Acts 7:1- 53 This man Stephen. What a man full of grace and the Holy Spirit! They basically put Stephen on trial for proclaiming Jesus is the only way to heaven and that Jesus is the Son of God. He is taking his stand for this whole thing. In Matthew 16:24 Jesus says, “Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Here is where Stephen is taking up “his” cross and following Jesus no matter what. Now, the weird thing about this is he is having to defend himself to the religious leaders of the day. There is something very wrong with this picture, but Stephen has ruffled their feathers to the point that they want to kill him to stop the message he is sharing. These Jews could not get beyond their own preconceived ideas about who the messiah would be and how he would enter the world. Jesus upset their apple cart by coming as a man and dying on a cross. He also messed up their lives by declaring the real truth and exposing their self proclaimed laws that elevated them to high positions. Stephen tells the whole history of the coming of Jesus and brings it from the beginning to the present time through his spoken words. In verse 48 Stephen says a mouthful when he says,“Howerer, the most high does not live in houses made by men.” I was listening to some people talking the other day about witnessing and one person said I started witnessing to a lady and I asked her, “Do you go to church?” I thought, “What does that have to do with anything?” I guess we could give the excuse that it helps us establish where they are spiritually. Or does it? Everything we do has become so institutional and confined to buildings that it has lost it’s everyday power in our individual lives. I guess that could be why people of faith who have established their faith by attending a church building have such weak faith. That could be why the fighting and backbiting in the church actually takes place. Because our faith is more established on a building than a relationship. Some will smooth it over and say, “Oh, it is both.” When in reality it isn’t. Stephen was really hammering the point when at the end of his monologue he says in verses 51-53, “You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your father did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him- you who have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it.”
How do we know we are stiff necked?
1. We make rules that elevate us but we don’t even follow in our daily lives.
2. We proclaim that Jesus is Lord in the church building but never outside in our daily life.
3. We want our way in everything and reject Godly leadership that challenges us.
4. We never want to leave our comfort zone and step out in total faith believing Jesus.
Do you want to know how much Stephen believed in the purity of what Jesus did? Because he was willing to give his life for it. The message just burst out of him, because he couldn’t let the lies of those religious leaders be the message that people heard, instead of the true message of Jesus. Wow! What a great man Stephen was. His pure heart exposed the stiff-necked leaders and they hated him because of it.
What are you willing to do to stand for the purity of the gospel and the message of Christ? How will your message be received when you reveal truth. People will hate you. If we follow Stephen’s example we will be chastised and persecuted. Jesus spoke to this in Matthew 5:10 – Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” RIGHTEOUSNESS I kind of thought the persecution would come mainly from a lost and dying world, but if I look at this example, maybe not. Truth is no respecter of persons and cuts both ways. The Stiff Neck Syndrome is a terrible malady to have and those who have it are immersed in their sin, to the point of wanting to cover it up at all costs. So be careful when you stand for the truth. You never know who it may expose. The story below shows just how the sin of having a stiff neck can kill you from the inside out.
Radio personality Paul Harvey tells the story of how an Eskimo kills a wolf. The account is grisly, yet it offers fresh insight into the consuming, self-destructive nature of sin. “First, the Eskimo coats his knife blade with animal blood and allows it to freeze. Then he adds another layer of blood, and another, until the blade is completely concealed by frozen blood. “Next, the hunter fixes his knife in the ground with the blade up. When a wolf follows his sensitive nose to the source of the scent and discovers the bait, he licks it, tasting the fresh frozen blood. He begins to lick faster, more and more vigorously, lapping the blade until the keen edge is bare. Feverishly now, harder and harder the wolf licks the blade in the arctic night.
So great becomes his craving for blood that the wolf does not notice the razor-sharp sting of the naked blade on his own tongue, nor does he recognize the instant at which his insatiable thirst is being satisfied by his OWN warm blood. His carnivorous appetite just craves more–until the dawn finds him dead in the snow!”
It is a fearful thing that people can be “consumed by their own lusts.” Only God’s grace keeps us from the wolf’s fate.
The religious leaders of the day were so immersed in their thinking they were willing to kill someone of their own blood to satisfy their taste for power. Stephen called them out!!
If you have the Stiff Neck Syndrome. Stephen’s message to you is to”wake up.” The gospel will continue to thrive without you, but you can be a part of seeing it grow more and more through your willingness to serve. Free up your neck and free up your heart and see what God will do.
The Pilgrimage continues…