Welcomed into Glory
Welcomed into Glory
We have a sobering passage to look at today. It is an important one for all of us to understand. We are going to read about the first Christian martyr, the first person killed for his faith. Most Christians like talking about the good times, even expectations and hopes of God providing for their needs, but will shun the hard moments and the disappointing parts of life. Treat like a bad grade. Scripture doesn’t do that and we need to learn what to make of these times.
In Tim Keller’s book “Walking with God through Pain and Suffering”, he speaks about a book Elizabeth Elliot wrote in 1966 called “No Graven Image” (p, 172). Elizabeth Elliot was the wife of Jim Elliot, a missionary to the Auca Indians in Ecuador who in 1956 was speared to death by the people he was trying to share the gospel with.
Her book was about a young unmarried woman named Margaret who had dedicated her life to translating the Bible for remote indian tribes. Key to her work was the discovery of a man named Pedro who knew the unwritten language of the people she was trying to reach. He began to teach Margaret the language and to translate the Bible.
One day, as Margaret is thinking about all the incredible progress being made and how Pedro was such a key part to her mission to share Jesus, she arrives at Pedro’s home and discovers he has an infected painful wound in his leg. Margaret is trained to provide ordinary medical care, Pedro asks for medicine, so she administers a shot of penicillin to him. Pedro then has an allergic reaction and goes into anaphylactic shock, his body starts convulsing. His wife screams “can you see he is dying?”
Margaret prays for God to save Pedro’s life, kneeling down and saying “Father, if you have never heard me before, hear me now.” …And after a little while… Pedro dies. Margaret realizes all her work comes to an end.
People were outraged at this story. You may be upset at it, too. You come to church to get a warm fuzzy. People couldn’t believe she wrote this story and said God would never allow that to happen. Elizabeth Eliot said, ~“this is my story. This is exactly what happened to me.”
The theme of Elizabeth Elliot’s work is that to trust God when we do not understand him is to treat him as God and not as another human, and not as the means to having our needs met. He is God and we serve him and his plans. We serve him when things are going well and when they are not.
So far in the book of Acts everything has gone well for the disciples. They have had difficult situations but God has gotten them out of it. People opposed them and they have been provided for. But in Acts 6:9 opposition arises, a disciple named Stephen, the same one chosen to care for the widows, is falsely accused by the Jews. Stephen responds to their accusations with a powerful sermon on what God was doing in the temple, the land, the law, and how the Israelites repeatedly rejected it. The people do not want to hear it so they cover their ears and stone him to death.
We are going to read the account of his death and his final words to see:
We honor God in everything
because Jesus vindicates our suffering
in the life to come.
Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. 55 But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. 58 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:54-60 ESV)
- Stephen is wrongfully Killed
Stephen is one of the people chosen to oversee the ministry to widows and their daily distribution. He was a man full of the Spirit and wisdom (v3), and in verse 8 we see he is also full of grace and power. He was performing great wonders, probably praying for people.
With great steps forward comes great opposition.
Reminder that as Christians we should be praying for people. It’s not just what we believe, but also what we do. Not just doctrines about God but that God is present with us.
First, the opposition is about doctrines and propositions. It is a debate, but these people were unable to stand up against Stephen’s wisdom and Spirit.
When people are against you they are against you. Logic, science, the facts don’t matter. They could not win the debate so they went to another tactic.
[V11 they secretly persuaded some men to say, “We heard him speaking blasphemous words against Moses and God.”
They stirred up the crowd. That word is used of paying someone secretly to act a certain way. So this is what they resort to doing.
[V14 “For we heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy the customs that Moses handed down to us.”
This is partly true. Stephen will give a speech or sermon in his defense, that is not so much to defend himself and get him off the hook, but more to explain to them God’s intent from the very beginning.
The land, the law, the temple. There is an assumption that because Israel has these things that they are good, that they are in a right place with God. They have the law but they have ignored it. They have the land but they have not honored God. They have the temple but have worshipped idols in it. They have rejected God in the past, and now they continue rejecting God by rejecting Jesus.
He points out the problem of his own people, the Jews, opposing God. God’s people reject God.
- v9 The patriarchs became jealous of Joseph and sold him into Egypt, but God was with him and rescued him from all his troubles.
- When Moses came to the rescue of his people and avenged an Egyptian oppressing them, they did not understand v25. V26 the next day he shows up to separate a fight between his own people and the one mistreating his brother said “Who appointed you ruler and judge over us. Do you want to kill me the same way you killed the Egpyian”.
- Stephen makes clear what the people’s problem is
[V51 “You stiff necked people with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are always resisting the Holy Spirit. As your ancestors did, you also do. Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute.
- [V53 “You received the law under the direction of angels and yet have not kept it.”
God’s servants have always been opposed. At times by Egypt and Pharaoh. At other times by Israel and his own brothers.
If you serve Jesus you are going to experience opposition. It might be small. It might be big.
You could say that the Jews were suffering from a sense of entitlement. All these things God had done with his people. You might be envious of them and want to be a Jew. But all those things without a true relationship with God don’t mean a thing. Hey, look at my wedding ring, look at these pictures of my wedding, look at our house. Meanwhile you don’t talk to your wife, you’re living in separate bedrooms, and she can’t stand you. Those things mean nothing. You need healing, you need to follow Jesus.
Not unlike things in our country. I think many Christians have a sense of entitlement. People ought to be following Jesus today! Think people should just be coming into our churches and bible studies and can’t figure out why they aren’t? We don’t go out and show them the love of Christ and share about redemption, and are convinced the problem is with others.
Christians were lamenting the options to choose from this past election. Problems with each candidate and not lining up with what they would want in a leader. Are you discipling? Are you helping people discover what God is calling them to do? How can we be surprised our nation is not turning to Christ if Christians are not engaging in that and moving toward people.
Stephen was opposed by his own people. It happens to him – it will happen to you.
- Stephen is captivated by the glory of God.
V55 he saw the glory of God.
V2 The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham.
The God of glory. Do you know the God of glory? Many people know the God that is a cop watching over everything you do to punish you for not doing it. The God who is the parent meddling in everything you do. The God who is a wet blanket smothering all your fun. That’s not the true God.
The God of glory. Clothed in splendor and majesty. The one whose glory is so great that in heaven the sun will not be needed. Glory: end of the super bowl, winning of an Emmy, won the race: celebration, rejoicing, greatness. We have this in Jesus.
Why would Abraham leave his house, his family, his land and go to somewhere he had never been. Because the God of glory called to him. Why would Moses give up being a prince in the wealthiest nation of the time.
[By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. 27 By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. 28 By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them. 29 By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned. (Hebrews 11:24-29 ESV)
This is the reason we follow Christ. Because we are looking ahead to our reward. If we wanted stuff now we wouldn’t serve him. But we believe he is our reward. He is our glory.
Ecclesiastes calls it a chasing after the wind. You grab for it and it leaves you empty. There is no substance. There is no glory. Glory is real, it is beautiful, it is good, it is holy, it endures, it is weighty.
God is glorious and he allows us into his glory. Jesus died so your sins, mistakes, the things you want to hide can be wiped away and you are clothed in glory.
This is what motivates us to live for him. The glory of the world is fading. This is why Abraham leaves everything. It is why Stephen faces opposition to tell others of Jesus.
It is why he can be wronged and still forgive them!
[V60 “He knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them! And after saying this, he died.”
Famous last words.
-The French philosopher Voltaire, who once said “In twenty years Christianity will be no more. My single hand shall destroy the edifice it took 12 aposltes to rear.” But when he died, he cried in desperation, “I am abandoned by God and man.”
Contrast that with other Christians:
John Wesley’s final words were “The best of all is, God is with us. The best of all is, God is with us. The best of all is, God is with us. Farewell.”
Adoniram Judson, the great American missionary to Burma, suffering immensely, said “I go with the gladness of a boy bounding away from school, I feel so strong in Christ.”
To forgive those who opposed you. To forgive those who hated you. To forgive those who killed you. It is so contrary to the world that it must be from heaven. It is so unnatural that it must be supernatural.
The world can hardly forgive one who has done nothing wrong, but to forgive one who has done everything wrong is impossible, apart from Jesus.
How is the glory of God that comes in the future changing the way you live, the way you suffer, the way you are wronged?
- Stephen is vindicated by Jesus
Our day of vindication is not now. It is to come. You are going to go through hardship and suffering now.
I think about sharing this message with the church I pastor. Many of you are going to go through hardship. Some of you are going to have hardships because of your faith. Everyone will be mocked at some point. Don’t back down because of that. Some will have people debate you. Do your best and keep going to God for things you don’t understand, he will lead you through it. Some of you are going to have people attack you. I wish it were not so. I would like to stop it. But what grounds me in knowing all that is that Jesus is the chief shepherd. He is in control of all things. And he will vindicate you. As parents that is your ultimate hope!
Stephen’s last vision is of Jesus standing at the right hand of God. Do you know all the passages that speak of Jesus in heaven on his throne he is sitting (Rev 4:4, rev 21:5, col 3:1, eph 1:20)? But here Stephen’s last words are that he sees Jesus standing. Arms wide open and welcoming him into his kingdom. He stands to welcome this faithful servant into his kingdom. Jesus delivers his people. The enemy may triumph in this life but he will not triumph long.
Someone can take my life but they can’t take my eternity.
When tempted to fear you tell yourself this. I don’t know what may happen in life, but I know that if I remain in Jesus everything will be OK. My hope is not in politics, it’s not in medicine, it’s not in me being a better person, and many things/causes that want my attention and devotion right now just don’t matter.
If I can trust Jesus with a group of people about to stone me, I can trust him with all the fears that are in my head. I can trust him even though I may not be the most popular. I can trust him even if I am an outcast in my family or office. I can trust him even if I am made fun of or don’t measure up to others.
If Jesus receives us into his kingdom what does it matter if others are against us. They couldn’t separate Stephen for one second from his Savior.
The world is going to come at you. Tell you you’re wrong, plug their ears and try to beat you down. Are you going to follow Jesus or are you going to follow the world? One leads to life and one leads to death. One leads to freedom and one leads to fear.
When we look at the hard times in life we find just how great our hope is. Hope that Jesus will welcome us into his glory.
We have something worth dying for. If you don’t have that you don’t really have something worth living for. I’ll give my life for this. I won’t do that for politics, or masks or no masks, but for the door to heaven I’ll do that.
Serving God leads to the greatest freedom. If you are scared of dying you are never going to truly live because you are bound by fear. If you are scared of losing control you are going to lose your life trying to keep everything in perfect order.
Lay down your fear. Lay down your agenda. Jesus is the way, the truth, the life. He brings us into his glorious kingdom. And you will not taste it, if you do not give up living for the world.
Stop making excuses saying you can’t because… you are this way, this happened to you, too weak too slow, too scared. Just follow him.