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Dying for Christ, like Christ Died for Me. Acts 7:54-8:3

18/12/2019

Dying for Christ, like Christ Died for Me.

Acts 7:54-8:3

In this passage we have have an account of a death.  A brave death, a martyr’s death; the death of Stephen, the first martyr.  In Stephen’s death we see a man who died as a Christian, who died as Christ had died, – one who lived and spoke and died for Jesus. 

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Let’s learn a little about that death.

 

1 The Effect of Convicting Doctrine.  v54  

Stephen had preached a sermon to these Jewish scholars and leaders. He give a short history of the great heroes of Israel and concludes by this passage…. 7:51 “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. 52 Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers, 53 who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it.” It is pure law – which Luther once described as ‘The Hammer of God.’ Now, look at the effects of this thundering, convicting preaching of the law…

  • The anger of the Jews.  They were cut to the heart.  Conviction strikes deep.  Note that it was their heart that was affected – not their mind.  Stephen’s sermon was aimed at the conscience, and that’s where it hurt.  
  • The actions of the Jews.  People do react strangely to sermons at times.  Think about these great men so utterly enraged by the way their consciences had exposed their sin and complete and criminality and hypocrisy and guilt before God and man, so maddened that they were standing literally grinding their teeth with rage.  Picture them in your mind, their faces warped with anger, their fists clenched, their shoulders tensed…. You know when a person is angry – they give out vibes – and the vibes that day were ominous indeed.

So Stephen has preached the gospel under the convicting power of the Holy Ghost, and the Jews are livid with rage as the word of God searches the hearts and convicts of sin.

 

2 The Example of a Christian Death.  

There is a great example for us in the way that Stephen faced his now certain death, his knowledge that life on this earth was about to end…

  • His Comforting Death. v55  
    • The stance of the Saviour.  Throughout the Bible, we are taught that Christ is SEATED at the right hand of God.  On this ONE occasion, he is depicted as STANDING!  As Stephen faces death he is aware of the presence of Jesus, who has stood to receive him! We stand as a mark of respect, don’t we?   The Son of God, who created the universe, who is by right entitled to SIT in the presence of God the Father, actually stands up to receive his martyred child!  
    • The identification of the Saviour.  Note that when Stephen sees the Saviour is is seen as THE SON OF MAN – rather than as the Son of God.  Again notice the importance of this.  There is a MAN in Glory!  God in Christ came into this world, God with us, – here on earth, when he ascended he took our humanity into heaven, as a reassurance that we too can have a place in His eternal kingdom.  We have a brother in glory!  
    • The welcome of the Saviour.  The heavens were opened to receive Stephen, 
  • His Cruel Death.  v57  They screamed.  They refused to listen to any more preaching, they ran upon him, and they were all of one mind.  They took him out and stoned him to death.  What would usually happen is that the condemned person would be taken out of the city, and physically thrown off a cliff, into a sharp ravine, where huge rocks would be rained down upon him.  It took quite some time for a man to die by this method of execution, the first few rocks just wouldn’t do enough damage, and traditionally, the people who did it were his accusers, in this case, the false witnesses and liars.  They had lifted the heavy rocks that would be needed, and cast them down upon Stephen. This was illegal under Roman law, but it didn’t stop them!  
  • His Christlike Death. v59-60 See that as Stephen died he prayed a prayer similar to that of Christ on the cross!  Luke 23:34  

What a great example of dying in Christ!  After many funerals grieving relatives will say, ‘He will be very greatly missed.’  In Stephen’s case, heaven’s gain was earth’s loss.  There was much mourning over his death.  Ch.8:2  

 

3 The Exacerbation of Creeping Depravity. 

Stephen’s Death is Sanctioned by Saul.  See how this is happened…

  • Succouring Persecution.  And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. Stoning a grown man to death is hard work.  It was a long task and heavy work in the blazing sun.  The executioners would normally remove most of their clothing, and ask someone standing nearby to mind their clothes.  That someone was a young Pharisee called Saul.  
  • Supporting Persecution.   8:1  There’s a lot of weight in that sentence.  Saul was a Pharisee.   Saul would have been fully aware that the charges against Stephen were false, lies fabricated by perfidious witnesses. AND HE STILL CONSENTED TO STEPHEN’S DEATH.  See the depth of his treachery and and deceit. He said, 1 Timothy 1:15  
  • Spreading Persecution.  Ch8:1-3 Saul was one of the chief protagonists in this dreadful persecution.  He enter the homes of Christian, no doubt with a band of paramilitary thugs from the Temple Guard, arresting men women and children and dragging them off for torture, imprisonment and execution.    Galatian 1:13-14    

See how the hatred in Saul’s heart grew.  It begins here with a simple act of minding someone’s coat, lending a hand, aiding and abetting a criminal offence – but it takes root in the heart, as he assents to the principle underlying their actions, and then furthers that hatred in destroying people’s lives.  How easily does the seed of sin grow in the human heart, if not recognised, confessed and repented of.

So Stephen died – a martyr’s death, at the hands of the Jews, and was received into heaven.  May we have the grace to face our own death, as he did, however that may happen.

© BobMcEvoy December 219

 

From → Acts, Bible Study

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