Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Live Out Loud


Live Out Loud

 

You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you.  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,  who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it.”– Acts 7:51-53

Stephen is often remembered most for his death.  He was the first Christian Martyr recorded in God’s word.  But in his life, Stephen shows tremendous boldness in his faith.  He lived out loud, seeing the gift of salvation through Christ as worthy of his full allegiance in the face of adversity.
Picture it.  Stephen has been lied against, and brought before the Sanhedrin of Jerusalem, just as Jesus was lied against and brought before the same religious court.  He is asked to speak for himself, just as Jesus was asked to speak for himself.  Stephen, having known the actions of the Sanhedrin against Jesus should have trembled in fear.  He should have been broken down to begging for his life.  He should have been forced to dispel the accusations brought against him.  But instead...he preaches.

He preaches of Joseph and how God was with him when his brothers were against him. He preached about Moses being born in a time when he should have died, but being placed in a basket and found in the water.  He told of Moses being raised in the Pharaoh of Egypt’s house, but forced to leave.  He told of his return to serve his people’s freedom.  He preached the parting of the red sea, the laws being given to the Israelites while they were in the wilderness, the sin of idolatry that continually was committed by the Israelites, and finally, the temple built by Solomon.  None of this was news to the Sanhedrin.  They were experts at religious history.
But then Stephen crossed that thin line, and instead of preaching history that the Sanhedrin would accept, he preached from the Holy Spirit within him what would not be accepted.  In Acts 7:48-50 he quotes from the book of Isaiah, and says, “However, the Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands, as the prophet says, ‘Heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool.  What house will you build for Me? says the Lord, or what is the place of My rest? Has My hand not made all these things?’”.

The Sanhedrin were very proud, religious people.  Being proud of the temple in which they served, they rejected God’s words regarding a temple not made with hands.  They had rejected the words of God saying that because His hands had made everything, they had nothing to offer Him. They continually walked in their religious ways trying to attain righteousness of their own law keeping.  Like most religious people, they had expertise at rationalizing and twisting the scriptures they didn’t like. 
Then it happened.  The Holy Spirit within Stephen saw their unwillingness to believe, and their hearts that were bent on killing Stephen just as they had crucified Christ.  Then the Holy Spirit proclaimed judgment against the Sanhedrin through the voice of Stephen.  He boldly cried out against those that held his life in their hands!

You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. 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, who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it.”( Acts 7:51-53)
Stephen allowed the Holy Spirit to speak through him, accusing his accusers at a time when most would have been begging for their life!  He charged them with the death of Christ.  He called them “betrayers and murderers”, laying the sins of lying and murder at their feet.  Jesus, in this same temple had recognized these same sins, and attributed them to Satan, saying in John 8:44, You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him“. The Sanhedrin would have remembered Jesus’ words when Stephen again pointed out their sins.  

Immediately, they ran at him, riotous, and took him out of the city and began to stone him.
What could the Holy Spirit working in Stephen have hoped to accomplish through his martyrdom?  Why did Stephen not remain silent when questioned with the possibility of going free?  In all our suffering and persecution the Holy Spirit is working to glorify God, to complete His work in all of us.

If we look around the stoning of Stephen, we see a man named Saul.  Saul was a professional Christian killer.  His job was to hunt them down and kill them.  He was well known throughout Jerusalem for his work.  And in doing that work, he learned quite a bit about the faith of Christians, and their beliefs.  There he stands, holding the robes of those who stoned Stephen, and watching as Stephen says “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” He listened as Stephen begged God to forgive even his own sins, and said “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.  He recognized how much Stephen was like Jesus in what he said when faced with death.
Etched in Saul’s memory would be the word of Stephen, brave beyond comprehension!  Forever written in his heart were the words of Stephen, asking God to forgive even him, as they took his life.  Saul was there to see Stephen living the Christian life out loud, and loving his enemies just as Jesus had taught. 

Having not experienced death first hand, perhaps this was the memory that Saul [Paul], had when he wrote 1 Corinthians 15:55-57, which says “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
How many times Paul would stand in court to give an account of his faith!  God had given him an example for those times long before his conversion by allowing Stephen to demonstrate the boldness of his faith.

Each day that we live, we are noticed by believers and non-believers alike.  Subconsciously, those who see how we live in Christ learn about Christianity from us.  It has been said that you may be the only Bible some will ever read.  In our victories, they see the power of the Holy Spirit within us, giving us strength to stand and face the trials we endure.  Saul may have thought he was in a courtroom the day that Stephen testified, but he was in God’s classroom. 
Who will you teach today?  What will others learn by watching you live out loud?

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