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Walking Like Christ

Acts of the Risen Lord Jesus  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  24:53
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The early church is almost ready to initiate its worldwide mission—the Holy Spirit is about ready to thrust His people into the wider world, fulfilling the Risen Savior’s mandate for His disciples to make more disciples:
Matthew 28:19–20 NIV
19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Make disciples of all nations. The foundations of the mission to the Gentiles were led by two remarkable men: Stephen the Martyr and Philip the Evangelist. Missionary journeys abound in the latter half of Acts. They spring from the command of God and are fueled by the foundation left by men like Stephen.
As Tertullian famously said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”
Stephen becomes the first “ultimate” witness (Greek: mar-tys) in the early church. His death, his martyrdom has an incredible influence and unmistakable impact on the church.
We were just introduced to Stephen, appointed as a deacon/servant of the church (Acts 6:5) as a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.
And now, we see him again, introduced in similar terms:
Acts 6:8 NIV
8 Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people.
Stephen is the first person after the apostles said to have performed great wonders and signs.
His power was not physical strength. His wisdom wasn’t worldly. Stephen’s last name was neither Schwarzenegger or Einstein.
Stephen’s power was the power of the Holy Spirit, just like Jesus promised His disciples:
Acts 1:8 NIV
8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Stephen was empowered and gifted by the Holy Spirit. He was sent forth as a witness for Christ. And witness he did. Stephen is an example to us of:

Christlike Character

Stephen is a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit. He’s full of God’s grace and power and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit.
So much was Stephen’s character like Christ’s that when the people opposed him here and argued against him here, they could not stand up against the wisdom the Holy Spirit granted him.
Holy Spirit-empowered grace and power and wisdom. One scholar states this was “sweetness and strength merged in one personality.” Sweetness and strength.
What Stephen did, what he taught, offended and upset the religious authorities. They opposed Stephen and his teaching.
Those who rose up in opposition were Greek-speaking Jews like Stephen; Jews who had been scattered around Northern Africa and Asia Minor (modern day Turkey).
Acts 6:9 NIV
9 Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia—who began to argue with Stephen.
These folk began to argue with Stephen.
Acts 6:10 NIV
10 But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke.
They can’t match him in matters of truth or measure up to the wisdom given to him, so they resort to mud-slinging (what always happens, “Oh yeah, well you’re a doody-head”). His opponents are secretly persuading some men to lie about what Stephen was saying (v. 11), stirring up the people regarding Stephen (v. 12), and producing false witnesses (v. 13) who would would tell outright lies:
Acts 6:11–14 NIV
11 Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, “We have heard Stephen speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.” 12 So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. 13 They produced false witnesses, who testified, “This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. 14 For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.”
Like Jesus, Stephen is bold and truthful in his message and his defense. Stephen’s good, even in the face of his accusers. He’s steadfast. Stephen is for sure aware of the persecution Peter and John faced and then the persecution (the flogging) the apostles received. Stephen certainly knows something uncomfortable is coming his way; he just has to.
Whether Stephen was there to hear Jesus warn His followers or not, there’s no doubt Stephen had heard from someone this teaching of Jesus:
John 15:18–21 NIV
18 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20 Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. 21 They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me.
The use of false witnesses against Stephen reminds us of what happened at Jesus’ trial before His crucifixion:
Matthew 26:59–60 NIV
59 The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death. 60 But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward. Finally two came forward
In the face of false witnesses and an angry group of Jewish men, on trial for his life, what does Stephen do? He reflects the grace and goodness and faithfulness of Jesus.
In Stephen, we meet a man who is as much like Jesus as anyone in the Bible up to this point. It’s even clear to those accusing him and opposing him:
Acts 6:15 NIV
15 All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.
There was apparently a visible manifestation of the brightness of the glory of God on his face, as there had been with Moses.
There’s something about Stephen. Stephen reflects the wisdom and grace of Jesus. It’s not that Stephen looked like a Precious Moments figurine or one of those chubby cherubs in old-timey paintings. That’s not the reference.
John Stott refers to Stephens appearance as: “Clear eyes burning with the inner light.”
I wanted to say: “Clear Eyes. Full Heart.” but I’d just be stealing that from Friday Night Lights.
Here’s the truth about Stephen. He reflects Jesus because he has been united to Jesus. Through his union with Christ, he’s living out Christlikeness. In Christ, Stephen is empowered to live a life that reflects his Savior.
Christlikeness isn’t something we can muster. It’s not something we can switch on and off. It’s a reality of our union and relationship to Jesus. The closer and more dependent you are to Jesus, the more like Jesus your character will be.
Stephen loves Jesus and so lives and moves and ministers like Jesus. Stephen knows Jesus died for him, so Stephen is willing to die for Jesus. Stephen knows what Jesus did for him can never been duplicated or undone, and, as such, Stephen spends the balance of his life (life from the moment he was united with Jesus until he dies) reflecting Jesus—even if it means suffering for His sake.
>What comes next is the longest sermon recorded for us in the book of Acts. It spans the whole chapter.
Stephen, the preacher, preaches under duress in front of a hostile audience. He details the history of Israel from Abraham all the way to the prophets and then ends up speaking about Jesus.

Christ-Centered Ministry

Stephen is empowered by the Holy Spirit and the example of Jesus. Stephen here, under extreme danger, preaches a beautiful sermon, off-the-cuff, but certainly not unprepared. Stephen has so studied the Biblical account, that he could recite it from memory, by heart, selectively, at any time, and make the point that he wanted to make: everything God has done in Israel’s history is pointing to Jesus.
It’s a careful and subtle retelling of Jewish history. Stephen’s sermon stops (or is interrupted from closing) the moment he starts to connect it all to Jesus.
Like Jesus, Stephen believes everything in the law and prophets is ultimately about Jesus. As the Resurrected Jesus taught the two on the road to Emmaus:
Luke 24:27 NIV
27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
For Stephen, for us, it’s all about Jesus—His miraculous birth, His sinless life, His public/poignant ministry, His sacrificial death on the cross for the sins of His people, His triumphant resurrection on the third day, and His ascension to the Father where He sits interceding on our behalf, His coming again to set the world at rights.
It’s all about Jesus. Stephen’s ministry—for however long it lasted—was Christ-centered.
Stephen’s impromptu sermon starts with Abraham and the God of glory appearing to him. From Abraham to Isaac and Jacob. He speaks about Joseph, and God with him, though his brothers sold him as a slave. Joseph, Stephen preaches, saved Jacob and Jacob’s family in the midst of a famine. And then comes Moses—his life and leadership amongst the people of Israel, an angel appearing to Moses, God Himself, leading the people out of Egypt.
Then, Stephen reminds the people of their ancestors rejection of Moses and God in favor of an idol made of gold. Then comes Joshua and David and Solomon. Stephen quotes from the prophets Amos and Isaiah.
Stephen preaches, hoping the people listening would make the connections they needed to make.
But the people are so concerned about a perceived threat to their precious temple, that they have forgotten God is not restricted to any one land or to any one physical building.
God was with Abraham in Harran, with Joseph in Egypt, with Moses in the wilderness, with Joshua and David and Solomon in the Promised Land. God was with the prophets wherever and whenever they were, and still the people rejected them, refusing to listen to and acknowledge God’s messengers.
It’s a masterful sermon, and the conclusion might be the best part:
Acts 7:51–53 NIV
51 “You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! 52 Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him—53 you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.”
Stephen, like Jesus, is bold and direct. Stephen, like Jesus, points out the sinful disobedience of the people. Stephen, like Jesus, calls out the stiff-necked people. Stephen, like Jesus, realizes it’s not loving or polite to let people persist in their unbelief or rejection of God.
So Stephen calls them out: “Stiff-necked! Uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit!”
Stephen, like Jesus, accused his Jewish listeners of killing the prophets. And now Stephen rightly accuses them of rejecting their ultimate God-sent deliverer, the Righteous One: Jesus.
Stephen preaches boldly for Jesus, about Jesus, everything coming together in Jesus.
And, of course, Stephen’s sermon was the straw that broke the Sanhedrin’s back:
Acts 7:54–8:1 NIV
54 When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep. 1 And Saul approved of their killing him. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.

Christ-Exalting Death

Stephen, after his magnificent sermon, was facing his inevitable death. He didn’t recant. He didn’t cower. He took it standing up. Amid the furor and gnashing teeth of the council before him, he continued.
Stephen doesn’t beg and plead for his life to be spared; he trusts the Sovereign Lord in his life and, especially, in his death.
Stephen proclaims:
Acts 7:56 NIV
56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
Stephen endures to the end. He dies with two prayers on his lips:
“Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” This, much like Jesus’ dying words from the cross.
“Lord, do not hold this sin against them,”, recalling Jesus’ earlier prayer for the forgiveness of His murderers.
He dies, committing his life to Jesus. And he forgives the ones throwing rocks at his head. A Christ-exalting death.
The person holding the cloaks of those doing the stoning was named Saul. Saul would later have his name changed to Paul. Paul was, we see later, deeply impacted by Stephen’s death after Paul himself came to faith in Jesus.
The martyrdom of Stephen had a profound influence on Paul’s life; he remembered it many years after the fact and included it in his own witness:
Acts 22:20 NIV
20 And when the blood of your martyr Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.’
Stephen’s death was not a waste, not a defeat of the cause of Christ. In fact, it exalted Christ, then and still.
The Holy Spirit used Stephen’s life as a catalyst for the spread and growth of the church:
Acts 8:1–3 NIV
1 And Saul approved of their killing him. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. 2 Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. 3 But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.
The Holy Spirit used Stephen’s death as a significant moment in Paul’s journey of faith.
Stephen’s martyrdom kept working on Saul, though he continued to attack the church. It was not for nothing.
The Holy Spirit keeps on using Stephen’s death these many thousands of years later—using it to show us the surpassing value of knowing Christ.
It’s impossible to measure the full and eventual impact of Stephen’s death. What we know is that Christ was and is exalted in the death of Stephen and those like him.
It’s our hope, isn’t it, that people will remember us when we die, that we leave some kind of mark on the lives of those around us.
Wouldn’t it be great if people remembered us for making much of Jesus? More than anything else, more than “what a good guy” or “she could really bake a pie”—how great it would be if we were known for our walk with Christ.
“Boy, she loved Jesus and taught me a lot about following Him.”
“He lived for Jesus and spent his life telling others about the salvation found in Him.”
A Christ-exalting death...
“Unto the grave, what will we sing? “Christ, He lives; Christ, He lives!” And what reward will heaven bring? Everlasting life with Him.”
“There we will rise to meet the Lord, Then sin and death will be destroyed, And we will feast in endless joy, When Christ is ours forevermore.”
“Oh, sing, Hallelujah! Our hope springs eternal, oh, sing, Hallelujah, now and ever we confess: Christ, our Hope in life and death!”
>Before going into full-time ministry, one of my professors worked for IBM in Chicago. He told us this story of one of his co-workers named Dave.
“Upon first meeting Dave, I couldn’t help but notice something strange about him. Dave walked funny. Real funny. Lifting his feet high off the ground (while wearing a suit, I might add), everywhere he went—around the office, down the sidewalk, through large crowds of people.
One day, I eventually worked up the nerve and came right out and asked him, “Dave, why do you walk like that?”
Dave was quick to reply, telling me, “When South Vietnam was falling and the Viet Cong were gaining control, they would kill, on sight, anyone who looked like they had an education of any kind.”
Later, it was well-documented that Pol Pot, a dictator, had initiated a “year-zero” policy in which time and thinking would begin with him. If a person wore glasses, like Dave; wore pants, like Dave; or walked like anyone other than a peasant from the rice-paddies—he or she would be killed on sight.
So, Dave shed his glasses, put on the garments of a peasant and started walking like he had worked in the rice paddies all of his life. Doing this allowed him to flee the country without be killed.
After explaining this, Dave turned to me and said, “This funny walk, this is my walk of life. How can I walk in any other way?!”
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Oh, to walk with Jesus throughout this life, to be known as one who walks like Jesus walked, to be marked, in life and death, as one who walks like Jesus.
“Holy Spirit, make our character more and more Christ-like. Make our ministry, our proclamation Christ-Centered. And make our lives and even our death Christ-exalting. Help us, and give us the power to walk like Jesus. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”
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