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Acts 7:54-8:3 - The Well-Intended Persecutor and the Crux of the Word

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Are actions and feelings connected to beliefs?

Who among us would say that our actions are connected to our beliefs?
Is it not true that, driving down the road, we fly along at 70 mph believing that the speed limit is so? Then seeing the sign that says 65, we choose to keep the lead foot at 70, beginning only slightly to feel somewhat guilty. Only slightly though - we are quite good at justifying ourselves.
Now the men at work sign comes and the limit reduces to 55. We slow to 65. We have acted based on a belief that the speed limit reduced - we saw the sign. We also feel slightly more guilty because we did not reduce speed sufficiently. Also, we now feel doubly guilty as the blue lights begin to flash in the rear-view.
We feel a surge of guilty panic. We believe we are caught. Based on that belief we act to turn on a blinker, pull into the right lane, and begin to slow. The blue lights flash by us, accelerating towards the call of duty.
Suddenly a flood of relief flushes through us as we discover we are free, the action of the police officer moving quickly past us leading us to believe he is after someone or something else. Yet feeling more cautious and convicted, we slow to what we also believe is the legal speed, 55.
Suddenly, a semi horn sounds behind us, spurring us faster, and with a jolt we realize we are still driving 55 long past the construction zone. The limit jumped back up to 70 about a mile after the officer passed us… but we failed to notice, being still flooded with relief and distracted by the ever smaller police cruiser. The semi warns we have been acting on a wrong belief as he swerves around us and moves on by. But we still don’t accelerate to 70 till we see the sign for ourselves 2 miles later. Then it all makes sense. We quickly align our actions with what we know believe.
All that tale is a hodgepodge of various driving experiences, with a mix I’m sure not unfamiliar to most of us. I could add other examples. We believe the credit card payment is due on the 27th only to find out it was the 25th. We believed our spouse would be perfect forever!
We act on beliefs. Feelings are deeply intertwined, sometimes leading action, but sometimes following.

Our actions and beliefs are deeply connected.

Let me ask you another question this morning:

The Stoning of Stephen - was it right or wrong?

We looked at Stephen’s defense and his stoning the Sunday before Easter. Let’s pick up after his defense:
Acts 7:54–60 NASB95
54 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him. 55 But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently 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 up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one impulse. 58 When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” 60 Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” Having said this, he fell asleep.
Acts 7:54-
Was the stoning of Stephen right or wrong?
We know Christ as Lord. We recognize it as wrong and the disciples who knew Jesus as Lord did too. They knew the scriptures, they saw him risen, victorious over the grave, ascended into heaven! They believed. Therefore they acted rightly in submission and obedience to him.
But consider .
Deuteronomy 13:1–11 NASB95
1 “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, 2 and the sign or the wonder comes true, concerning which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them,’ 3 you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for the Lord your God is testing you to find out if you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. 4 “You shall follow the Lord your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him. 5 “But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has counseled rebellion against the Lord your God who brought you from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, to seduce you from the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from among you. 6 “If your brother, your mother’s son, or your son or daughter, or the wife you cherish, or your friend who is as your own soul, entice you secretly, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods’ (whom neither you nor your fathers have known, 7 of the gods of the peoples who are around you, near you or far from you, from one end of the earth to the other end), 8 you shall not yield to him or listen to him; and your eye shall not pity him, nor shall you spare or conceal him. 9 “But you shall surely kill him; your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. 10 “So you shall stone him to death because he has sought to seduce you from the Lord your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 11 “Then all Israel will hear and be afraid, and will never again do such a wicked thing among you.
This passage describes a prophet who attempts to lead Israel astray from the Lord God who called Israel into relationship with himself when he made Israel a nation and removed them from Egypt. It says to stone him (vs. 10).
The men of the Sanhedrin were aware and familiar with this passage. They saw Stephen and the gospel of Christ as condoning the worship of another God, a false God, so they stoned him to death in keeping with what they understood from scripture!
They missed seeing Christ - a huge error - and saw the stoning of Stephen as right.
The crux was whether Jesus was the same God who saved them from Egypt and called them into covenant with him. They said no and stoned him. They had a belief and the acted upon it.
John 12:48 NASB95
“He who rejects Me and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day.
John 8:58 NASB95
Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.”
They defended their faith nobly, even to the point of stoning the offender just as the law said, a thing not easy to do. They failed to see and recognize Christ even though Stephen had just recounted to them the whole trajectory of their history since even before Egypt, demonstrating that Jesus was in fact the same God who had saved their forefathers from Egypt. Yes, we see they got it wrong, but they thought they had it right.
Jesus is saying he came to save, not to judge, but the words he has spoken are critical because they are given by the Father as the final standard of judgment in the last days!

Who decides? The Word decides.

The crux was whether Jesus was the same God who saved them from Egypt and called them into covenant with him. They said no and stoned him. Yes, we see they got it wrong, but they thought they had it right. They defended their faith nobly, even to the point of stoning the offender just as the law said. But they failed to see and recognize Christ even though Stephen had just recounted to them the whole trajectory of their history since even before Egypt, demonstrating that Jesus was in fact the same God who had saved their forefathers from Egypt.
John 12:48 NASB95
“He who rejects Me and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day.
Jesus is saying he came to save, not to judge, but the words he has spoken are critical because they are commanded by the Father as the final standard of judgment in the last days!
This is why it is soooo critical to know God’s Word deeply! We could very well make the same mistake the Jews made. We could easily act to protect the Church by zealously moving forward on our opinion of what should be done or what ought to be, the whole time thinking we are defending the faith. We act on a belief!
But action on a bad belief is not good action! We see it all around us in the world today - people acting zealously on a wrong belief.
If we don’t stop and turn to God’s Word first, and truly check what is being said or done, no matter our good intentions we may well be turning against God! Good intentions are insufficient. We have to be right too, or we stand responsible to God.
Enter Saul.

Saul approved of Stephen’s stoning.

Saul was no dummy. He was the epitome of well intentioned and knowledgeable of the Word. And he was a man of action. Yet somehow he got on the wrong side of God. He stood in approval of the unjust execution.

Saul acted on more than most others.

Acts 8:1–3 NASB95
1 Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. 2 Some devout men buried Stephen, and made loud lamentation over him. 3 But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.

Our persecutors may be well-intentioned, but need Jesus to grasp their hearts and show them the truth. Or are we the persecutor who needs Jesus to show us the truth?

Our persecutors may be well-intentioned, but need Jesus to grasp their hearts and show them the truth.
Or

Are we the persecutor who needs Jesus to show us the truth?

This was two groups of the same people trying to serve the same God, yet one killed the other because they did not turn to and heed their own scriptures.
Do we have a difference on the Word, and one party persecutes the other, thinking to defend the faith? Really we both must go to the Word and seek the truth recorded there, in the meantime acting with deference and kindness to each other.
Use the Word to correct, reprove, instruct, build up, edify, encourage, and exhort, but do so humbly, Paul says, taking care lest we ourselves fall.
1 Thessalonians 5:14 NASB95
14 We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone.
2 Timothy 2:24–26 NASB95
24 The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, 25 with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.
2 Timothy 3:16–4:2 NASB95
16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. 1 I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.
2 Timothy 2:24–26 NASB95
24 The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, 25 with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.

The Crux of the Word is Christ.

The Crux of the Word is Christ.

The critical point is Christ. He is the watershed.
The critical point is Christ. He is the watershed.
But the critical measure of our faith and practice is also the Word. We will be judged by the word in the end.
We must know it and search it and love it and surrender to it and hold to it and teach it and submit to it. It is what leads us to Christ, the one Father Son and Spirit who brought Israel from Egypt, died for the sins of men, and rose to heaven’s throne, whom Stephen saw standing by the Father himself, ready to welcome him home.

Make sure you are not a well-intended persecutor who is wrong about his view of the Word. Be the persecuted and martyred witness to the right view of the Word. Stand on it and appeal to brothers, not wavering even if it costs you everything.

Be the persecuted and martyred witness to the right view of the Word. Stand on it and appeal to brothers, not wavering even if it costs you everything.

Right theology matters.

It affects our actions. Theology - our knowledge about God - is where are actions are supposed to arise from.
The Jews had it wrong, and acted on it, executing Stephen!
Now most of us are not executing people based on wrong theology, at least not literally.

But what wrong views of God do we have, and what affects are those views having?

Do we view God as unloving and unforgiving, resulting in hardened hearts to his forgiveness?
Do we view God as a genie to grant our every wish instead of Lord whose purpose in our lives is bigger than we may grasp right now. This would affect how our souls react when prayers go un-granted for an extended time. Do we submit and love him anyway, or rebel for not getting our way? What do we worship anyway, the idol of healing, or the Creator God of the universe who cannot be bound to obey men’s whims.
Do we view God as harsh and then see the world without compassion ourselves?
Do we see life as sacred? Do you realize the Father loved you his enemy so much that he sent his Son Jesus to save your soul to everlasting life? Do we work to save the lives of those unable to protect themselves, either born or unborn, so that they may hear the gospel too?
Do you see God as uncaring or even evil, or weak? Maybe that’s why the world is full of sin and strife and the good suffer! Or do you recognize that he is good, and powerful, but patient that he might save many before he brings his final judgment down upon all evil and casts it into the lake of fire? Your view affects whether you lash out in anger at God when the storms of life come, or you bow in humble patience, letting him mold you into his likeness, teaching you patience and grace even when wronged.
Do you see God as a loving Father who will discipline those he loves or a kind grandfather who chuckles and shrugs when the kid does his own thing? The answer affects the urgency with which you obey, and the respect you weigh in your daily decisions of how you act and speak and who you are to your family and associates!
Do you grasp the sacrifice of Jesus for you and the value of his blood? Do you comprehend that the same blood shed for you was shed for the person who comes into your office every few days or maybe once a month. God loves him every bit like he loves you, and he gave you the job of sharing that message of love to that person. How are you doing with that? Do you recognize and value the change the love of God has worked in you enough to open your mouth and share that precious blood love to that person? Or are you ashamed of the good news that has the power to change you?
I could go on and on and on. Your knowledge of God - your theology - matters. It directly affects your life and those around you too, especially as you teach by word and example.
We must get it right or our practical actions come out all wrong. We may wind up like Saul, well intentioned, but destructively wrong. Only by God’s grace later does he become Paul.

Don’t be the well-intended persecutor. Know God by knowing and submitting to his whole Word.

Then act on that right knowledge, all the while checking again to the Word lest you switch sides accidentally at any point before he returns.
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