Thursday, August 12, 2010
The response to the gospel may not be a happy one.
Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.
This is not the way most preachers are taught to end a sermon. This is nothing that Robert Schuller, Rick Warren, or Joel Osteen would be proud of! It is the truth and it is meant to convict. It is not a statement made in haste or without context. Stephen has slowly and carefully and most importantly BIBLICALLY made a case that the history of Israel has been one checkered with disobedience and disregard for the God Who called them to Him. His masterful walkthrough of the Old Testament and Israel's history is a homiletical tour de force worthy of careful examination. The bottom line is that this summary conclusion is carefully and powerfully supported in the sermon throughout the text of the Old Testament.
The result of this kind of preaching was evident. Stephen did get a response. The religious leaders were furious and literally rose up as a mob, drove him outside the city and in an expression of outrage at what they perceived as blasphemy, stoned him, leaving his corpse outside the city gates. It was not a pretty sight. Stephen's first recorded sermon is also his last. But his first blood shed in defense of the faith and for the sake of the gospel would not be the last.
Sometimes the gospel must advance through times of hardship and persecution. The first few centuries of church history are written in the blood of the martyrs. They gave their lives for the message of the gospel. They rolled us forward through the preaching of the cross, the reverence of the Holy Scriptures, and their courageous commitment despite the personal and social price.
I wonder if American evangelicalism even has left in it this kind of courage and commitment. We have our most popular preachers holding to a theology of appeasement. We have adopted an entertainment model for the church... dim lighting, musical artistry, drama and staging, sermons deliberately adverse to theology. If a message is preached, it comes across as consumeristic and psychological. Jesus will heal my mind and give me what I want. But there is more to the gospel than this... much more. Jesus said we give up our lives to find life in Him... we carry a cross (where suffering and public torture, and dying happen) daily when we follow Him.
I believe God is calling me to be balanced with the gospel. At times I can see myself like Peter before Cornelius or Paul before the Areopagus, sharing with seekers why turning to Christ will meet their quest. At other times, Stephen moments will exist where those hard and opposed to the truth need to be reminded of where they have offended a holy God, the judgment to come, and the narrowness of the path of discipleship. Above all this, I must resist all efforts to ever soften the gospel in order to manipulate the one who must believe by faith and hear the word of God consistently and carefully proclaimed.
- Posted with my iPad. The Apple Kool-Aide tastes fine.