In the sixth and seventh chapters of Acts we are introduced to a man by the name of Stephen. Stephen was not one of the twelve apostles chosen by the Lord. He was one of seven deacons chosen by the church to help care for widows so that the apostles could devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word.
But Acts tells us that Stephen was also gifted in other ways. He was full of grace and power and was doing great signs and wonders among the people. Stephen was fulfilling what Jesus had said in John 14 that whoever believes in him will not only do the works that Jesus did but even greater works than Jesus did.
This caught the attention of some foreign Jews who began disputing with Stephen. The dispute led to the highest level of Jewish leadership where Stephen proceeds to accuse them of some very serious charges.
The Jewish leaders were guilty of:
Being stiff-necked as their fore-fathers had been in the Old Testament. Being stiff-necked is just another word for stubborn. Being stubborn is not necessarily a sin but it is when one is being stubborn towards God.
Being un-circumcised in heart and ear. As good Jewish men these people had all been circumcised physically but in their hearts they were not believers. Their “faith” was just about power, money and appearances.
They resisted the Holy Spirit. Never a good idea since it is the Holy Spirit who brings us to saving faith in Jesus.
Their ancestors had persecuted the prophets including the ones who had foretold the coming of the Righteous One.
They betrayed and murdered the Righteous One, namely Jesus. Yes, these were the same Jewish leaders who had compelled Pontius Pilate to have Jesus crucified.
They received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.
Stephen was not just making up these charges. The Jewish leaders were guilty of all the things he accused them of. And Stephen was speaking in front of a crowd for all to hear.
It is no wonder, then, that the Jews were enraged, ground their teeth, covered their ears and rushed together at Stephen. They did not wait for a trial or turn him over to the authorities as they had with Jesus. They acted as judge, jury and executioner and stoned him to death.
But even though the sins of the Jews were serious, all of their sins would have been forgiven and forgotten if they had repented and turned to Christ. Stephen says when he is ready to die, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” That’s how amazing the Gospel is.
In I Peter 2:6 Peter writes that Jesus is “a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” Even as Stephen was being stoned to death he was not put to shame because he trusted in Jesus , the cornerstone. Acts tells us that as he was dying he saw heaven opened and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And his last words were “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” (Acts 7:59-60)
Then later Peter writes that God called us out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once we were not a people, once we had not received mercy. But now we are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession. (I Peter 2:9-10)
It says the witnesses of Stephen’s stoning laid their garments at the feet of Saul. Saul not only approved of Stephen’s murder, he went on to be a blasphemer and persecutor of the Christian church. But later, after Jesus appeared to him, Saul, who is also known as Paul, repented and was forgiven. His horrible sins were not held against him.
This is why, at the beginning of this story about Stephen, the apostles did not want to stop preaching this message to wait on tables. Yes, helping the hungry is important. It is something that Christians have continued to do throughout the centuries. But even though feeding people is important, it cannot disrupt the preaching of the Gospel, prayer and the ministry of the Word.
How would you like it if someone named all your sins in public as Stephen did to the Jews? I think I would be enraged, grind my teeth, cover my ears and do everything possible to get them to stop exposing all my sins just as the Jews did to Stephen.
But God, the one whose opinion really counts, already knows all about our sins. The good news is that God, for the sake of Christ, does not hold our sins against us. When Jesus died for us on the cross he took upon himself all our sins and shame, guilt and punishment. The mercy we have received through the cross of Christ is unlimited.
And since the Lord is not holding against us any of our sins, we dare not hold anyone’s sins against them. We show others the same mercy that God has shown to us.
Jesus teaches us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” At the end of the Lord’s Prayer Jesus adds, Matthew 6:14–15 “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you,  but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
And going back to I Peter 2, it says that God sends us out to proclaim the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light. As someone once said, “God gave us mercy and he also gave us mouths.” Our mouths are to be used to proclaim the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light.
I’m not sure I would use the same approach as Stephen. The people to whom God calls us are no better than the people to whom Stephen was talking but I would suggest being a little less confrontational.
But we still need to declare the excellencies of the Lord. And people will still stumble and become offended by it. And yet we keep proclaiming.
No one likes having their sins spoken out loud for all to hear. But God knows all about even our most secret sins. And for the sake of Jesus Christ, he does not hold our sins against us. In light of the mercy we have received through Christ, we then use our mouths to proclaim the excellencies of his holy name. Those who believe in Jesus will never be put to shame.
To watch a video of a sermon based on this post click here.