Acts 6: Casting Stones

castingStonesPastor Barry/ The Gathering Church  Acts 6: Casting Stones To hear this message and others download our free app @ The App Store.  Search The Gathering Connect.)

THE FIRST DEACONS Acts 6:1-7

As a church grows so does the complaining.  No, this is not the way it should be but it is the way it is.  More people equals more problems.  In this case Jews who were more    influenced by Greek culture (Hellenistic) complained against the traditional Jews (Hebraic) because their    widows were being overlooked in the food distribution.  It is here that we see the first installation of deacons in the church. Deacons are assigned servants in the church that free up Elders to do the ministry of the word (teaching).  This kind of delegation began with Moses at his   father-in-laws (Jethro) suggestion way back in the exodus. (Exodus 18:13-26)  Jethro saw that Moses was  wearing himself out by trying to solve peoples constant problems with one another.  He suggested that Moses select godly men who could take care of the peoples needs while Moses concentrated on the more pressing issues at hand.  It is likely that “the twelve” looked back to this very passage in scripture, and after prayer, called the other disciples together to select these Deacons.  Stephen, “a man full of faith and of the (power) Holy Spirit” was among those chosen.

“FREEDMEN” BECOME SLAVES Acts 6:8-15

There is some historic confusion regarding the synagogue of the Freedmen; however, a most likely reason for their title is that they were Jews living in Rome who had been made slaves by the Romans under Pompey,  but were  later set free and then built a synagogue in  Jerusalem.  These men were no strangers to persecution in their faith and no doubt had suffered much themselves at the hands of evil men.  They had been falsely accused, taken by force, and ruthlessly enslaved.  Now these men were freed, but willingly enslaved themselves to the work of the devil by accusing Stephen falsely.  They disagreed with Stephen’s  theology but were no match for his biblical wisdom so they stirred up gossip and lies about him. The same injustices that they once endured they poured out on Stephen.  Although it was likely true that Stephen had shared Jesus’ prophecy about the destruction of the Temple (Matthew 24:2, Luke 19:41-44), he likely never spoke against that “holy place” or the law.  This was simply the charge they used to get the Sanhedrin (Jewish court) involved.

 As his accusers “looked intently” at Stephen “they saw that his face was like the face of an angel (innocent).” but they also heard him speak with the voice of a prophet.  God made it clear to all of Stephen’s accusers that he was a messenger of truth.  Yet these men, like the Romans that once enslaved them, were filled with their own pride and self-righteousness.

When filled up with self there’s no room for God and no end to the evil one can unleash.

 “THOSE WHO LIVE IN GLASS HOUSES”  Matthew 7:1-5, John 8:3-11, Acts 7:1-60, 8:1,  Romans 2:3-6       An old adage says “Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones”.  Which means one   should not judge another if they are vulnerable to a similar judgment. When it comes to passing judgment on another we are all very vulnerable before God.

 Jesus tells us that by the same standard that we judge others, we too will be judged (Matthew 7:1-2 ).  Jesus illustrated this when the teachers of the law and Pharisees brought a woman to Him caught in adultery (John 8:3-11).  Her accusers were full of themselves and ready to stone her to death for her sin until Jesus wrote down their sins in the sand.  One by one they dropped their stones and walked away.  Jesus’ encouragement to her was to go and sin no more… a command not only in regards to her sexual sin, but also to the sin of unjustly judging others.

 The Sanhedrin had already put Jesus to death…and they were eager to put any of His followers to death too, (Acts 5:33) but they feared the crowds.  They had to appear judicious. They knew the “Freedmen” were fabricating lies about Stephen just as they had about Jesus. “Are these charges true?”, they sinisterly asked and then the Holy Spirit took control of Stephen’s heart, mind and tongue and poured out His raw truth on all of those phonies! Acts 7:1-53 records Stephen’s historically accurate rebuke of these self righteous judges using biblical documented evidence against them.  They were so furious that they “rushed” Stephen and stoned him to death, but not before the gracious words of Jesus Himself came through Stephen’s mouth… “Forgive them” (Luke 23:34/ Acts 7:60), he said and then “fell asleep” (God gave him peace in his death). Stephen became the first Martyr of the Church. His testimony has never been forgotten and demonstrates God’s grace in the midst of man’s self-centered insanity.

When we choose to ignore the Lord’s truth and His warnings as the Sanhedrin and so called “Freedmen” we rush to our own self-righteous judgment and place ourselves in the seat of God and store up wrath against ourselves when His righteous judgment is revealed (Romans 2:3-6).  Ironically this passage was written by Paul (also called Saul) the Apostle, who according to Acts7:58b, 8:1 watched the coats of those who stoned Stephen and approved of their killing him. In Saul’s case “God’s kindness led him to repentance”.

AMAZING GRACE  Acts 7: 60-8:1-3, Romans 12: 3, 19-21, John 7:24

Stephen’s cry to the Lord on behalf of his killers would “heap burning coals upon Paul’s head” (Romans 12:19-21 e.g. burn inwardly with conviction). Even though he would begin to “destroy the church” God’s grace was in action.  In time Saul would become a Christian, a church planter and even a martyr for the gospel (beheaded in Rome A.D. 66). As for the “great persecution?”— It drove the gospel out of little Jerusalem and into all the world!

When we self-righteously take the seat of God and judge others unjustly (outside of God’s word) we are not being agents of grace.  Like Stephen, we are to stand for righteousness and speak the truth, remembering “with sober judgment” who we are. Sober judgment only comes from God’s word and it is His Spirit alone that grows faith in us as we hear it and do what it says.  

Believers are warned against judging others unfairly or unrighteously, but Jesus commends “right judgment” (John 7:24). We are to be discerning (Colossians 1:9; 1 Thessalonians 5:21). We are to preach the whole counsel of God, including the Bible’s teaching on sin (Acts 20:27; 2 Timothy 4:2). We are to gently confront erring brothers or sisters in Christ (Galatians 6:1). We are to practice church discipline (Matthew 18:15–17). We are to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). We are also to be quick to forgive and restore those lost in sin. “Overcome evil with good”.  As Stephen did before he “fell asleep”.   It is God’s kindness that leads to repentance! Romans 2:4a

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