Archive for the ‘Acts 7:51-60’ Category

You Need God’s Strong Word

Sunday, May 18th, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Easter 5A, May 18, 2014

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“And the twelve (Apostles) summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.” [Acts 6:2]

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed! You know that He has risen because His Word has told you so; you know that this Word is true because His Word is strong in deed; full of grace and the very power of God.  It is this Word alone that saves sinners and brings them new life, and that is why the Apostles said that they should not be distracted from the study, preparation, and the declaration of God’s strong Word.  The Sunday proclamation of God’s Word is the source of God’s grace and power, but you dear saints, like Stephen are the result of that grace and power when it is active in the life of a redeemed and sanctified saint of God.  And like Stephen, you need God’s strong Word so that you will know both God’s heart regarding your sin, indeed all sin, and so that you will not only know God’s solution to your sin, but also so that you will embrace His solution with all of your heart.

God’s heart concerning your sin is hate.  God hates sin because sin is the very thing that separates you from Him, and God loves you.  Sin is that thing which refuses to die, and with great obstinacy, clings to your flesh and cries out “There is no God.  But if there is a Creator, He can’t possibly be interested in my sin.”  Therefore, sin is that thing which either elevates you as your own god, or it allows you to define who or what your god is.  The sainted Dr. Martin Luther once said that a god is anything you turn to in times of trouble or turmoil.  God’s strong Word tells us today, that not only is He powerfully present in your life, He is also powerfully active, bringing you grace (that is the undeserved kindness and mercy of God) and power (that is God’s power, which takes away your sins, and then gives you a peace with Him that surpasses all understanding).

You need God’s Word today because there are very many “false teachers” who take God’s strong Word, which is to be for Christians, as pure “breast” milk is to infants (1 Peter 2:2), and they either dilute it or replace it all together.  But how do they do this?  When they confuse the Law of God with the Gospel of God.  But why do they do this?  Well for the very same reason the Sanhedrin whom Stephen confronted in our first reading (Acts 7:51-60) abused the law of God then; they are by nature stiff necked people and uncircumcised in (their) hearts and ears; (they) always resist the (grace and power) of the Holy Spirit, just as sinners have always done and always will do.

To be stiff necked is to be unwilling to bend or respond to the work of God’s strong Word, as He shows you your sins.  That is, stiff-necked people refuse to be molded or recreated into God’s will.  To be uncircumcised in the heart and ears means that the listener refuses to hear God’s solution to their sins.  We received a powerful example of this behavior when Stephen, full of God’s grace and power simply reported the enormity of the Sanhedrin’s error; in their sins they had blindly crucified God’s solution… Jesus Christ.  “Full of the Holy Spirit, Stephen gazed into heaven and (was allowed to see) the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.  And (Stephen) said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”  But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him.” [Acts 7:55-57]

You see, false teachers then and false teachers today think that by living a certain way and believing in certain principles, they have received a way to please God; they think that through their attempts to keep God’s Law, they are safe and secure from the judgment of God. They take the very means, which God has instituted to show them the ugly truth about their sins and they have twisted it into a way to please God and assure them happiness.

It is a shame that the people who stoned Stephen that day, and the people who will not hear God’s strong Word today would not and will not listen to God’s strong Word.  It is that very Word, which the Apostles proclaimed and the people followed that is still preached today in Christ’s true church.  It is the strong Word, which is still the very rhythm of life for all children of God, and the work of that strong Word is called repentance.  What is repentance?  Simply this, the strong Word of God shows you your sins and you are grieved over them.  As a result, you feel lost and separated from God, that is you feel pain over your sins; real pain, but then the strong Word of God, the Gospel of God shows you His solution to your sins… the very Son of God, Jesus Christ!

You see friends, this truth is so simple that even little children can understand it, but little children must be taught this truth and they must learn to refuse to be fed any other teaching.  Another way to say this is that “Jesus Christ alone is our corner stone; He alone is God’s chosen and precious solution to our sin, and whoever believes in Him will not be put to shame.” [1 Peter 2:6]  Only those little ones who believe and confess this truth may declare with a certain confidence, that “Christ died for sinners; He died for me!”  But for those false teachers and for those who do not believe that Christ alone is God’s only means of salvation, “The (corner) stone that the builders (that is the false teachers) rejected (has become for them) a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.”

They stumble because they disobey the Word of God.  They stumble because they will not allow God’s Word to declare them hopeless, helpless, and unclean in their sins.  They stumble, because they will not allow God’s Word to lead them into that condition of heart, which the church calls contrition… real pain for real sins.  And because they will not allow God’s Law to work within them, they will not, no they can not receive the Gospel of God, which declares that only the cross of Christ and His resurrection can bring peace with God and eternal life.

Stephen knew this truth and it transformed him forever.  As he declared the Word of God, he was also filled with the power of God.  But again, this truth makes no sense to the false teachers today, just as it would have been a pathetic joke to the Sanhedrin then.  Where is the power in an execution?  Who is the one in control?  To the rock throwers they were in control; they had the power of death.  If you were to tell them that with each rock they threw, Stephen became stronger and stronger, they would ultimately point to the pummeled, lifeless body of Stephen and asked, “Where is his power now?”  But this is always what happens to those who will not receive the Gospel of Jesus Christ, because you see, God’s message to sinners is not just the cross, but it is also the message of the empty tomb; the resurrection of the dead!

Stephen died for the Gospel of God because he knew that was what God had called him to do.  Would you do the same if called upon by God?  You would, if you were trusting in His strong Word.  Stephen was not an apostle, nor was he a pastor.  He was simply a redeemed sinner transformed and then nurtured by God’s own means of grace.  The position he held is what we would today call deacon.  The assignment that he fulfilled was much like the ministry our own deacons perform in their respective ministries here at Trinity.  Stephen was in charge of one of several help or charitable distribution centers, set up to help the poor, much like our own pantry, which Deacon Mark oversees, or the legal aid Deacon Clifton offers here at Trinity in the name of Jesus as an attorney.

So where did Stephen get filled with such grace and power that enabled him to give such a strong witness?  He received the teaching of the apostles just as you are doing today.  He was first baptized and filled with all of the Spirit’s power, just as you have been.  Each time he heard the Word about forgiveness of sins in Christ’s name preached, he was filled with that power.  Each time he received the absolution from the lips of his pastors, the apostles, he was renewed just as you are being renewed today.  Each time he approached the Lord’s Table and received the very body and blood of our Lord in, with, and under the bread and wine, he not only heard, saw, touched, and tasted forgiveness of sins, but he also received a powerful strengthening of his faith, which is the very thing that happens to you here at this altar.

We will close our message with the final portion of our first reading and two thoughts that God willing, will carry us through this week, until we gather again next Sunday to be filled once again with God’s strong Word: “Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.” [Acts 7:58-60]

Think about this truth first: As hard as a sinner’s heart may be, as lost as they may have become in the unholy doctrine of false teachers, God’s strong Word is still working to reach them.  This truth was proven true in the heart and life of the young man named Saul, who supervised Stephen’s execution.  For you see, this young man named Saul, would later encounter the resurrected Jesus Christ, the very Son of God as he was traveling down a dusty road to arrest and oversee the execution of even more Christians.  And after that encounter, Saul would for ever be know as St. Paul, the apostle of Jesus Christ.  And he would follow in the footsteps of Stephen and also die for his Lord.

The second truth that we are led to see, is how God magnificently demonstrates His grace and His power in the lives of Christians just like us.  He does it as He did it through Stephen… He does it through the forgiveness of sins.  As you have received the absolution of God through the gospel of Jesus Christ this morning, it is God’s will that when you leave this place but not His presence, you too, would say along with Stephen, when someone does you harm, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”  Can you forgive as simply and freely as Stephen?  Yes, indeed you can, with God’s strong Word working within you!  AMEN!