The Cost of Following Jesus
Sermon Series:ActsIn the first part of chapter 6, Luke describes the choosing of seven men to be servant leaders in the church; men who were full of wisdom and filled with the Holy Spirit. Stephen, one of those seven, was also described as full of God’s grace and power. Beyond waiting tables, he performed signs and wonders and, when his opponents brought false testimony and accusations, he replied with a 50-verse panorama of the Old Testament; not simply to retell the history of Israel, but to let his accusers know that they were the ones guilty of blasphemy. They had disobeyed the law, distorted the temple, and rejected God Himself through chronic infidelity. They killed the prophets and Jesus the Messiah. This was too much for the crowds to hear and, in their fury, they took Stephen outside the city and stoned him. Stephen became the first martyr, but the bigger story is that (except for the apostles) the church was then forced out of Jerusalem because of the persecution and thus, the concentric circles of God’s Kingdom mission (Acts 1:8) were set in motion (to Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth). This was the unstoppable force Gamaliel predicted. This was and is the ripple effect of the Gospel via persecution. The application is an invitation to look at another set of concentric circles, beginning with our own lives. Would we be willing to die for Jesus? Or the more pertinent question: are we be willing to live for Jesus? The essence of Stephen’s speech was that unless Jesus is the center of the story, the story is incomplete. What story are we living? If we are living for Christ, inevitably that will bring conflict and possible loss of reputation or work or friends and family. Paul’s words are encouraging: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” - Romans 1:16 “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” - 2 Timothy 1:7 This sermon coincided with the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church and we took some time in the service to pray for the persecuted Christians in nine specific countries. Please continue those prayers. Find out more at opendoorusa.com.