Learning to Listen
Text: Acts 7
Proposition: Listening to God involves challenging what you know in order to overcome assumptions and catch sight of the truth of Christ.
Introduction: There’s an old adage that goes, ‘Telling is not teaching and listening is not learning.’ It’s a saying that challenges both the teacher and the student cautioning them to be careful about what they assume. The last time we looked at the book of Acts we were watching how Stephen and six other men were chosen to give oversight to the care of the early church, particularly to the Greek converts. Stephen is described as a ‘man full of faith and the Holy Spirit’.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit amazing things happened as he preached the truth of Christ with such clarity that even those who tried to oppose him were frustrated. They charge Stephen with some serious crimes against the synagogue and by implication, against God. They said he was calling the Law of Moses useless, the Temple outdated, even threatening to destroy the Temple. So when we read Acts 7 we would expect to hear Stephen defend himself, to fight for his life because if he were found guilty of this kind of blasphemy he could be put to death by stoning. We mentioned before that Acts 7 is the longest chapter in the New Testament, 60 verses long. There is a tendency see Stephen telling them a bunch of facts they already knew, telling but not teaching. There is also a tendency to listen to all that is being said and miss the opportunity to learn the point of it. If you were on trial for your life would you have made a defence based on a common knowledge of history?  Perhaps that is the very point, Stephen is not defending himself, he’s teaching them about the way of God that they would learn about the person of God. Let’s have a look at what is said in Acts 7.
I. God Chooses Whom He Uses by His Grace and Not Their Worthiness.
Very quickly Stephen is going to make reference to Abraham and then to Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. He starts by saying Abraham was called by God in Mesopotamia but didn’t respond until after he had moved to Haran, perhaps years of time intervened. It was a slow process to move Abraham forward and it was a slow process to move Isaac, Jacob and eventually Joseph forward. In every case God chose these people and then persevered with them as they took one step forward and two steps back and three forward and so on.  I think Stephens point is that God began the nation of Israel with people who were less than perfect and who weren’t even from this land. The Pharisees and Chief Priests were very elitist, they saw no purpose in reaching out to the Hellenists or Greeks. They believed that the things of God were just for them. The idea is simple… know that God chooses whom He will and that He pursues us, rescues us and draws us to Himself. If you have struggled in your faith, if you have stumbled and fallen, if you have turned your back on Him He intends to use even your wandering to be a place that He can reveal Himself as the God who sets you free. Stephen made the point that the people of Israel had to struggle for 400 years of captivity and God never for a moment turned from them. It was not their worthiness that drew God to pursue them, far from it. They betrayed each other and God, they sold one another into slavery and yet God persevered. It is always by His grace and not our worthiness that He chooses to use us.
II. God Uses the Rejected To Demonstrate Redemption.
As Stephen recalls the history of the nation he points out the rejection of Joseph, the rejection of Moses, the rejection of David and even the rejection of the prophets. In every case the rejection occurred because of the pride that refused to hear God’s counsel. Pride has a strong grip upon our sin natures, it is self preserving to the core, it is self glorifying and has more colors to it than a chameleon. Pride can show up as arrogance or it can manifest itself as shyness and being withdrawn. Both are seeking the same end, the safety of self and an unwillingness to trust anyone. Josephs brothers, the Hebrew slaves, King Saul… rich or poor,  all struggled with their pride. Each in their own way rejected what God was setting right before them. I think Stephen is emphasizing the way that the Hebrew people have a long history of rejecting what God wants in order to gain the short term freedoms of what they want. What’s even more peculiar is that God takes the rejected and uses them to be a picture of redemption. Joseph is a picture of Christ, betrayed by his brothers and yet used to save both Hebrew and Egyptian. Moses is a picture of Christ as he is used to bring freedom from an overwhelming slavery. David points us to the way that continually trusts in the Father and yet demonstrates the qualities of a King that are resident in Jesus. In verse 35 Stephen says, “This Moses whom they rejected saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’is the one sent by God to be a ruler and a deliverer…”. Stephens point is that just as the Hebrew people had rejected the patriarchs and the prophets even so now they were doing it again, they were rejecting Jesus Christ. He even quotes Moses in verse 37, “This is that Moses who said to the children of Israel, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren, Him you shall hear.” I thin k that when Stephen said these words the Chief priests and the Pharisees began to be more and more angry, restless, impatient. They knew where Stephen was going, they just didn’t think that he would actually say it because it would mean his death. So why do people reject Christ, why do they reject the words of the people that God puts in their path? In part it is an inability, like the words of 2 Corinthians 4 say, “But even if our gospel is veiled it is veiled to those who are perishing whose minds  the god of this world has blinded, who do not believe  lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.” Yet this verse also implies that it is choice, when it says ‘who do not believe…’.  The more we choose not to believe, to trust, to obey, the easier it is to be blinded by what we do invest ourselves in. It hit a point that when they rebelled against God again and again that something truly horrible happened. It’s stated in verse 42, “Then God turned gave them up to worship the host of heaven…” meaning stars, various spirits, creation itself, in short anything but God. God uses the rejected to demonstrate redemption but when people reject God continually they may get what they are running towards… captivity, wilderness and emptiness that has a disastrous eternal consequence.
III. When the Spirit of God Speaks to You Don’t Resist Him.
The reason Stephen was on trial is that he had presented the Law as vehicle to expose sin not to eradicate sin. He had said that the land of Israel was only a type of a greater land, the kingdom of heaven. He had said that the Temple was never meant to be sole place in which we commune with God and it was completely ineffective as being the ultimate place in which sin is atoned for and forgiveness given.  The Land, the Law and the Temple were only meant to point the people to the ultimate way that God was going to bring redemption to mankind. It was going to be through the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. Through His blood all the sin that Law had exposed would now finally be paid for. Now in the body of Christ was the new Temple, the new meeting place for God and man. Now every believer in Jesus Christ was considered a priest, now the Holy Spirit would indwell the people that make up this spiritual body of Christ called the church. Now access to God was open and free, now we come boldly before the throne of grace in Jesus name. The point is not lost on the court especially as Stephen brings the hammer down by saying, “You stiff- necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did so do you.”  Stiff-necked… stubborn, locked up, inflexible, unwilling to bend the heart much less the knee. Uncircumcised in heart and ear… circumcision and then baptism were marks put upon a believer in God and in Christ signifying they were a people that were in a covenant relationship with God . To be umarked by God in this way meant you belonged to the world and not to God. But the essence of what this means is that they had resisted the Holy Spirit. When the Spirit had pointed the way forward, they balked, when He invited them to agree about sin they argued, when He revealed truth they turned away. The message was simple, when the Spirit of God speaks to you, don’t resist Him. When the Holy Spirit tells us, it is teaching. When we listen to Him it is learning. Be careful about the things we assume. Don’t assume a spiritual entitlement, don’t assume a lesser Jesus, don’t assume that owning a Bible means knowing what is in it. There is much that the Spirit of God will teach us if by faith we are willing to learn it.                                                                                                             Stephen was taken out and put to death and the ground shifted underneath the church. A spiritual earthquake was occurring that would send the church around the world.
Learning to ListenText: Acts 7Proposition: Listening to God involves challenging what you know in order to overcome assumptions and catch sight of the truth of Christ.Introduction: There’s an old adage that goes, ‘Telling is not teaching and listening is not learning.’ It’s a saying that challenges both the teacher and the student cautioning them to be careful about what they assume. The last time we looked at the book of Acts we were watching how Stephen and six other men were chosen to give oversight to the care of the early church, particularly to the Greek converts. Stephen is described as a ‘man full of faith and the Holy Spirit’.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit amazing things happened as he preached the truth of Christ with such clarity that even those who tried to oppose him were frustrated. They charge Stephen with some serious crimes against the synagogue and by implication, against God. They said he was calling the Law of Moses useless, the Temple outdated, even threatening to destroy the Temple. So when we read Acts 7 we would expect to hear Stephen defend himself, to fight for his life because if he were found guilty of this kind of blasphemy he could be put to death by stoning. We mentioned before that Acts 7 is the longest chapter in the New Testament, 60 verses long. There is a tendency see Stephen telling them a bunch of facts they already knew, telling but not teaching. There is also a tendency to listen to all that is being said and miss the opportunity to learn the point of it. If you were on trial for your life would you have made a defence based on a common knowledge of history?  Perhaps that is the very point, Stephen is not defending himself, he’s teaching them about the way of God that they would learn about the person of God. Let’s have a look at what is said in Acts 7.I. God Chooses Whom He Uses by His Grace and Not Their Worthiness.Very quickly Stephen is going to make reference to Abraham and then to Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. He starts by saying Abraham was called by God in Mesopotamia but didn’t respond until after he had moved to Haran, perhaps years of time intervened. It was a slow process to move Abraham forward and it was a slow process to move Isaac, Jacob and eventually Joseph forward. In every case God chose these people and then persevered with them as they took one step forward and two steps back and three forward and so on.  I think Stephens point is that God began the nation of Israel with people who were less than perfect and who weren’t even from this land. The Pharisees and Chief Priests were very elitist, they saw no purpose in reaching out to the Hellenists or Greeks. They believed that the things of God were just for them. The idea is simple… know that God chooses whom He will and that He pursues us, rescues us and draws us to Himself. If you have struggled in your faith, if you have stumbled and fallen, if you have turned your back on Him He intends to use even your wandering to be a place that He can reveal Himself as the God who sets you free. Stephen made the point that the people of Israel had to struggle for 400 years of captivity and God never for a moment turned from them. It was not their worthiness that drew God to pursue them, far from it. They betrayed each other and God, they sold one another into slavery and yet God persevered. It is always by His grace and not our worthiness that He chooses to use us. II. God Uses the Rejected To Demonstrate Redemption.As Stephen recalls the history of the nation he points out the rejection of Joseph, the rejection of Moses, the rejection of David and even the rejection of the prophets. In every case the rejection occurred because of the pride that refused to hear God’s counsel. Pride has a strong grip upon our sin natures, it is self preserving to the core, it is self glorifying and has more colors to it than a chameleon. Pride can show up as arrogance or it can manifest itself as shyness and being withdrawn. Both are seeking the same end, the safety of self and an unwillingness to trust anyone. Josephs brothers, the Hebrew slaves, King Saul… rich or poor,  all struggled with their pride. Each in their own way rejected what God was setting right before them. I think Stephen is emphasizing the way that the Hebrew people have a long history of rejecting what God wants in order to gain the short term freedoms of what they want. What’s even more peculiar is that God takes the rejected and uses them to be a picture of redemption. Joseph is a picture of Christ, betrayed by his brothers and yet used to save both Hebrew and Egyptian. Moses is a picture of Christ as he is used to bring freedom from an overwhelming slavery. David points us to the way that continually trusts in the Father and yet demonstrates the qualities of a King that are resident in Jesus. In verse 35 Stephen says, “This Moses whom they rejected saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’is the one sent by God to be a ruler and a deliverer…”. Stephens point is that just as the Hebrew people had rejected the patriarchs and the prophets even so now they were doing it again, they were rejecting Jesus Christ. He even quotes Moses in verse 37, “This is that Moses who said to the children of Israel, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren, Him you shall hear.” I thin k that when Stephen said these words the Chief priests and the Pharisees began to be more and more angry, restless, impatient. They knew where Stephen was going, they just didn’t think that he would actually say it because it would mean his death. So why do people reject Christ, why do they reject the words of the people that God puts in their path? In part it is an inability, like the words of 2 Corinthians 4 say, “But even if our gospel is veiled it is veiled to those who are perishing whose minds  the god of this world has blinded, who do not believe  lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.” Yet this verse also implies that it is choice, when it says ‘who do not believe…’.  The more we choose not to believe, to trust, to obey, the easier it is to be blinded by what we do invest ourselves in. It hit a point that when they rebelled against God again and again that something truly horrible happened. It’s stated in verse 42, “Then God turned gave them up to worship the host of heaven…” meaning stars, various spirits, creation itself, in short anything but God. God uses the rejected to demonstrate redemption but when people reject God continually they may get what they are running towards… captivity, wilderness and emptiness that has a disastrous eternal consequence.  III. When the Spirit of God Speaks to You Don’t Resist Him.The reason Stephen was on trial is that he had presented the Law as vehicle to expose sin not to eradicate sin. He had said that the land of Israel was only a type of a greater land, the kingdom of heaven. He had said that the Temple was never meant to be sole place in which we commune with God and it was completely ineffective as being the ultimate place in which sin is atoned for and forgiveness given.  The Land, the Law and the Temple were only meant to point the people to the ultimate way that God was going to bring redemption to mankind. It was going to be through the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. Through His blood all the sin that Law had exposed would now finally be paid for. Now in the body of Christ was the new Temple, the new meeting place for God and man. Now every believer in Jesus Christ was considered a priest, now the Holy Spirit would indwell the people that make up this spiritual body of Christ called the church. Now access to God was open and free, now we come boldly before the throne of grace in Jesus name. The point is not lost on the court especially as Stephen brings the hammer down by saying, “You stiff- necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did so do you.”  Stiff-necked… stubborn, locked up, inflexible, unwilling to bend the heart much less the knee. Uncircumcised in heart and ear… circumcision and then baptism were marks put upon a believer in God and in Christ signifying they were a people that were in a covenant relationship with God . To be umarked by God in this way meant you belonged to the world and not to God. But the essence of what this means is that they had resisted the Holy Spirit. When the Spirit had pointed the way forward, they balked, when He invited them to agree about sin they argued, when He revealed truth they turned away. The message was simple, when the Spirit of God speaks to you, don’t resist Him. When the Holy Spirit tells us, it is teaching. When we listen to Him it is learning. Be careful about the things we assume. Don’t assume a spiritual entitlement, don’t assume a lesser Jesus, don’t assume that owning a Bible means knowing what is in it. There is much that the Spirit of God will teach us if by faith we are willing to learn it.                                                                                                             Stephen was taken out and put to death and the ground shifted underneath the church. A spiritual earthquake was occurring that would send the church around the world.

 

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