sermon recap: stephen the formidable forgiver.
I think my face is finally showing signs of aging and I do not relish losing my youth. While it has been thoroughly satisfying so far, I must be honest and say that it has also fatiguing to preach the last three consecutive weeks (so I salute RY who has been doing that week-in, week-out for the last decade). Preparing a sermon excellently is indeed a labourious challenge; I spend 15-20 hours on average with each one. The bigger challenge however, is to wait upon the Lord as I allow the Word to saturate my heart and mind – I try not to write a sermon academically; the biggest challenge is to hear from the Lord the word in season for my congregation. I find it easy to deliver a generic sermon, so it is vastly gratifying when I preach a sermon that speaks specifically to my people. I always pray that the Holy Spirit will do His work of revelation in my youths’ hearts as they receive the Word.
I am thankful to God for the generous encouragement and plentiful affirmation that I’ve received over the last three weeks; I never take any for granted – these pats-on-my-back spur me on to preach even sharper and deeper sermons! As I conclude Part III of Facebook with the Newbies, I embark on the preparation of the final installation. I pray that this series won’t just end on a climax, but it’d end in a manner that the Spirit leads. In the meantime, do check out the slideshow below to refresh yourself on the two main themes that Stephen leaves with us – managing anger and overcoming unforgiveness.
Part One – Managing Anger
- The main difference between the angry Jewish leaders who couldn’t control themselves, and Stephen who clearly was in control of his emotions, was that the latter had the Holy Spirit while the former didn’t; in short, the Jewish leaders had the presence of anger and the absence of the Spirit.
- The greatest obstacle to forgiveness is anger – for anger kills. It gives birth to murderous intent, which is different from incidental or accidental manslaughter. The Jewish leaders didn’t kill Stephen unexpectedly – they had planned to do it.
- Hate is a choice and the judgment of hate is murder in your heart (1 John 3:15).
- The Jewish leaders’ answer to Stephen’s inspiring and riveting sermon in Acts 7 revealed a three-step progression of anger.
- The first stage of anger is when you realise it with your senses, through your eyes and ears – “When they heard this”. When this happens, ask the Holy Spirit to be your filter, to separate and sieve away the things that make you angry.
- The second stage of anger is when you respond to it with your emotions, in your mind and heart – “They were furious“. When this happens, ask the Holy Spirit to help us to choose the right response in any situation.
- The third stage of angeris when you react to it with your actions, by your hands and mouth – “And gnashed their teeth”. When this happens, ask the Holy Spirit to help you do the right thing that doesn’t cause you to sin.
- Ephesians 4:6 states that we should not sin when we are angry, but it doesn’t say that it is a sin to be angry; what we do when we are angry makes all the difference.
- Anger is an extreme emotion that can sometimes be damaging and destructive; it is always a decision made in our thoughts and feelings, and it never happens by chance. Remember that anger is an emotion, not an action.
- We cannot control what happens externally (situations and circumstances) but we can ask the Spirit to help us to control what happens internally (emotion and cognition).
- The biblical remedy to managing anger is to pray and ask the Holy Spirit to help us – that’s why Stephen was known to be a man full of the Holy Spirit.
Part Two – Overcoming Unforgiveness
- While Stephen’s answer to the Jewish leaders was completely different from the way they treated him, his reply to them in the face of being stoned was actually quite similar to the way Jesus Christ in the way that He was crucified.
- Stephen had an absence of anger and a presence of the Spirit; he demonstrated for us three possible approaches to overcoming apparent unforgiveness.
- The first approach is to be filled with the Holy Spirit (“But being full of the Holy Spirit”) by exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Actively deal with unforgiveness and not passively avoid it.
- The second approach is to look to God’s love intently (“He gazed intently into heaven”) and remember our God is One who is ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (Nehemiah 9:17)!
- The third approach to know Jesus’ mission wholeheartedly (“Do not hold this sin against them”) for when we understand that the mission of Jesus is to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10), we’ll understand how to honour and give Him glory in our most trying situations.
- The glory of God is evidently distinguished and displayed when we compare manmadestructures to GodmadeWonders (pun intended); hence we should fix our eyes on something bigger than ourselves, better than our situations and more glorious. We should put on heavenly spectacles.
- Those who are full of the Spirit are game for anything in life, be it good or bad – because they are willing to do His work and to suffer for Him.
- Forgiving others is a natural cause of action when we are being forgiven by God.
- When evil does its worst, God does His best; Stephen’s martyrdom indirectly resulted in Paul’s conversion. Paul became a legendary missionary and author of half of the New Testament.
- God desires for us to be reconciled to Him first, before we are reconciled to others (2 Corinthians 5:17-19). We experience freedom to relate to others when we are liberated in how we relate to God.
I sincerely hope that was helpful for you. With that, I conclude Stephen’s chapter and look forward to the last character in this series, as well as some much-needed rest at the start of the week.
if it was up to us, we’d already be struck dead.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
I’m confident that almost every believer is familiar with this verse; it’s like our perpetual get-out-of-jail-free ticket and our permanent licence to do (pretty much) whatever we want and get away with it. Of course, if you are a mature believer, you’ll slowly realise that God’s grace should empower us not to sin some more, but to sin no more; the grace of God should empower us to do what the truth demands. I think I’ve mentioned that somewhere in one of my earlier entries.
Now, the question that I’d ask is, “Who or what is God faithful and just to?” That was what I posed to my REAL champs this afternoon, at the aftermath of their Old Testament Overview, where they learnt that the overarching theme of Exodus is the faithfulness of God by His demonstration of fulfilling what He has promised (i.e. Israelites’ deliverance from Egypt).
A knee-jerk response to the above-mentioned question would be He is faithful and just to me or He is faithful and just to my repentance. Think about it for a little bit longer. Do you really think that God’s forgiveness and cleansing was based on you or to your repenting efforts? If it was so, you’d be already be struck dead! I’m inclined to think that if God was really just to us (i.e. as a judge would demonstrate justice in a court), we’d get the death sentence ten times over simply for being unable to meet the requirements of His laws; after all, it is stated that the wages of sin is death (ref. Romans 6:23).
Thankfully for us, God is just to Jesus Christ, not us. That’s the reason why God has forgiven our sins and has cleansed us from all unrighteousness! By taking the fall for us, Christ presents us righteous before God. I’m convinced that we are absolutely too sinful and unholy to be in the presence of a holy God but we are allowed access because when God views us, He sees the atoning sacrifice of Christ and not our sin. By the sheer unchangeability of what Christ has already done for us on the cross, we can therefore approach God with confidence, knowing that we’ll be forgiven and cleansed every single time. God is faithful to what Christ did in our place.
We’ll never be able to fulfil our side of the promise, unlike Christ who has already fulfilled His and therefore, permits us to have communion with God. Now, that’s what I call a demonstration of a promise! I gave God the glory as I saw the REAL kids nod their heads away as they learn a new truth and it is my prayer that you will be liberated as you discover a new way to apply this familiar scripture into your life.