How well do you receive CORRECTION? When someone points out your faults, or mistakes? Do you WELCOME it as helpful advice, and put it into practice?
Or is your first reaction to TAKE IT PERSONALLY? (Get OFFENDED? Perhaps get DEFENSIVE, and give excuses or justifications?)
Or maybe your instinct is TO ATTACK BACK. To point out how the person offering the advice is HARDLY ONE TO CRITICISE. Because they have plenty of faults TOO.
That’s our temptation. Because we’re proud. And we feel HURT.
But correction’s GOOD FOR US. It makes us BETTER. The Bible’s FULL of good advice about listening to correction. Like Proverbs 12:1.
Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid.
And correction and instruction’s ESPECIALLY important if they COME FROM GOD. If it’s stupid to ignore advice from PEOPLE, how much MORE foolish is it to ignore it from our CREATOR! From a heavenly Father, who lovingly disciplines us for our GOOD (Hebrews 12:10)? Who breathes out his Word, the Bible, to teach, rebuke, correct and train us in righteousness, so we’ll be thoroughly equipped (2 Timothy 3:16)?
James 1 says
22 Do not merely LISTEN to the word, and so deceive yourselves. DO WHAT IT SAYS.
Listening and DOING. That’s what God’s people SHOULD do when God speaks. But the story of the Bible is how we’re not very good at listening.
And that’s what we learn from the history lesson Stephen gives here in Acts 7. It’s a summary of the Old Testament, And it’s LONG! In fact, it’s the longest of all the speeches in Acts. But it’s got a very special focus, which is all about how Israel REFUSED TO LISTEN to God’s message, or God’s messengers.
And the sting in the tail, and what ends up getting Stephen KILLED, is he accuses his hearers of being JUST LIKE THEIR FATHERS. Because they REFUSED TO LISTEN TO JESUS, God’s righteous servant, and MURDERED him.
And so the question God’s asking US is how well do WE listen to him. Most importantly, are we listening to his SON, JESUS? And living in response to him?
We’ll come back to those questions. But let’s start at the beginning. Ch 6 v8. We’re introduced to Stephen. (One of the seven Greek-speaking Jewish Christians we met last week. They’ve been appointed to distribute the food to the needy.)
But that’s not all he does. He’s full of the Spirit and wisdom. And God uses him to do MIRACLES. And when he goes to his Greek-speaking synagogue, v9, he TELLS THEM ALL ABOUT JESUS. Probably, like Peter in Chapter 2 and 3, showing how the Old Testament pointed to Jesus as a suffering Messiah, who died for sin, and who defeated death.
And because he’s got God’s Spirit and wisdom, those who disagreed couldn’t win the argument, v10. And so people LIED, and accused him, (see it there in v11) of speaking WORDS OF BLASPHEMY AGAINST MOSES AND AGAINST GOD.
They bring him before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council. And, v12, MORE false witnesses testify that he was speaking against THIS HOLY PLACE (which means the temple) and against THE LAW.
The three most important things in Judaism. God, the Law, and the temple. And Stephen’s accused of speaking against all three. It’s hard to imagine greater sins in Judaism.
The high priest asks him if the charges are true. And, in v2 of ch 7, Stephen begins his defence. It’s a STRANGE sort of defence, because it’s more of a PROSECUTION, than a defence. (He accuses his ACCUSERS).
On the surface, it looks like a long history lesson of Israel. But if we look a little closer, we notice he does actually address the charges against him. FIRSTLY the charge that he’s AGAINST THE TEMPLE – which they call “THIS HOLY PLACE”. And secondly that he’s against God, Moses and the Law.
What’s really a holy place?
And his point about the FIRST charge (that he’s against this holy place) is that there are LOTS of holy places. Because God’s been at work ALL OVER THE PLACE. THEY think the TEMPLE is the holy place, But Stephen asks the question, “What’s REALLY a holy place?”
He begins, v2, by noticing that Abraham was in MESOPOTAMIA when God appeared to him. God was THERE!
Then he talks about all the places Abraham went. He skips over Isaac and Jacob, and slows down again when he gets to JACOB, v9. His brothers sold him as a slave into EGYPT. But GOD WAS WITH HIM. IN EGYPT!
Fast forward again, through the famine. Jacob and his brothers die. And they get brought back to SHECHEM to be buried, v16. That’s ANOTHER holy place.
Fast forward again through the slavery in Egypt, to MOSES. He flees Egypt and goes to Midian, v29. Forty years later, v30, an angel appears to Moses in the burning bush on Mt Sinai. He hears the LORD’S voice, who tells him, v33, to take off his sandals, BECAUSE THE PLACE HE’S STANDING ON IS HOLY GROUND. MT SINAI is holy ground TOO!
Fast forward again, through Moses bringing Israel out of slavery. An amazing series of stories, but all summarised in one verse, v36. Where we see three MORE locations where God was working through Moses. He did wonders and miracles in EGYPT, and THE RED SEA, and in THE DESERT.
The action slows down again at v40. The people rebel against Moses. And ask Aaron, v41, to make an idol in the form of a calf. And
They brought sacrifices to it and reveled in WHAT THEIR OWN HANDS HAD MADE
Notice what Stephen calls the idol. Something MADE WITH HANDS. (It’s a common Old Testament insult of idols.)
And then, in v44, Stephen turns his attention to the TABERNACLE. Which was made
AS GOD DIRECTED MOSES, according to the pattern he had seen
And the tabernacle travelled around wherever the people went. Through the desert, and then into the Promised Land. And God was in ALL OF THOSE PLACES. THOSE places were holy.
And the tabernacle stayed in the land until King David arrived, v45. David wanted to find a dwelling place for God, v46. But, in the end, it was SOLOMON who built a house for him, v47. And in v48 Stephen paraphrases Solomon’s prayer at the opening of the temple
“However, the Most High does not live in houses MADE BY HUMAN HANDS.
Solomon had ACTUALLY said that God didn’t live in “THIS TEMPLE I HAVE BUILT.” But Stephen describes it, instead, as a HOUSE MADE WITH HANDS. Which is how IDOLS are made. He’s, more or less, calling the temple AN IDOL. At least, the way the Jews of the day were TREATING it was idolatry.
And then to back it up, he quotes Isaiah 66.
49 “‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me? says the Lord. Or where will my resting place be? 50 Has not MY HAND made all these things?’
Everything belongs to God. Everywhere is HOLY because God’s MADE IT ALL. Forget something made with HUMAN hands. The world’s been made with GOD’S hand. EVERYWHERE IS HOLY GROUND.
The Jews of the time had focussed so much on Jerusalem and the Jews, they’d forgotten that God was God of the WHOLE WORLD, and every nation. And now, in Jesus, the gospel was going TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH.
You didn’t need to come to the temple to meet God. God was everywhere.
And that’s a great truth for us to remember. To REJOICE in. EVERYWHERE is HOLY. God is everywhere. It’s been difficult with our building closed. And it’s good to be back. But we don’t go to a BUILDING to meet God. God’s been with us the WHOLE TIME.
We don’t need a certain ritual. Or mediator. Or a congregation.
Because of Jesus’ reconciling work, he’s poured out his Spirit, and now God lives WITH us. Wherever we are. On the top of a mountain, or under the sea. By ourselves, or in a crowd. At midday, or the middle of the night. And he HEARS us when we talk to him.
I think, sometimes, we FORGET that. We under value it. Let’s REJOICE in that privilege. And TAKE ADVANTAGE of it!
That’s Stephen’s answer to the FIRST charge. (That he’s speaking against “this holy place”.) In a sense, he’s AGREEING with them. He IS against what the temple has BECOME.
- Who’s really speaking against God and his leaders?
But what about the SECOND charge? Do you remember what it was? It was SPEAKING AGAINST GOD, MOSES AND THE LAW. And we can summarise Stephen’s response with this question, “Who’s REALLY speaking against God and his leaders?”
So go back to the start of Ch 7, and we’ll skim through it again, looking for what he says about rejecting God and his leaders.
Jump down to v9, where he says that the Patriarchs were JEALOUS of Joseph so they sold him to Egypt. They rejected the one God chose to SAVE them from famine. Just like the Jews were jealous of Jesus.
Fast forward to Moses in v20. Stephen says, in v25,
Moses thought that his own people would realize that God was using him to rescue them, BUT THEY DID NOT.
They didn’t recognise God’s Saviour – just like the Jews did, hundreds of years later, with JESUS!
And then he zooms in on one man’s reaction to Moses’ peace-making efforts. V27, “Who made you ruler and judge over us?”
Stephen’s building his case of a history of God’s people who reject God’s leaders.
Jump forward again 40 years later to God’s call to Moses on Mt Sinai. Stephen describes him in v35
“This is the same Moses they had rejected with the words, ‘Who made you ruler and judge?’ He was sent to be their ruler and deliverer by God himself, through the angel who appeared to him in the bush.
They reject MOSES. And so they reject GOD, who SENT him.
And again, v36, even though Moses led the people out of Egypt, and, v38, received living words from God to pass on us, V39
“But our fathers REFUSED TO OBEY HIM. Instead, they rejected him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt.
The sin of the fathers was rejecting God and his chosen leader.
Fast forward through the story of the golden calf, and the tabernacle. And Solomon building the temple. And look at v51. Stephen reaches his conclusion. The point of the whole history lesson.
“You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. YOU ARE JUST LIKE YOUR FATHERS: You always resist the Holy Spirit! 52 Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One
They’ve accused STEPHEN. But now, he accuses THEM. They’re stiff-necked. And their hearts are dead, and their ears are dull. But it’s not a PHYSICAL problem. It’s a SPIRITUAL one. They’re PROUD. And they REFUSE to LISTEN to God’s Holy Spirit.
And that makes them JUST LIKE THEIR FATHERS. Who refused to listen to THEIR leaders like Moses and Joseph. They REJECTED their RESCUERS. They PERSECUTED their PROPHETS. The prophets who predicted the Messiah.
And then, at the end of v52, the EVIDENCE for his charge that they refuse to listen). “You’ve BETRAYED and MURDERED the Righteous One – Jesus!” The worst sin of all! Murdering the One the Law and the Prophets points to. Rejecting the One God sent to rescue them.
I wonder how you’d receive THAT CORRECTION. Would you recognise it as great advice, and accept it. And throw yourself on God’s MERCY?
That’s what happened back in chapter 2. The crowd who listened to Peter’s speech at Pentecost. Peter says,
“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, WHOM YOU CRUCIFIED, both Lord and Christ.”
And listen to how the crowd respond. They’re CUT TO THE HEART. And they say, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
And Peter says, “REPENT and be baptised, every one of you for the FORGIVENESS of your sins.”
And they DO. And they ARE. Which is WONDERFUL! And what WE should do TOO.
But how do STEPHEN’S hearers respond? V54, they’re FURIOUS with him, and they GNASHED THEIR TEETH at him. (I’m not quite sure what that LOOKS LIKE, but it SOUNDS BAD!)
But it doesn’t bother Stephen. In the middle of the fury all around him, God gives him a wonderful vision to strengthen him. V55
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.”
It’s not something that JUST HAPPENED THEN. Jesus is ALWAYS king, watching over his people. And KNOWING the REALITY of it give Stephen COMFORT and HOPE.
May WE understand that same reality, so WE can stand up courageously for our King!
Notice that Jesus is STANDING. Not SITTING at God’s right hand. But waiting to receive Stephen. To welcome him home.
And did you notice Stephen calls Jesus THE SON OF MAN? He’s the only other person in the Bible to call Jesus that! But Stephen had seen, perhaps like no one else before him, that Jesus was more than a Messiah FOR JEWS ONLY. He was the Son of Man, from Daniel 7, who’d been given authority, glory and sovereign power by the Ancient of Days. And that ALL NATIONS and PEOPLES of EVERY LANGUAGE worshipped him. He was a king for EVERYONE.
And that’s enough to drive the Sanhedrin WILD. That Jesus is WITH GOD IN HEAVEN. V57. They cover their ears, and scream at him.
How ironic that God’s correcting them by his Spirit, through Stephen. (About HOW THEY DON’T LISTEN)… And they DON’T LISTEN to THAT!
And then drag him out of the city and stone him to death.
And as they do, Stephen prays to the Jesus he can see waiting to welcome him home. “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Like Jesus himself, who’d prayed, “Father, into YOUR hands I commit my spirit.”
And then, again like Jesus, he loved his enemies. V60, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” In other words, “Show them MERCY. Grant them REPENTANCE AND FORGIVENESS.”
And that prayer was answered for at least ONE of those watching. Because there was a young man named SAUL, who was looking after the coats. And he’ll end up being the most important human cause in how the gospel spread. He was the PLANT that grew from the SEED of Stephen’s death.
We’ll see NEXT WEEK about MORE fruit that came from that persecution. How it drove Christians out of Jerusalem. But they spread the gospel of Jesus wherever they went. Doing the very thing the Sanhedrin was trying to STOP.
And the church GREW.
But back to the question we BEGAN with. How well do YOU accept correction?
Firstly, about how you TREAT JESUS. Israel’s forefathers rejected the rescuers God sent them. Is that YOU? In your pride and independence, have you said to Jesus, “No thanks. I’m ok. I don’t need your help.”
God sent his Son because WE’RE NOT OK. We’re dead in our sin. Helpless. Bound for judgment.
But God, who is RICH in MERCY, offers to make you ALIVE with Christ. Saving you by GRACE.
What have you done with THAT advice?
Many of us have heard and received that advice. (We’re saved and forgiven) But we need to KEEP doing that. (Listening to God’s word to us, in the Bible). Daily.
Is hearing from God your TOP PRIORITY? The FIRST thing you do each day? How regular is your Bible reading? Jesus advised us, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
Is that what fuels YOUR life?
And when you READ, are you EXPECTING GOD to CORRECT YOU? A great prayer to pray before you read is, “God, COMMAND me! Speak, Lord, your servant is LISTENING!”
Or, finally, how well do you receive correction from your brothers and sisters?
We actually have a RESPONSIBILITY as FAMILY to be correcting each other. Galatians 6:1-2 says
Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should RESTORE that person GENTLY. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. 2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
We show LOVE by correcting people. For their GOOD. That needs to be our motivation. Not pride, or comparing ourselves, or putting someone in their place.
And if you’re on the RECEIVING END. Don’t be like your FATHERS. Don’t be stiff necked. Be HUMBLE. Listen before you speak. (You’ve got TWO ears and ONE mouth for a reason).
Try not to take it personally. It’s easier to do that if you know the person is doing it from LOVE rather than some OTHER motive.
But even if it’s NOT given in love, doesn’t mean it’s WRONG. Prayerfully consider the advice. Look for the grain of truth amongst the advice that’s NOT helpful.
Or here’s a hard one. Do you INVITE correction? Are there people you ASK for advice? Do you ever say, “How can I be a better husband? Dad? Public speaker? Employee?”
God is at work on all sorts of situations, in all sorts of place, and using all sorts of people to make you more like Jesus each day. Make sure you’re LISTENING.