- Sermon Notes
Telling The Truth That is to Die For
Illus. To Die For?
In our text today, we will see a young man named Stephen, who considered the truth of Jesus Christ, a truth that he was willing to die for. Stephen was willing and he would die for the cause of Christ, he has been known throughout history as the first Christian martyr. The word martyr is defined as “a person who willingly suffers death rather than renounce their faith.” But what I find interesting is that the English word “martyr” is a word that is transliterated from an original Greek word, which means “witness.”
A witness is someone who gives testimony based on what they know, and it seems strange that a words with this meaning would transliterate into the word “martyr” until we learn why this happened. The reason is, the word “witness” became synonymous with dying for one’s religious beliefs because the Christian witnesses were often persecuted or killed because of their willingness to be witnesses of Jesus Christ.
Acts 1:8, You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and Samaria, and as far as the remotest part of the earth.
Jesus said His disciples would be His witnesses in the world. A witness gives testimony based upon what they know. Jesus said that would be His witnesses, so they would tell the world what they know about who they know. Jesus said, you will be my witnesses, my martyrs…You will lay down your life for me…And today we study the story of Stephen who did just that, literally.
We are first introduced to Stephen as one who is amongst a group of those who had “a good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom.” This group was chosen by the Apostles to serve tables, but Stephen was going above and beyond, we see his story more fully as the chapter goes on.
Read: Acts 6:8-15
1 Peter 3:15, …Always be ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you…
I. Always Be Ready to Say What is So
• Verse 8 gives us important details about Stephen, we learn that he was full of grace, power, and was performing great wonders and signs among the people.
Acts 6:9-10, But some men from what was called the Synagogue of the Freedmen, including both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and argued with Stephen. But they were unable to cope with his wisdom and the Spirit by whom he was speaking.
• That the men against him “rose up,” indicates that Stephen’s ministry not only got them out of their chair, but that they were stirred to action in hopes of stopping his ministry.
• The men came from the Synagogue of the Freedmen, Cyreneans, Alexandrians, and those from Cilicia and Asia.
• The men come from various places, they were likely associated with a variety of different synagogues, and they rise up to argue with Stephen.
• But they end up with a problem on their hands, Stephen was full of wisdom and the Spirit. Verse 10 makes clear that they were unable to cope with him and his wisdom.
• In other words, they could not find a way to withstand his wisdom. They were unable to argue with him and win.
Acts 6:11, They secretly induced men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.”
• “They secretly induced” is one Greek word, which means to instruct privately, instigate, bribe, or convince to give false testimony.
• Their false accusation? Blasphemy, to mock or insult God, or speaking evil of what God deems sacred. Blasphemy was a very serious crime, punishable with death by stoning (Leviticus 24:16).
Acts 6:12, And they stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes, and they came up to him and dragged him away and brought him before the Council.
• Being “dragged away” is to be seized with violence. They dragged him away and brough him before the council.
• The Council is the Jewish Sanhedrin, the Jewish supreme court. Standing before the Jewish supreme court, false witnesses are put forth…
Acts 6:13-14, They put forward false witnesses who said, “This man does not stop speaking against this holy place and the Law; for we have heard him say that this Nazarene, Jesus, will destroy this place and change the customs which Moses handed down to us.”
• These false accusations may seem familiar to many of you. It reminds of false accusation applied to Jesus.
Matthew 26:59-64, Now the chief priests, the elders, and all the council sought false testimony against Jesus to put Him to death but found none. Even though many false witnesses came forward, they found none. But at last two false witnesses came forward and said, “This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days.’”
• Many false witnesses came forth with clear lies, and finally two come forward with a partial truth that was a whole lie… “This man stated, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to rebuild it in three days.’”
• What Jesus actually said is found in John 2:21 where, referring to Himself, He said, “Destroy THIS temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
• Jesus was referring to His own body.
• Accusations for speaking the same way come upon Stephen just a couple of months after Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection and ascension.
• In Stephen’s case, the false witnesses came up with a three-fold fabrication. They said he was speaking blasphemous words against God, blasphemous words against Moses, and blasphemous words against the temple.
• These are the accusations and in Acts 7:1, as Stephen stands before the Sanhedrin, the high priest asks him a question:
Acts 7:1, The high priest said, “Are these things so?”
• And Stephen would not stay silent, rather he knew the work of Jesus Christ that had already been done, so rather than given a simple “yes,” or a simple “no,” Stephen goes into an incredible historical witness to share the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ based on Jewish history.
Illus. His Audience.
II. Make Clear What Your World Needs to Hear
• After verse one of chapter 7, there are 59 more verses. For the next 53 of those verses, Stephen gives a sermon, he gives what Peter tells us we should do when we are asked about the hope we have, he gives a defense. He is ready to say what is so, based upon the Scriptures and historical facts those he stood before would know.
Luke 12:11-12, Now when they bring you before the synagogues and the officials and the authorities, do not worry about how or what you are to speak in your defense, or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.
• He is on trial, with severe accusations and he is asked an important question: “are these things so?” Though the accusations were false, he does not deny or answer with a simple “no,” rather, he will go to great lengths to make clear what his world needed to hear.
• Stephen, in his sermon, gives a summarization of Scripture based on the accusations. He does this throughout the longest recorded sermon and chapter in the book of Acts.
• Remember the accusations: They said he was speaking blasphemous words against God, blasphemous words against Moses, and blasphemous words against the temple.
• Stephen will show from Old Testament history that the Jews had constantly rejected God’s message, His prophets, and that the current Jewish leaders had rejected the Messiah, God’s son.
• Many names and subjects are shared throughout his sermon: He starts it off by calling God “the God of glory,” then Abraham (verse 2 to 9), Isaac, Jacob, the twelve patriarchs, the onto Joseph (Verses 9 to 18) and his relationship with the patriarchs, then to Moses, the tabernacle, David, Solomon, and the temple.
• Three main points are made:
o First, that Israel’s history is the history of God’s acts in the world.
o Secondly, people worshipped God long before there was a temple because God does not live in a temple.
o Thirdly, He draws parallels from the past and then points out that the Jewish leader’s rejection of Jesus was another example of many that displayed Israel’s rebellion against and rejection of God.
• He begins the sermon by calling God “the God of Glory.” And in the end, he will see God’s glory (Verse 55).
• As he recites realities of Jewish history, he will point them to the reality that God is not confined to a temple made by human hands, that time and time again the Israelites had rejected God’s chosen leaders and deliverers.
• One parallel he draws is between Jesus the Savior and Joseph, who was rejected and sold into slavery but ended up saving his people from famine.
• It was then during a time of famine that Joseph’s brothers go to Egypt for help. They stand before second in command in all the land, not recognizing that it was Joseph their brother.
• It wasn’t until the second visit that they would be questioned and come clean that they had rejected their brother…It is then and there that Joseph reveals who he is.
• They came first, but it was the second time that they understood. That’s Joseph. They didn’t recognize him until his second coming. They rejected him at the first coming. They received him and understood, this is our deliverer, at the second coming.
• When Stephen finishes, he will say to the Sanhedrin, “You’re just like your fathers.” They rejected the one that would save them.
Revelation 1:7, Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him.
• The people needed to hear these stories, Stephen knew it and was applying history to what was happening presently.
• As he continues through Jewish history, Stephen points those accusing him of blasphemy of the reality of their own history with Moses in verses 20-44.
Acts 7:39, Our fathers were unwilling to be obedient to him; on the contrary they rejected him and turned back to Egypt in their hearts.
• Giving the headlines of Jewish history, Stephen was making clear what the people needed to hear, but they did not want to hear.
• He made clear that he was not guilty of blasphemy against God, Moses, and the Temple. Rather, he pointed them back to the proper interpretations of their own history…Still they were unwilling to see.
Illus. Looking differently.
Acts 7:51-53, “You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did. Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, and you have now become betrayers and murderers of Him; you who received the Law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it.”
• They were stiff-necked toward the Holy Spirit, unwilling to listen and respond.
• He gave them the history, and then asks them personally, “which one the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, and you have become betrayers and murderers of Him.
Acts 7:54-57, Now when they heard this, they were infuriated, and they began gnashing their teeth at him. But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, looked intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” But they shouted with loud voices, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one mind.
• Certainly, there are situations we all face today, where we attempt to make clear what it is that our world needs to hear, but they simply close their ears.
• And that is what is happing literally here.
Illus. What are they doing?
• Note verse 54, they were infuriated, they began gnashing their teeth at him, Gnashing is grinding, grr. They are filled with hatred and anger.
• In contrast, Stephen was filled with the Holy Spirit. They’re filled with hate, filled with rage.
• He told them about the history and hope the Bible speaks about, they said nope. He told them the truth, what they needed to hear, and what do they do? They rush at him, shouting loudly and covering their ears.
• Stephen was telling them the truth, and it was the truth that he was willing to die for, but they would not listen. There were not willing to, they were stiff-necked, unwilling to hear what the Holy Spirit was saying to them personally.
• But there was someone looking on, someone involved in the scene that we know for a fact would soon turn his life to Christ personally. Saul of Tarsus, who will later be known as Paul.
Acts 7:58-60, When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul.
• Saul is there, and at this time he is angry against the church, but I truly wonder what he thought as he uncovered his ears and heard Stephen’s cries…
• Perhaps it was part of an unseen impact. And when you endeavor to make clear what your world needs to hear, and you do see the results you might prefer, know that heaven is on the horizon, and trust the Lord in the unseen.
• God was surely up to something as this scene is seen, but a man who would become one of the powerful men of God we have ever seen.
Illus. Hearing years later.
Acts 5:59-60, They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” Then he fell on his knees and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” Having said this, he fell asleep.
• Stephen had looked into heaven and seen Jesus Christ, His faith became sight, heaven was on the horizon, he understood fully as his faith became sight, that the truth he stood for was the truth worth dying for.
• As he looked toward heaven and saw Jesus Christ, he makes two statements that are very similar to the words of Jesus Christ while he was on the cross.
• In his dying moments he said Lord Jesus, receive my Spirit, and Lord, don’t hold this sin against them.
• Stephen saw Jesus, and when he saw Jesus, he spoke like Jesus, he stood for truth like Jesus, he faced adversity like Jesus, he was confident in where he was going like Jesus, and in his world, he had a heart of forgiveness, like Jesus.
Galatians 2:20, I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me…
• Verse 59, “Lord Jesus, receive my Spirit…”
• From Luke 23:46, we know Jesus said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
• And another striking similarity to the final moments of Christ’s life, Stephen prays for those stoning him… “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
Luke 23:34, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”
• That the Lord would offer forgiveness to those who stoned Stephen, to those who send Jesus Christ to the cross is something that should never be lost on us.
John 3:16, For God so loved the world, that He gave is only son, that whosoever believes in Him, shall not perish, but have eternal life.
Romans 5:6-8, You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
• The truth is, Jesus thought of you and me, and considered us worth dying for. He knew there would be salvation in no other name…It is the truth and will always be the truth that is to die for.
And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people. But some men from what was called the Synagogue of the Freedmen, including both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and argued with Stephen. But they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. Then they secretly induced men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.” And they stirred up the people, the elders and the scribes, and they came up to him and dragged him away and brought him before the Council. They put forward false witnesses who said, “This man incessantly speaks against this holy place and the Law; for we have heard him say that this Nazarene, Jesus, will destroy this place and alter the customs which Moses handed down to us.” And fixing their gaze on him, all who were sitting in the Council saw his face like the face of an angel.
The high priest said, “Are these things so?”
And he said, “Hear me, brethren and fathers! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, and said to him, ‘Leave your country and your relatives, and come into the land that I will show you.’ Then he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran. From there, after his father died, God had him move to this country in which you are now living. But He gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot of ground, and yet, even when he had no child, He promised that He would give it to him as a possession, and to his descendants after him. But God spoke to this effect, that his descendants would be aliens in a foreign land, and that they would be enslaved and mistreated for four hundred years. ‘And whatever nation to which they will be in bondage I Myself will judge,’ said God, ‘and after that they will come out and serve Me in this place.’ And He gave him the covenant of circumcision; and so Abraham became the father of Isaac, and circumcised him on the eighth day; and Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob of the twelve patriarchs.
“The patriarchs became jealous of Joseph and sold him into Egypt. Yet God was with him, and rescued him from all his afflictions, and granted him favor and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and he made him governor over Egypt and all his household.
“Now a famine came over all Egypt and Canaan, and great affliction with it, and our fathers could find no food. But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent our fathers there the first time. On the second visit Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and Joseph’s family was disclosed to Pharaoh. Then Joseph sent word and invited Jacob his father and all his relatives to come to him, seventy-five persons in all. And Jacob went down to Egypt and there he and our fathers died. From there they were removed to Shechem and laid in the tomb which Abraham had purchased for a sum of money from the sons of Hamor in Shechem.
“But as the time of the promise was approaching which God had assured to Abraham, the people increased and multiplied in Egypt, until there arose another king over Egypt who knew nothing about Joseph. It was he who took shrewd advantage of our race and mistreated our fathers so that they would expose their infants and they would not survive. It was at this time that Moses was born; and he was lovely in the sight of God, and he was nurtured three months in his father’s home. And after he had been set outside, Pharaoh’s daughter took him away and nurtured him as her own son. Moses was educated in all the learning of the Egyptians, and he was a man of power in words and deeds. But when he was approaching the age of forty, it entered his mind to visit his brethren, the sons of Israel. And when he saw one of them being treated unjustly, he defended him and took vengeance for the oppressed by striking down the Egyptian. And he supposed that his brethren understood that God was granting them deliverance through him, but they did not understand. On the following day he appeared to them as they were fighting together, and he tried to reconcile them in peace, saying, ‘Men, you are brethren, why do you injure one another?’ But the one who was injuring his neighbor pushed him away, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and judge over us? You do not mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday, do you?’ At this remark, Moses fled and became an alien in the land of Midian, where he became the father of two sons.
“After forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in the flame of a burning thorn bush. When Moses saw it, he marveled at the sight; and as he approached to look more closely, there came the voice of the Lord: ‘I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.’ Moses shook with fear and would not venture to look. But the Lord said to him, ‘Take off the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground. I have certainly seen the oppression of My people in Egypt and have heard their groans, and I have come down to rescue them; come now, and I will send you to Egypt.’
“This Moses whom they disowned, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’ is the one whom God sent to be both a ruler and a deliverer with the help of the angel who appeared to him in the thorn bush. This man led them out, performing wonders and signs in the land of Egypt and in the Red Sea and in the wilderness for forty years. This is the Moses who said to the sons of Israel, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brethren.’ This is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness together with the angel who was speaking to him on Mount Sinai, and who was with our fathers; and he received living oracles to pass on to you. Our fathers were unwilling to be obedient to him, but repudiated him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt, saying to Aaron, ‘Make for us gods who will go before us; for this Moses who led us out of the land of Egypt—we do not know what happened to him.’ At that time they made a calf and brought a sacrifice to the idol, and were rejoicing in the works of their hands. But God turned away and delivered them up to serve the host of heaven; as it is written in the book of the prophets, ‘It was not to Me that you offered victims and sacrifices forty years in the wilderness, was it, O house of Israel? You also took along the tabernacle of Moloch and the star of the god Rompha, the images which you made to worship. I also will remove you beyond Babylon.’
“Our fathers had the tabernacle of testimony in the wilderness, just as He who spoke to Moses directed him to make it according to the pattern which he had seen. And having received it in their turn, our fathers brought it in with Joshua upon dispossessing the nations whom God drove out before our fathers, until the time of David. David found favor in God’s sight, and asked that he might find a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. But it was Solomon who built a house for Him. However, the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands; as the prophet says:
‘Heaven is My throne,
And earth is the footstool of My feet;
What kind of house will you build for Me?’ says the Lord,
‘Or what place is there for My repose?
‘Was it not My hand which made all these things?’
“You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did. Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it.”
Now when they heard this, they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him. But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one impulse. When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul. They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” Having said this, he fell asleep.