Then went out to him [John the Baptist] Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan, And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to [our] father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. (Matthew 3:5-9)
As I again read these word from John the Baptist it really trigger something in me about how Jesus did not come to bring peace, but the sword of division (See Matt. 10:34-36). John’s words were not just a textual teaching to people sitting in their padded pews, speaking things that tickled their ears, but rather an “in your face” challenge and warning to repent to a people that came out to see this strange man as if he was there to entertain them and make them feel good about themselves! That is the difference between inspired speaking led of the Spirit and mere mealy-mouth teaching from a pulpit. In Proverbs we read, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful” (Proverbs 27:6 KJ2000). We would do well to consider these words the next time a brother or sister says something that we find disturbing.
I would rather learn from a man who has convictions and who challenges me with a word filled with the power of God, than listen to a mind puffing textual word study from a mealy-mouthed preacher. The Word of God becomes a sword that passes through the hearers separating soul from spirit and discerns the thoughts and the intents of the hearts of men (see Hebrews 4:12-13) when it is empowered by the Spirit of God. Give me men who speak that are full of the Holy Spirit like Stephen. Give me a message that is life-changing and refuses to let me play around with it in my head while it pierces my heart!
After Stephen preached what was the result?
“When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him [Stephen] with [their] teeth. But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God…” (Acts 7:54-55 KJV)
Too many teachings and sermons today lack the power of God, because men resist the Holy Spirit for they fear offending someone as they speak. Someone once said that the sign of a good preacher was one who comforts the distressed and distresses the comfortable. I guess those Jews in Jerusalem that day were pretty distressed in their comfort zones after God was through talking to them through Stephen. His preaching forced them to either repent and move on in Christ or manifest what was in their hearts.
This preaching of Stephen which resulted in his death led up to a definitive moment in church history where persecution broke out upon their warm and fuzzy little gathering in Jerusalem and compelled the saints to get out of their nest and be scattered all over the known world with the gospel. It was also the beginning of the undoing of a Pharisee named Saul of Tarsus so he could be remade into the image of the very Christ whom he persecuted.
One time I heard a nest-building preacher say from the pulpit, “Stephen had no business preaching in the temple that day. He got what he had coming because he left off being a deacon and took up preaching. If he would have kept quiet and done his job, peace would have continued for the church instead of persecution.” It is interesting how the temple proprietors in Jerusalem were also offended with Stephen, so much so that the killed him and what set them off after he had preached to them for many minutes without offense being taken? I believe it was this…
“Howbeit the most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; as saith the prophet, Heaven [is] my throne, and earth [is] my footstool: what house will ye build me? saith the Lord: or what [is] the place of my rest? Hath not my hand made all these things? Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers [did], so [do] ye.” (Acts 7:48-51 KJV).
The Holy Spirit in Stephen touched their “holy cow,” their idol, and the thing that stood between them and obeying the Son of God… temples made with the hands of men and their support. He equated their temple devotion to resisting the Holy Spirit. Interesting how the loyalty of men to their church buildings is not all that different today, yet they expect the Spirit wind to blow inside their skillfully and beautifully made “comfort zones” according to their own dictates.
Just as the words of Stephen got him killed that day, this kind of preaching will still get you killed in a lot of church circles today and if not, it is surely has a deadening effect on the volume of donations that are put into the offering plate. Sad to say, the latter is the foremost consideration of many a pulpit-eer these days. If men who preach were more interested in the souls of their followers and dared to speak accordingly, than they are in their own incomes and church building projects, the church (the called out ones of God) would once again be that city that shines forth from the crest of a hill and the world could see that it is offered a choice to sin and death instead reheated lukewarm “life.”
The day after John had warned the people to flee the wrath to come, Jesus showed up as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” With conviction of sin also came a direction and an answer as to which way to they needed to go. It takes both. First there must be exposure to the depravity of our hearts, then repentance. But this is followed up from God with the solution and an exchanged life IN Christ is offered to those who truly repent.
Lord, convict us of where we are falling short (the definition of sin) of the Life of your Son, Jesus Christ. Cut and divide deep into our hearts and separate our soulish ways from the Life of the Spirit in us that He might prevail unto the rising up of His glory within us. Don’t let us settle for anything less. Amen