth and they “ran at him with one accord.” But it says, “Being full of the Holy Spirit looked up into the heaven, and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing on the right hand of God.”

Someone has said Stephen’s outlook may have been bad, but his uplook was glorious.”

Most of us want/need the support of family, friends, our community.  That is a good thing.  God sais, “It is not good that man should be alone.”

But we must love God more. That’s the idea Jesus had when he said, “If you don’t hate your father or mother, you cannot be my disciple.”  It is a priority thing.  If the two are in the balance, we must choose God. 

II.Triumph Over the Fear of Death (55-59)

Stephen stood courageously as they attacked him.

1.      Maybe he remembered the word Jesus spoke, “Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul.” (Matthew 10:28)

2.      Or maybe he heard Jesus Sermon on the Mount; “Blessed are you, when men revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake… great is your reward.”

3.      Perhaps he was remembering some of the last words of Jesus to his disciples: Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. 2My Father’s house has plenty of room; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (John 14:1-3)

4.      Or perhaps he was foretelling what Paul would later say, “To live is Christ, to die is gain.”

Either way, he stood his ground.  He allowed faith to replace his fear of death.  And while he was doing that he saw heaven opening up before him.  He saw the glory of God (no one can see God and live) and he saw Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father. 

Why Jesus is standing is a  matter that scholars debate.  Some note that when a king received someone into his presence, the king stood.  Jesus was receiving Stephen into heaven.

Other say just that it showed Jesus’ interest in what was happening on earth.  We already know that & he doesn’t have to stand to do that.  I like the first better.

We will all face death some day.

It does not matter if you face death with courage but if you face it with hope.

The time to prepare for death is before you face it.

Augustine noted only one deathbed repentance in the Bible; the thief on the cross. He said; “This case is there so that we will not despair; but it is only there so that we will not presume.”

“True repentance is never too late, but late repentance is seldom true.”

III.  Triumph Over the Fear of Forgiving (60)

This is the most incredible to me. 

The stones are big enough.

I’ve been carrying block around building a fence.  30 lbs.

Show difference. 

And yet Stephens last cry was for forgiveness. Not for himself. Stephen prayed God would forgive those who were killing him.

Did you notice the parallels between what Jesus said on the cross and what Stephen said?

Jesus prayed, “Father, into your hands, I commit my spirit.”

Stephen prayed, “Lord, Jesus, receive my spirit.”

Jesus prayed, Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Stephen prayed: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”

He prayed as Jesus prayed for his killers on the cross.

Remember when Jesus prayed for his tormentors the centurion was saved.

Forgiveness can be a dangerous thing.  It means that you give up your rights to get even. 

You can say, “What did Stephen’s faith get him?  He ended up dead!”  When Stephen prayed a young man by the name of Saul was nearby and the wheels were set in motion for his conversion.

Some one has said the church owes Paul to the prayer of Stephen.

We should live our lives and introduce Christ to people in such a way that He is unforgettable. If we show the courage, the faith and the forgiveness of Stephen, we will triumph in the end.

He is best remembered as the first Christian martyr because of his death. His name means, “Crown”. Jesus promised, “be faithful even unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

In  Westminster Abbey there are many men buried, with many flowery words written about them.  But there is one monument which is very simple.  It belongs to Lord Lawrence.  It simply gives his name, his dates and these words:  "He feared man so little because he feared God so much."

v. 55-Amid the chaos in the hall of the Sanhedrin, Stephen was an island of serentiy.

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