“Stephen was full of God’s grace and power. He did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people. But members of the group called the Synagogue of the Freedmen began to oppose him. Some of them were Jews from Cyrene and Alexandria. Others were Jews from Cilicia and Asia Minor. They all began to argue with Stephen. But he was too wise for them. They couldn’t stand up against the Holy Spirit who spoke through him. Then in secret they talked some men into lying about Stephen. They said, “We heard Stephen speak evil things against Moses. He also spoke evil things against God.” So the people were stirred up. The elders and the teachers of the law were stirred up too. They arrested Stephen and brought him to the Sanhedrin. They found people who were willing to tell lies. The false witnesses said, “This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place. He also speaks against the law. We have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place. He says Jesus will change the practices that Moses handed down to us.” All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked right at Stephen. They saw that his face was like the face of an angel.” Acts 6:8-15 NIRV
Much of what is sold today as Christianity, is simply not the true Christianity as it is revealed in the New Testament.
Christianity is not about what you do.
Or your neighbor.
It’s about God becoming your neighbor in Jesus Christ and, just as he did with his neighbor Lazarus, making you, who were stinking and dead in your sins, alive again.
Martin Luther said that the Gospel of salvation by grace alone in Christ alone through faith- not good works- alone condemns everything that we think is right and good in the world.
The Gospel of grace, which begins with us in the grave, offends our high anthropology, our high assessment of our goodness and abilities.
The Gospel of grace enrages us who are addicted to doing and using our doings as a way to elbow ourselves a notch or two above our neighbors.
The Gospel of grace upends the comforting system of merit and demerit by which we arrange our lives, navigate our relationships, and make sense of the world.
Think about it.
The Gospel of grace means you’ve been handed Christ’s own permanent perfect score, which makes all of our scorecards obsolete, which is offensive if you think you’ve earned a high score all on your own.
And it’s even more worse if you’re convinced someone deserves a low score because of what they’ve done to you.
Since most of us don’t really believe we’re sinners- We don’t really believe we’re greedy. We don’t really believe we’re unforgiving or inhospitable. We don’t really believe we’re racist or prejudiced or liars and hypocrites.
Since we don’t really believe we’re sinners, the Gospel message that you are not what you do is rude. It’s rude if you’re proud of the good you do.
When Stephen began preaching the gospel, the teachers of religion OPPOSED his theology and he was branded as a heretic!
One of the scariest moments for me when I am sharing the gospel, is when the person hearing me is not confused! Yes, I vividly remember that what led me to search more about the gospel was that I was confused!
“Then in secret they talked some men into lying about Stephen. They said, “We heard Stephen speak evil things against Moses. He also spoke evil things against God.””
Acts 6:11 NIRV
Most of what is preached in the church today can best be described as GLAWSPEL( a mixture of law and gospel)
A lot of churches have made something other than the Gospel thing the main thing.
The church today does package and sell Christianity in terms of its #utility:
-spiritual practices to relieve stress,
-biblical principals for daily living,
-how to be a Christian parent,
-how to have a happy Christian marriage.
There’s nothing wrong with any of those things, per se.
They’re just not the main thing
Rather than the Gospel news that though you are unrighteous, dead in your sins in fact, God has reckoned Christ’s righteousness to you as your own- rather than that, a lot of Christianity out there wants you to prove your righteousness based on where you stand on a particular political/social issue.
It makes social justice the main thing.
It makes community building the main thing.
It makes serving the needy and the neighbor the main thing.
Again, not that social justice isn’t worthy and urgent. Not that building community isn’t part of the church community’s task. Not that serving the needy and loving our neighbor aren’t works that God puts before us and places us into.
They’re just not the main thing.
The Gospel is not a blank screen on to which we can project whatever Jesus-flavored thing we wish.
“They found people who were willing to tell lies. The false witnesses said, “This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place. He also speaks against the law.”
Acts 6:13 NIRV
The true preaching of the gospel is always dangerous and heresy to the good, religious folks. It strips them of their religious pride and control.
The Church is not a social program. It’s not a charity. It’s not a fellowship group.
It can include all of those things, but the Church, as Paul tells the Corinthians, is an embassy of the Gospel. We’re the only business, the only institution on earth given the authority to proclaim the forgiveness of sins. And we do so by our worship. We do so by our preaching and writing. We do so in bible study with our children. We do so by serving our needy neighbors. Work that isn’t “help.” Work where we are ambassadors for the Gospel.
If the gospel you have received doesn’t bring you charges of heresy and opposition from the religious elite, you have believed the wrong gospel. Stephen was the first to be stoned to death not because he was found committing adultery, no, rather he was falsely accused of preaching against the law.
THINK ABOUT THAT!
Soli Deo Gloria!