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
Amen Michael. Truth always destroys before it builds up.
The comfort zone is a most spiritually dangerous zone. Conversely, the opposite ditch becomes asceticism which amplifies the problem even more. In either endeavor, it’s an ego-centric dream of spiritual greatness.
Of course we are nothing apart from God but the lie is not an intellectall deception that we can decide to part with or simply believe what we think is the truth. It goes deeper than that. The lie is someone who must stop living. This won’t preach and they know it. After all there are bills to pay!
The world is to hate you as Christ was hated and rejected of men. Would this not include a ‘church’ patterned after the world will despise you and reject you as well? Been our experience. The division is there, a wall between us and them.
Yes, Devon. The same has happened to me many times over. It was almost mystical. I would walk into a new church and within a short time whether I spoke or not, these “professional Christians” KNEW that I was not one of them. Whether in the world system of a worldly church system, the spirit is still the same, “The spirit of this age.” The chief priests, Pilate, Herod and the scribes and Pharisees were all in agreement that Jesus was dangerous and that He had to die.
Part of my problem was that I kept thinking that if I just could draw closer to the Lord, that the church authorities and their followers would accept me. I really tried hard to make that system work and fit in. More than once my knowledge of the scriptures was a threat to the pastor and I always thought that that would be something that would commend me to them! My family to seem to always ending up working in the lowest positions as lowly servants, scrubbing toilets, cleaning floors, doing repairs, etc and they still did not like me. On one occasion I even was sent to a “Christian physiologist” to take a Character Analysis Profile test so the pastor could get the results and hopefully have proof of my “character defect.” I passed it with flying colors and then the pastor was really mad! We finally resigned and left. I was finally getting the message that we were not wanted except for janitor work and our tithes. It was not long after that God got through to me that I would never fit in the systematized churches of men, nor was I supposed to. I thank Him daily that I was rejected in that system or I would have grown up in it and become “twice the child of hell as they were” just like Jesus said (see Matt. 23:15).
Since I have not been a part of the institutional church for many years, I have left this Babylonian system, I don’t rebuke them because they are without. Yet there is a great work to do within, those who have left and are scattered in the wilderness, I rebuke them – it is they who I wish would feel blessed when they are rebuked – “rebuke a wise man and he will love you more”.
Truly, “The Lord hath spoken here,” through your whole article, Michael.
“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.”
Spot-on! I have been observing this particular trend for some time now. There are many churches and believers who want to experience God deeper than before. They have been praying for an outpouring of His Spirit or even for a revival. But alas, they do not know what they are praying for. They want more power, more blessings, more joy, more healing, more influence, and so on.
Of course, God can change our hearts. And He will do if we let Him. However, there is a big danger for those impatient believers who cannot wait upon the Lord. Satan knows his chances and God allows him to deceive many. Therefore, I sense every so often – or more specifically on different Christian blog sites – a strange spirit worming his way into absent-minded, optimistic swallow-anything-as-from-God-believers’ hearts.
I often cringe while reading posts or comments from saints who – again and again – believe that deceitful spirit. They cannot see that Satan offers power, success, opportunities to influence, and even supernatural gifts.
It’s so saddening. We can only pray that their ears might be opened to hear the Spirit of God.
As for God changing our hearts, that truly takes a miracle, “for they are desperately wicked and deceitful above all things. Who can know them?” At some point we have to break and call out to Him for that miracle. But if we are so impressed with who we are and deceived by our own “press releases” we might never reach that point. Paul wrote that in these last days that there must first come a great apostasy, a falling away of believers, and he followed by saying,
“The coming of the lawless one by the activity of Satan will be with all power and with pretended signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are to perish, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends upon them a strong delusion, to make them believe what is false, so that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12 RSVA)
Today we have seen many lying sines and wonders in many church gatherings. There is great deception going on with great fanfare and people eat it up. It would seem that a majority of Christians do not want to hear the truth about themselves. They do not want the truth of the Spirit to work deep in their hearts, but rather just want to appear to love the truth in an outward way, free of the pain that goes with change that they might be saved from their own wickedness. There is grave danger to these, for as God draws this age to a close He takes those who take pleasure in unrighteousness and gives them a lie to believe that they might be cursed. This is no time to be playing fleshly games with God. The flip side of this coin is what Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Oh, that Christians would get real with God and pray as David did,
“Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalms 139:23-24 KJ2000)
Bro. Michael, and other saints, your writings are so piercing. I pray with you to be righteous. I cry out to walk the walk like Stephen, and not like the self-righteous pharisees. Thank you for the plum line of following Jesus that you consistently give.
In yesterday’s reply I spelled plumb line wrong. Had I read Amos 7:7, I would have, hopefully, spelled it correctly.
Pat, we knew what you meant. No letter of the law here, not even in spelling things wrong… I due it awl the tyme! 🙂