Damariscotta Baptist Church
Tuesday, October 23, 2018
Growing personal relationships with God and community

04/24/16 Sermon - The Beat Goes On

“The Beat Goes On”

Acts Chapter 7

 

Before we begin the reading of today’s Scripture, it is important to remember what occurred in chapter 6. Since it has been a while since we talked about it, I want to go over a few things before we begin the reading of Acts 7. Chapter 7 is Stephen’s reply to the high priest asking him it the charges against him are true. His reply becomes the final moments of his life before he becomes the first martyr, after Jesus, for the Christian faith.

The Greeks however would have called Stephen a martyr, back in chapter 6, because the Greek root word, martus, simply means “someone who is called to bear witness in matters of justice/injustice”.

When we first read of Stephen, that is exactly what he was called to do, along with six other men who were “filled with the Spirit and of wisdom”.

Their responsibility was to bear witness to a grave injustice that threatened the growing body of Christ. There were widows, who were of Greek decent, known as “Hellenists”, who represented the vulnerable/dispossessed/oppressed of the New Testament.

Stephen and the other “table waiters” or deacons had the humble occupation of being in direct contact with this easy-to-overlook people in society, yet, who occupied a special place in Jesus’ heart.

Stephen must have been doing an excellent job, because in verse 8 of chapter 6 he gains unwanted attention from the powerful religious Jewish council, and they want him out. They trump up false accusations against him and have him brought before the Sanhedrin, to be tried for attempting to change the customs Moses handed down to them.

Before Stephen began his sermon, we are told the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen and his face was like the face of an angel.

It is with an angelic face, Stephen proceeds to berate the Jewish leaders for not only murdering Jesus, the Messiah, but for being part of a perpetual string of Jewish leaders who have been brutal and nasty since the beginning of the Jewish faith, with Father Abraham.  Stephen reminds the Sanhedrin that there has always been a division within the Jewish faith of those who followed God and those who were “stiff-necked” and did their own thing.

Above all, Stephen declares this “stiff necked” group has opposed the Holy Spirit.

Which of the prophets did their ancestors not persecute? Throughout time there have been Jewish leaders who killed anyone who foretold of the coming of the righteous one, the Messiah, and now Stephen was claiming that the men sitting as jury against him were aligning themselves with the strain of Israelites who enjoy their human power over the benevolence of God.

I am not surprised by the response of the Jewish audience, who had been listening to this monologue. They obviously had a different interpretation of the history of Israel, as well as other explanations of why Jesus died on a cross.

What is difficult to comprehend, is why “the beat goes on”? The fact is, in our twenty-first century world execution by stoning is still practiced, amongst countries who use the practice to keep women, especially, in line with their rigid views of the world.

The vulnerable and oppressed are forced to remain that way by those with more power and might. It would be nice if we could say that at least the Christian church has not acted in a brutal manner, but alas even the history of the Christian church has two sides, beginning with the Crusades. I would like to think we have at last improved and no longer discriminate, however, we know that is not true.

And yet, in the midst of the Sanhedrin’s denial of guilt and demonstration of power over right, there was a glimpse of light.

Although at the time it was not seen as a light, we read in verse 58, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.”

This is the first mention of the great apostle missionary to the Gentiles. And as we will discover as we continue in our study of Acts, Paul will meet Jesus and commit his life to taking the gospel, to the ends of the earth, instead of killing those who do so.

One never knows who is listening, and who God will use to further His Kingdom.

The message Stephen gave that day, may not have been the side Saul was on when he first heard it. But after meeting Jesus face to face, his life was turned upside-down and Paul joined forces with Stephen in living out the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Although we may not be placed before a jury of peers, like Stephen, and demanded to defend our beliefs, we still need to be willing to be martyrs in the Greek sense, witnesses to injustice, and stewards of God’s gifts.

And then, like Stephen, we need to follow in Jesus’ footsteps and pray that the sins committed against us, not be used against our accusers.

Was it that particular prayer, that allowed angels to direct Saul down the road to Damascus?

The impact of Stephen’s witness and forgiveness was seen by the ruthless, hard-hearted Saul, and was not forgotten.  God’s grace continued after Stephen’s death through Paul, with great power.

If the likes of Saul can be changed to the likes of Paul, There is hope for anyone.

May God’s grace, be the beat that goes on.