Speaking the Truth
The world is full of opinions. Opinions are like a plastic bottle floating in the ocean. It moves with the wind and the tides. Christianity is grounded in truth and when you are grounded in truth and you speak truth it always ruffles the feathers of those who like to be the bottle floating in the ocean, going with the flow. Truth will always cause a spark and there will always be someone against you. This morning we are going to take a look at the perils of speaking truth because not everyone will listen and not everyone wants to hear the truth. So as we look we will find at least three perils to speaking, which are, searing of the conscience, slander arising which cause schemes to ensue. Still the outcome for the one who speaks the truth and stays grounded in truth is receiving the stamp of God. Let's take a look at The Perils of Speaking Truth.
The perils of speaking the truth
The perils of speaking the truth
We see these perils in our passage this morning in Acts 6:8-15
8 And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people. 9 But some men from what was called the Synagogue of the Freedmen, including both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and argued with Stephen. 10 But they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. 11 Then they secretly induced men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.” 12 And they stirred up the people, the elders and the scribes, and they came up to him and dragged him away and brought him before the Council. 13 They put forward false witnesses who said, “This man incessantly speaks against this holy place and the Law; 14 for we have heard him say that this Nazarene, Jesus, will destroy this place and alter the customs which Moses handed down to us.” 15 And fixing their gaze on him, all who were sitting in the Council saw his face like the face of an angel.
The church has grown and Christianity has filled all of Jerusalem, it seems as though all those who were to be saved have been saved. The first part of the plan of giving the gospel to Jerusalem, Judah and Samaria and the ends of the earth is fulfilled. Now the gospel needs to move and we are introduced to the events that case the spread of the gospel to the ends of the earth. Luke has already introduced us to Stephen in verse 5 and his description of Stephen in verse 5 is 'a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit.' Now in verse 8 Luke adds more to the description of Stephen, he is 'full of grace and power,' and 'performing great wonders and signs.' God is using Stephen in a mighty way to spread the gospel message. It must be said that Stephen is a Hellenistic Jew and the fact that he is doing signs and wonders, I believe, has a lot to do with the fact that he is a Hellenistic Jew. The native born Jews spoke a more fluent Hebrew or Aramaic and so they would know more of the language and be able to argue Theological issues with one another in a clearer and fluid way. The Hellenistic Jews spoke Greek and taught in Greek, it was easier for them to understand the Greek then the Hebrew so Stephen was moving along through the community of the Hellenistic Jews and preaching and teaching and healing and performing these great wonders and signs.
Just like with the Apostles who found opposition in the religious leaders in Jerusalem, Stephen also found opposition with the leaders of the Hellenistic Jews. In verse 9 we find, "Some men from what was called the Synagogue of the Freedmen, including both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and argued with Stephen."
The "Synagogue of the Freedmen" is very interesting. Through out Jerusalem at this time there is reportedly some 400 synagogues in Jerusalem. This seems strange since the temple is there and that is the center of Israelite worship. The thing is in Jerusalem there are Israelites from all over who come for the feasts and many have chosen to stay so these Hellenistic Jews of Grecian Jews need a place to worship that teaches in a language they are more comfortable with. This is where they would go. Not much is known about the "Synagogue of the Freedmen," is this one synagogue or a synagogue that comprised of all these different people groups in this verse. It is very possible this is a group Stephen belonged to or not I don't know, text doesn't tell us but what I do know and what is clear is there are some Hellenistic Jews who are not happy with Stephen's teaching quit in the same way as the Jews weren't happy about the Apostles teaching.
These men heard what Stephen preached and they didn't like it and they were able to argue with him in a language they were accustomed to. It is very possible that Stephen was preaching and teaching in from of these synagogues in the same way the apostles were in the temple daily so were the Hellenistic Jews in front of the synagogues daily. The only thing Luke tells us about Stephen here is that he was performing signs and wonders. Signs and wonders as we have said was always used to authenticate the Word of God, so it is very safe to say Stephen was speaking the truth. This truth didn't go over well with these Hellenistic Jews. In fact, we find at the end of verse 9, they"rose up and argued with Stephen" This argument was not over the signs and wonders, it was over what it authenticated, God's Word. I want us to keep in mind when we are speaking truth in the world there are dangers to it and I want to encourage you this morning never to shy away from speaking truth, God's truth. That means, calling people out on sin, letting them know who God is and how He functions, what His word says. People are starving for truth and we have it at our disposal so we need to speak truth. But know that there will be those who have their conscience seared to the truth. This is our first peril, Seared Conscience.
First of all they hear the truth and they are driven to argue. What are they arguing, they are arguing against the truth. People don't like to be told they aren't obeying God, or that the things they are doing are contrary to what God has done or is doing. So they argue. The reason why is because their conscience is seared. The are perfectly content living the way they are and doing what they want and justifying their behavior. These members of the synagogue are not happy and as we find in verse 10 they also have a bit of a hard time arguing with Stephen. Look with me at verse 10, "But they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. They couldn't 'cope' or stand up against the wisdom and the Spirit of God who dwells and leads and speaks through Stephen. Catch this it is the foolishness of the world against the wisdom of God. When it comes to going up against truth, there is no way to refute it. Do you know what they are arguing about here. It is the fulfillment of what they have been taught all their lives. The fulfillment being in that the law was provided to point to a Savior and the Savior is Jesus Christ who is the Son of God who is God. All the fullness of deity dwelt within bodily form. God is truth and His word is reliable, Jesus is truth and His word is Truth. The problem is people as much as they say they want truth don't mean it, because when they hear truth they fight against it. The reason is because their conscience is seared. Their minds are cut off from the truth and mostly because all of their lives they have been taught that truth is something else. What I would like you to understand is here they are arguing from the same truth. The Hellenistic Jews are arguing from Scripture, the same Scripture Stephen is arguing from and we will see his argument in chapter 7. The problem is Stephen through the power of the Holy Spirit is looking at how the Scripture points to the Messiah and the fulfillment brought about by the coming of the Messiah and how Salvation is only through the Messiah. The Hellenistic Jews on the other hand are arguing for Salvation comes through obedience to the law of Moses. They will not listen to what Stephen has to say and not only do they not listen to it they even find themselves unable to ague or handle the truth Stephen is speaking. Keep this in mind when you are telling people the truth of Scripture, when you are telling people there is only one way to heaven and the law is there to show us we have sinned and everyone deserves death, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. People don't want to hear that because people don't want to have to answer for that. It is not like people don't believe a God exists that just don't want to have to answer for it.
I want to take a look at what Paul tells the Roman church in Romans 1:18-32;
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. 21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. 24 Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. 25 For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. 26 For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, 27 and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. 28 And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; 32 and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.
These men who are arguing with Stephen don't want to listen and can't cope with what Stephen's Spirit Filled Truth that they are left with one recourse, Slander. Slander Arises
Look with me at verses 11-12, "Then they secretly induced men to say, "We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.' And they stirred up the people, the elders and the scribes, and they came up to him and dragged him away and brought him before the Council.'' The plot is a secret one, which obviously is not a secret to Luke because Luke recounts the plot. This is to say there is nothing secret when it comes to conspiring against God and His servants. God knows everything and everything will be revealed. The plot goes as follows, "We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God." The conspiracy was well planned out they must have made sure to find the right amount of people and they even made sure the stories were the same or similar enough so the eyewitness accounts wouldn't be thrown out of court. The charges are interesting, they say Stephen has blasphemed Moses and God. This is Stephen has spoken against the Law of Moses which is held to the highest of respect and dignity and it is the law that the Israelites follow and obey. The Law of Moses and God are always held on the same level and it should be because the Law of Moses is the Law of God which Moses penned. The problem of course is the religious leaders of that day also looked to tradition and they followed more the men then God. Still the charges are set and the charges are a lie which will become evident in Stephen's amazing Spirit lead and Spirit filled sermon in Acts 7.
Never the less the accusations stirred up the people and not just the people but also the religious leaders and they brought Stephen before the council. It seems as though this encounter has become more violent then the last. When the apostles were arrested it was done without violence as to not cause a riot. Now those opposition is becoming more violent. It is possible they are more violent against Stephen because he is a Hellenistic Jew and they could have an issue with that. It is also very possible they are more violent because time has passed it is about a year since Jesus' crucifixion and this movement began so as time passes wounds heal and people are more apt to follow along in the purging of this heathen religion from their midst. It can also be that the spread of the gospel has caused such instability within the temple and others are preaching this message and they are becoming more and more organized that they just have no more self control and want to do away with this movement called the Way. I believe it is all three of these but I will have to see what the commentaries say about this. Regardless the council and the people want to do something about Stephen and this movement and what is interesting the only way to bring charges against Stephen is to lie.
These men have tried to argue with Stephen and lost and now in order to defeat Stephen they are going to break the law which they believe leads to salvation. There is irony here the hear the truth and counteract the truth with a lie. Look the only truth we have is in Scripture and the Scripture speaks against what these people are doing look at Proverbs 6:16-19
16 There are six things which the Lord hates, Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: 17 Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, And hands that shed innocent blood, 18 A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that run rapidly to evil, 19 A false witness who utters lies, And one who spreads strife among brothers.
This goes to prove one thing about these people who are trying to take Stephen out, they might believe the Law of Moses is the only way to Salvation but they obviously don't obey it. That is the problem with people who create their own truth they can twist it into what ever they want it to be. The standard can ebb and flow to suit their own needs. Now when it come to biblical truth, and truly trust God at His Word, the way you live life and handle situations should not ebb and flow but you should always handle it with the truth. One standard, one way and you follow it no matter how difficult it is and no matter how much people try to twist what you say and what you believe.
The Seared Conscience leads to slander, and the slander leads to the Scheme Intensifying.
In verses 13-14, we read, "They put forward false witnesses who said, 'This man incessantly speaks against this holy place and the Law; 14 for we have heard him say that this Nazarene, Jesus, will destroy this place and alter the customs which Moses handed down to us."
This is so ironic because these men in order to hold on to their religious system are putting forward false witnesses who are to bring charges against Stephen and the charges state Stephen is against God. When in reality they are the ones who are against God and against Moses. Stephen will provide a sermon very shortly which will flesh all of this out, it will point to Jesus being the fulfillment of the Mosiac Covenant, the Law points to Jesus. In the indwelling of the Holy Spirit we no longer have a need for the temple because the glory of the Lord doesn't need to dwell in a building of stone and wood but dwells in the hearts of the believer. Their zeal to hold fast to their traditions and practices is causing them to go against their own traditions and practices. They are demonstrating the fact that the building the stand in is just as empty as their own hearts. They have made a mockery of God and His Word and His temple. This is how they do this and they have been doing this for centuries.
What is even more interesting here is how much the Hellenistic Jews disregarded God's word and how much they didn't even understand God's plan. They have no problem speaking the name of Jesus, I would venture to guess because they didn't see the importance of what Jesus' name means in the Hebrew, God Saves. They didn't care about Jesus' exalted name and they weren't afraid of mentioning His name because they saw no power in His name. Much like society today doesn't understand the power in the name of Jesus, nor do they want to. In fact they call Him 'this Nazarene' which is not a compliment. They had no respect for those of Nazareth, remember Nathanael said to Philip in John 1:46, "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth." The slander continued as the Scheme intensified.
So these are the perils of speaking truth, it sears the conscience, leaders to slander to the point that a scheme intensifies, so what do you do, do you turn away from truth also, do you fight back, paying evil for evil? May it never be! Stand in the truth through these perils and what you will find is the Stamp of God imprinted on your heart. Just as Stephen had the Stamp of God on him.
Stamp of God
Stamp of God
Verse 15 is an incredible verse look at this verse with me, "And fixing their gaze on him, all who were sitting in the Council saw his face life the face of an angel." This is an interesting statement. They were all looking at Stephen intently, their eyes fixed on his face and as Luke describes, they 'saw his face like the face of an angel.' Now I am not sure exactly what this means. Is it a reference to his physical features, having a young look with very nice skin and looking innocent. Maybe there was a radiance about him that drew their eyes on him. If that is the case then there are some issues with that. Stephen is standing before the Council and as I know from Acts 7:1, the high priest is presiding and the issue with this is, he is a Sadducee and doesn't believe in angels and he would never bring this up. The other problem is, how many of the men sitting there presiding over this case have ever seen an angel. This is obviously a figure of speech which means he had the most innocent of looks about him. There was no guile or malice in his eyes. No demonstration of anger against his accusers. He stood there and took the abuse, somewhat like Jesus did when He stood before the Council and was falsely accused of pretty much the same thing as these men have accused Stephen.
What I believe happened, and there is no Scriptural basis for this, it is only through thinking through the passage and thinking through what has happened in the passed year in the book of Acts. The Council is more then likely still made up of the same people who were there for the Jesus' trial, some of which have to come to know Jesus as Lord and Savior. For example, Nicodemus, I think this is all going to change right after this very moment but up till now I think all ran just the same. So those who were either saved or at least sympathizers to the Way were presiding and they more then likely recounted this event to Luke and this is more then likely how they would have described what they saw, Stephen was so innocent of the charges and so kind and gracious and compassionate and so in touch with the Lord Jesus Christ that his appearance was that of a man who only appeared as a man but had a heavenly quality about him. Oh, how that is a way I would like to be described, as having the face of an angel, especially when insults and mockery is coming my way. It is all to easy to want to turn and throw our own fury back at someone who is accusing us of doing something we didn't do just to get at us but that isn't the way we are to react. We are to stand and give an account for the hope that is within just like Stephen does and if we lash out and attack with guile and malice as though we don't deserve that or we should be treated better then we are only acting in the flesh, when it comes to the gospel and people try to defame the gospel stand your ground for Christ.