A Spirit -Empowered Life & Death Acts 6:8-15 Part 1
Famous Last Words
Famous Last Words
On August 26, 2008, Hindu extremists of the radical group Bajrang Dal carried out attacks on Christians in Orissa, India. This militant group believes that Christians are a threat to Indian culture, and Hindus are the only legitimate citizens of India. This group of radical Hindus believes that Christians and other non-Hindus should be exterminated. Pastor Naik’s story is one of many from these attacks.
The radicals approached the house of Pastor Samuel Naik in Orissa, India. When they arrived, Pastor Naik was reading his Bible. The radicals immediately snatched the Bible from his hands, threw it down, and began to beat him severely. Following the beating, the radical group poured kerosene all over Pastor Naik’s body and dragged him out of his house. They gave him a frightening ultimatum:
“If you leave your God, we will leave you alone. Or else, you will be killed right now.” The pastor then earnestly replied, “I have invested so much of my time to win many souls for God. Now if I deny God, all my work will be in vain. So let me die for my God.”
When Pastor Naik replied humbly as he did, the radicals became incensed. Some held him, while one radical raised his axe, ready to strike Pastor Naik. The radical ordered Mrs. Naik to tell her husband to deny his God.
He warned, “These are the last moments of your husband; have a look at him.” Mrs. Naik fervently responded, “He cannot deny our God and even I cannot deny.”
Pastor Naik’s final request was to ask the Hindu extremists to give him his Bible. After they handed him his Bible, he cried,
“God, these people don’t know what they are doing! Please forgive them and take my life.” The Hindu radical immediately swung the blade of the axe, and the pastor’s body fell to the ground.
Pastor Samuel Naik’s last moments are very familiar to us this morning. His testimony echoes the famous last words of Stephen, the churches first martyr. In reality, the whole story echoes the life, testimony, and death of Stephen.
Jesus warns us in
You will even be betrayed by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends. They will kill some of you. You will be hated by everyone because of My name,
Stephen was preaching the gospel in the temple. He told people that salvation was only found in Jesus Christ. He validate His message with signs and wonders. The kingdom of god was advancing through Stephen’s ministry. Because of his love for Jesus, opposition arose and fiercely came against him.
Fast forward 2,00 years. An Indian Pastor who loves Jesus is telling his fellow Hindu neighbors that salvation can only be found in Jesus Christ. He validates his ministry by loving his neighbors. The kingdom of God was advancing through Pastor Naik and his wife. They were so effective that opposition arose and fiercely came against them. And as both men were standing before their persecutors having only a few minutes to testify, both of them say the same thing, “Father forgive them. They do not know what they are doing. Take my my life.”
Pastor Naik and Stephen teach us that a well lived life in Christ may lead to a martyrs death, however,
Jesus empowers you to live and die well in Him.
Stephen’s life serves as an example of a Spirit-empowered testimony.
What can we learn from Stephen’s testimony in Acts 6:8-7:60?
Jesus empowers you to live well, so live it (Acts 6:8-15).
Jesus empowers you to live well, so live it (Acts 6:8-15).
We are introduced to Stephen in Acts 6:5 as a man “full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.” To be full of faith and the Holy Spirit is to be born again. He genuinely believed the gospel message.
Every human being has a sin problem. That means that everyone of us has broken God’s law and deserve His wrath. It’s our nature to not be holy. Like Adam, we choose to disobey God by breaking his commands or his morality. When we break his law we earn his judgement. God holds us morally accountable for our unholy thoughts, words, and deeds. He keeps a record of every unrighteous thought we imagine, word we have spoken, and deed we have exercised. So, when we die, he shows us that we rightfully deserve his punishment, which is an eternity in Hell.
God provided a solution to our sin problem. The bible teaches that all sin must be atoned for by the blood of a sacrifice. For life is in the blood. No sacrifice on earth is pure enough cover our sin. God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, into the world to die as a holy sacrifice able to cover the sins of the world. He offered to die in your place, as a substitute, taking your sin, taking the wrath of God you deserve, and giving you his righteousness and his eternal life.
You must accept his gift by faith. You must ask God for forgiveness by confessing your sin, repenting of it, and embracing Jesus as your Lord and Savior. All who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved. Everyone who receives the gift of God salvation in Christ is born again. You are given a new life, a restored life, a reconciled life, a rescued life. Stephen called out to Jesus to save Him from God’s wrath by faith, and he was saved.
Stephen was full of faith. He believed by faith in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, and was given a new life, a life filled with the Holy Spirit.
How does Stephen teach us to live well?
Live full of grace (Acts 6:8)
The word for grace, Charis, is very common in the New Testament. It can mean everything from God’s divine grace to kindness toward others. Interestingly enough, that is exactly what Stephen’s life is marked, a God like kindness towards others. He was known by the early church as a servant of the body of Christ. That is why he was chosen by the church to be one of the seven who helped meet the physical needs of the Hellenist widows. The abundant grace he received by God through Jesus he poured out onto others.
Stephen’s life seemed to embody what Paul says in Philippians 2:3-5
Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus,
A well-lived life in Christ is a grace-filled life toward your brothers and sisters in Christ and your lost neighbors.
Church, we need this now more than ever. The unity of our church and the Christian community is being threatened because we are engaging in an “us verses them” mentality with our brothers and sisters. Some of my brothers and sisters in Christ fear for their life and their loved ones lives because COVID 19 threatens them. They find it wise to wear a mask and practice social distancing. Others, feel the arm of the government more cumbersome than the virus itself and feel compelled voice their disagreement with the governor, which is well and good in our republic. We have rights protecting our voice.
The concern I have is when we choose the right to voice our opinion about following the guidelines or not following the guidelines without any regard for the well-being of our neighbors. How do we love our neighbors through the stress of COVID 19? How doe we love each other as we seek to honor God with our submission to our government leaders and the church? We need to be more like Stephen. Grace should pour out of our speech, our Facebook posts, our conversations. Often times, grace, like love, is most effective when its sacrificial. Everything about Stephen’ s life exuded sacrificial grace toward others.
Live full of power (Acts 6:8)
The power referred to here is the same power Jesus said the apostles would receive to testify in
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
The Power of Submission
The power of the Holy Spirit was manifesting itself with signs and wonders. He was healing the sick and lame the way Peter healed the lame man in Acts 3. He was casting out demons just as Jesus did in His ministry. What is cool about Stephen is that he was not an apostle. He was an ordinary believer, like you and me, who surrendered his life to Jesus.
There lies the key to the success of a well-lived life in Christ, surrender, or should I say submission. Living well in the power of the Holy Spirit is to surrender your will to the Spirit. It is to live in obedience to Jesus’s will. To put it negatively, do not quench the Holy Spirit with habitual sin, but allow the Spirit to thrive in your life through your holiness.
What is the fruit of your submission to the Holy Spirit? I think it expresses Christ’s love for your neighbor. A Sprint empowered life is a life that strives to put others above yourself. Paul says the fruit of being filled with the Holy Spirit is submission in Ephesians 5:18; 21. Do not be drunk with wine, but be filled with the Holy Spirit. He goes on to explain what being filled with the Holy Spirit looks like in verse 19-22. In verse 21 he says, “submitting to one another in the fear of Christ.” Paul says being filled with the Spirit enables you to put yourself under another person, giving them honor and authority over you. Being filled with the Holy Spirit is submitting to the rule of the Spirit on your life. He goes on to give three examples of what submission looks like in the context of relationships. He says wives submit to your husbands. Then he says children submit to your parents, and then slaves submit to your masters. The same way that wives submit to their husbands, and children submit to their parents, and slaves submit to their masters, so in the same vein we should submit to one another. That is what it looks like to be filed with the Spirit relationally speaking.
One of the attractive attributes of Stephen was his submission to the church and the apostles, to the Hellonist widows he served, and even submitting his life into the hands of his persecutors. In truth, Stephen’s submission looked a lot like Jesus.
The greatest acts of Christ on our behalf are done with a humble heart of submission. Jesus took on flesh at the command of his Father. Jesus endured the hardships of sinful men by the will of His Father. Jesus died like a criminal for sins he did not commit at the command of his Father. And Jesus did all of this with a joyful heart that was pleased to glorify the Father (John 17) by bringing salvation to us sinners. We have no grace or power if Jesus was not been humble and submissive.
Jesus and Stephen teach us that when you submit your will to the Spirit of God, the Spirit of God is able to do more of His will through you.
The Power of God’s Word
The power of the Spirit was manifest in signs and wonders. It was also manifest in Stephens defense of the gospel. Look at verses Acts 6:9-10.
As Stephen was doing “signs and wonders” opponents to the gospel stood against it. Some from the synagogue of the Freedmen and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and those from Cilicia and Asia arose and disputed with Stephen. The Freedman were probably Jews who were once slaves who had become free from Cilicia or another Gentile area.
Luke tells us that as these men disputed with Stephen, “they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking (v10).” The Spirit empowered Stephen to dumbfound the arguments of those who stood against God’s kingdom. What you see in verse ten is the fulfillment of what Jesus promised in
Therefore make up your minds not to prepare your defense ahead of time, for I will give you such words and a wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.
Christ promised his Spirit to all who would believe upon Him, that includes ever disciple, every man, woman, or child who accepts Jesus’ gift of salvation will be baptized in the Spirit to be Christ’s witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And everyone of us who must testify before those who oppose the gospel will be empowered to do so with grace and faith and wisdom. Th power of the Holy Spirit in you speaking God’s word will be so effective that you do no need to worry about what you will say. There is no need to write up a script or memorize a speech. The Spirit will flow through you and communicate God’s truth to your persecutors.
Pastor Samuel Naik of Orissa, India was an ordinary man who loved Jesus. God loves to take ordinary people like Pastor Naik and use them to testify of His saving grace in a extraordinary fashion, like laying it all on the line for the love of your neighbors.
Do not mistake Stephen’s or Pastor Naik courage as something they mustered up on their own volition.
Their faith was Spirit promised and Spirit powered. Christianity is not a religion that demands that you find your courage to live faithfully from within yourself. It’s quite the opposite.
Christianity teaches you that it is the truth of God lived out by the power of God that enables you to joyfully advance His kingdom by making much of Jesus.
You don’t think you can win your neighbor to Christ? You’re right, you can’t. But the power of God can. You don’t think you can go and live in a nation that hates Christians and advance the kingdom of God? You’re right. You can’t do it. But the power of God can. You don’t think you can hold Jesus as your most valuable and supreme joy as you stare down the barrel of a gun? You’re right, you can’t do it. But the power of God can. And that is why God gives you His Spirit. He knows you are dust and that you and I are weak. So He gives us His Spirit, full of power, to enable us to testify of grace and faith to our persecutors.
You don’t have to wait to experience the power of the Holy Spirit until you are persecuted. You have been give the power to live a well-lived life in Christ today. Think about it. You don’ think you can love your unfaithful undeserving husband anymore? You’re right. You can’t do it. But the Spirit of God in you can. You don’t think you can make it one day without meth or booze? You’re right. You can’t do it. But the Spirit of God in you can. You don’t think you have anything left in the tank to go another day mourning the loss of a loved one.? You’re right. You can’t. But the Spirit of God in you can. You don’t think you can bring yourself to be concerned with the welfare of our governor, to pray relentlessly for Him, for God to bless him with wisdom and faith, to give him favor and prosperity? You are right. You can’t do it. But the power of God in you can. You don’t think you can live in obedience to what the state requires of us for now, to cooperate as best we can for the common good of our community, even at great personal sacrifice? You are right. You can’t. But the power of God in you can.
Christian, you are not living by faith devoid of spiritual power. Just as God filled Stephen with grace and power to joyfully advance his kingdom by making much of Jesus, so he has done with you. Will you live in it?
There is a consequence for living a well-lived life in Christ. Jesus was not kidding when he called his disciples to count the cost of following him. There are three consequences to living full of grace and power for the kingdom of God.
Godliness kindles Opposition (Acts 6:11-12)
Albert Mohler once said, “True godliness often kindles the world’s fierce opposition.” When the men who opposed Stephen could not out wit him with their arguments, they turned to stirring up violence through deceit. What kindle their violence was Stephen’s faithfulness to Jesus.
Jesus taught his disciples to expect persecution.
“Look, I’m sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as serpents and as harmless as doves. Because people will hand you over to sanhedrins and flog you in their synagogues, beware of them. You will even be brought before governors and kings because of Me, to bear witness to them and to the nations.
Paul says that
In fact, all those who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
Jesus says we are like sheep among wolves. Just as the Lamb was devoured at the cross by wolves, so will his sheep be devoured. And Paul reiterates that its not foolishness or disobedience to the law that persecutes us, its godliness. Those who live like Jesus will be hated like Jesus was hated.
It seems weird to say that godliness will invoke persecution. One would think living morally, like obeying the ten commandments, would make people happy. But that is not the case. Being a Christian is not about living out a morality. Its about identifying with Jesus. Jesus makes the claim that He is the only means of salvation (Acts 4:12). Its not through Allah nor Buddha can one be saved.
There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people, and we must be saved by it.”
The reason why the Hindu radicals were threatened by Pastor Samuel Naik was not because he was moral. It was because he agreed with Jesus that Hinduism has no place in the kingdom of God. For a Hindu to reach Bhuva Loka or Swarga Loka, meaning Good Kingdom, they need to repent of their sin and accept Jesus as the one true Savor. That is the gospel. The testimony Jesus spoke of in Acts 1:8. And that was the message that got Pastor Naik killed. His godliness kindled fierce opposition because of the name of Jesus.
The opposition will pervert the message, but we must endure (Acts 6:13-14)
They stirred up the crowd by getting scoundrels to lie about what Stephen said. The same court that tried Jesus and put Him on the cross is the same court that’s hearing Stephen. There is no desire for truth and justice, hence false witnesses were given a legitimate voice.
How did thy pervert Stephen’s message?
They said he blasphemed two major institutions of the Jewish faith: the temple and the law.
They also presented false witnesses who said, “This man does not stop speaking blasphemous words against this holy place and the law. For we heard him say that Jesus, this Nazarene, will destroy this place and change the customs that Moses handed down to us.”
Stephen responds to these charges in Chapter 7. We’ll wait until next week to hear his rebuttal. However, it is safe to say that what they claim is a perversion of the truth. His opponents claimed that Stephen was saying that Jesus would destroy the temple and change the law of Moses.
The message of Stephan was not that Jesus would destroy the meeting place of God, where heaven meets earth, but that Jesus became the temple. Jesus was not going to change the law of Moses, but in fact fulfilled the law of Moses.
In Mark 11, Jesus taught that he has replaced the old temple with himself. Those in Christ are being made into a new temple. For us to commune with the Father, we must have faith and forgiveness. We come to him in faith by prayer to receive forgiveness and to release us from the condemnation of our sin. We do not need an earthly mediator such as a priest or rabbi or pastor. Christ is our mediator. God’s power of forgiveness has been granted to those who will believe and call on him to receive it. This is not just for the Jew, but for the Gentiles as well. There is no need for an earthly temple. Christ has become our new temple, and he invites everyone who will repent of their sin, put their trust in Him, believing his death and resurrection is sufficient to remove God’s wrath and give eternal life. Also, Jesus fulfills the Sinai Covenant. He is the new greater Moses, the Prophet that Moses said would come. Jesus fulfilled the law in its entirety, which is what made his sacrifice on the cross sufficient.
How does Stephen respond? He patiently endures with them. He does not try to defend himself or stir up a revolt with the other disciples. He simply wants a word with them. He continues to preach the gospel. He is not side tracked. He remains on mission with them extending grace and wisdom.
Verse 15 is a peculiar ending to our text. It says
And all who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at him and saw that his face was like the face of an angel.
I could not help but think of Moses’s face coming down the mountain after meeting with God. It shined so bright that he had to cover it with a veil. But it was not a face like Moses, but one like an angel. A angel is a messenger from God. When Angels show up in the bible, they are not cute cupid like creatures with harps, bows, and arrows. When they show up the most often phrase they utter first is, “Do not fear.” That is because the sight of an angel provokes awe and fear. Angel’s bring messages of God to his people. As Mohler comments, “Stephen set his face to fearlessly, faithfully, and forcefully proclaim God’s truth to the very end. may we too share the face of an angel in our day.”
Jesus has not left you as an orphan, to fend for yourself for God’s kingdom. He has given you His Spirit. He has equipped you to live a well-lived life in His name. He has given you new life. Your new life is full of grace, God’s grace, that overflows in God’s kindness to others. Your new life is also full or power. He empowered you with his Holy Spirit to joyfully advance His kingdom by making much of Jesus in the church, community, and home. And when your ministry is so effective that it kindles Satanic opposition, do not worry about what you will way or do. Jesus promises that he will give you everything you need to live well in that moment. He did it for Stephen, and he did for Pastor Samuel Naik. He will do it or you. Let’s pray.
Jesus empowers you to testify in the face of opposition, so testify (Acts 7:1-53).
Jesus sealed your eternal life, so die well (Acts 7:54-60).