How messed up was Jonah? Most people become depressed and disappointed because their expectations are not met. But not Jonah. He became depressed and disappointed with God because his expectations were met (Jonah 4:1-3). How messed up is that?! Thankfully, that means if God could use Jonah, God can use a messed-up me. (from the sermon: Depression – We Are Not Alone).
Advice for weak Christians who think they are strong: You have a lot of company because self-delusion is the easiest lie to believe. Your company even includes the illustrious Jeremiah the prophet. Not normally would we think of Jeremiah being weak; but notice how God describes Jeremiah after one of his complaints: “If you have raced with runners and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in a peaceful land, what will you do in the thickets of the Jordan?” (Jeremiah 12:5 (HCSB)). So who is the weak Christian who thinks they are strong? Every one of us who gets spiritually tired and beaten by today’s evil competition. We won’t see how strong we are – or are not, and need to be – until this peaceful land of ours becomes antagonistic to Christians. We are already seeing races being won by Satan’s runners. Soon Satan will have us running against his horses. The advice God gives Jeremiah is not welcomed but is needed. We can’t see how strong we need to be until we first are willing to see how weak we have been. Only then can we through God become strong.
One of the powerful aspects of Jeremiah’s book is when he records God asking questions. Check out the questions in chapter 5 (some are repeated showing divine frustration): Why should I forgive you? Should I not punish them for these things? Should I not avenge Myself on such a nation as this? Do you not fear Me? Do you not tremble before Me, the One who set the sand as the boundary of the sea, an enduring barrier that it cannot cross? Should I not punish them for these things? Should I not avenge Myself on such a nation as this? But what will you do at the end of it?
While these questions are a powerful testimony by themselves, they are directed at the nation of Judah and can seem non-threatening to us. So lets ask this question – What questions would God ask us, our church, and our country? It is harder to feel comfortable when we aim God’s questions at ourselves.
Can what we believe doctrinally change what we believe is the gospel? Recently I read the gospel is defined as the “deity, death, and resurrection of Jesus.” Notice anything missing? Unlike Paul’s description of the gospel (1 Cor.15:4), this gentleman (and rightfully respected scholar) left out Jesus’ burial. Many treat it as superfluous, and I suggest why is because they do not believe baptism is both immersion and essential to salvation. So they just emphasize the Divine Jesus was crucified and resurrected. Is Jesus’ burial incidental or important? Notice what is said in the very first sermon after Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection: Acts 2:27 – “because You will not leave me in Hades or allow Your Holy One to see decay.” Jesus’ body was not only killed and resurrected, it was protected from decay in the tomb. God worked while Jesus rested. In baptism, God works on us too (Col.2:12). Of course, if you believe you are saved without obeying Jesus’ command (Mark 16:16); and if you believe baptism isn’t a burial (Rom.6:4); then you too can let what you believe doctrinally change what is the gospel.
Can a biblical doctrine become our idol? One reason God did not want graven images made to honor Him is there is no singular image that captures all of God. In fact nothing can since even Jesus is both lion and lamb. To emphasize one aspect of God into an image limits God. The same is true for God’s doctrines. When we want to make God only or mostly love or grace we limit God. When we want to make God only or mostly righteous or wrathful, again we limit God. Just as a graven image reduced God to that person’s favorite attribute, we can make our favorite doctrines about God into our idols. When we isolate God, then we turn against those who have chosen another idol.
A statement is axiomatic if it needs no proof because it is true by the definitions of the words themselves: A servant is not above his master; water is wet; etc. Denial comes when people willingly ignore the obvious which is becoming the new legal norm: Men are no longer only males; marriage is no longer only between males and females. Denying the axiomatic truth did not begin recently but it almost always is driven by the desire to make immoral choices. The entire Bible begins with an axiomatic statement which supplies additional information: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Earth being created is axiomatic because it is matter and matter itself decays and therefore is not self-existent. Since matter is not self-existent it must have had a beginning. The Bible supplies who began and created – God. Denying both of these is driven by the immoral desire to be our own Lord and master. So in the end the servant becomes greater than the master but only in a purposely delusional mind where definitions do not matter and nothing is true unless we want it to be true. It is axiomatic such is not a rational world.
Believers are responsible for God’s reputation (Rom.2:24). Because of us unbelievers will want to know Jesus; won’t want to truly know; or won’t even know who He is. Before Paul witnessed Stephen stoned, he thought he knew. After the stoning Paul became more zealous against Jesus. Sometimes people don’t want to know more because of our righteous example – and then later will want to. I have no doubt that when Jesus miraculously appeared to Paul, and for a lifetime later, he could still hear Stephen say, “Lord Jesus receive my spirit….Lord do not charge them with this sin” (Acts 7:59-60). I doubt this scene would have as much meaning if Stephen started throwing stones back at Paul and the others. When Jesus appeared to Paul, he was ready. I believe believers like Stephen helped pave the way. It is meaningful that as Stephen relived the death of Jesus; Paul will relive and teach that all of us are living and dying the death of Jesus.
The sermon begins in chapter 7, but the set up begins in chapter 6. One point to emphasize is that the detractors could not “compete” with Stephen’s wisdom, and the Spirit by which he spoke (6.10). Looking at the text, we have combined together the wisdom of a good and godly man with the inspiration from a good God. Today we can imitate this by using good sense when we teach and preach, along with quoting God’s word.
In Stephen’s sermon we can see his wisdom:
- He begins by finding common ground. Most of what he says up front will be agreed to by his curious audience.
- He lays a foundation for Jesus without mentioning Jesus:
- Abraham came to a foreign land; Jesus left heaven.
- Abraham didn’t receive his inheritance while alive; Jesus didn’t either.
- Israel was enslaved by Egyptians; Jesus taught sin enslaves us.
- Joseph’s brothers were jealous of him; the Jewish leaders were of Jesus.
- Joseph was rescued and exalted; Jesus was rescued through resurrection and exalted.
- Joseph provided food during the famine; Jesus was the bread of life.
- Joseph was finally revealed to his brothers; Jesus is being revealed to His.
- Joseph invited his family to live with Him; Jesus invites His.
- Jacob was buried in a tomb; Jesus was too but was resurrected.
- A king arose who did not recognize Joseph; the Jewish leaders did not recognize Jesus.
- Israelites did not recognize deliverance through Moses; many Jews did not recognize deliverance through Jesus.
- Israelites mistreated Israelites; Jesus was a Jew mistreated by Jews.
- Israelites did not want Moses as their judge; Jewish leaders did not want Jesus.
- Moses taught a prophet like him would arise; but the Jewish teachers rejected the Prophet sent.
- There is shift in Joseph’s teaching from the comfortable to the uncomfortable as the Jewish listeners had to rehear their own stubborn history.
- Stephen in his sermon shows that Jesus and Jews of His time basically were reliving their entire history.
- Then Stephen turns from implication to insinuation. That leads to his death which also imitates the death of Jesus.