October 10 - Message Update

Risky Faith – Acts 7:51-60 – Pastor Eric

What are you willing to risk in order to follow Jesus? 


Today, there are Christians in Afghanistan risking it all, and they must decide whether or not to risk their jobs, their livelihood and their families to follow Jesus.  As our hearts ache for them, we can compare their story to the biblical story of Stephen.  Both Afghan Christians and Stephen have risked life and limb in order to faithfully follow Christ. 


When we come to a story like Stephen, his faith helps us contemplate the risk involved to follow Jesus, and his perseverance ought to help us grow in faith.  Stephen’s life and actions ought to draw us closer to the heartbeat of Jesus, because Jesus risked it all for you and me.


These thoughts lead us to the central truth the Church must risk life and limb to faithfully proclaim the gospel just as Christ did for us.  Every believer is called and commissioned by the Holy Spirit to share, to preach, to tell, to love, and to live out the gospel of Christ.  This isn’t an optional part of being a Christian.  Risk has to be involved in our faith in some form or fashion.


(1) Risky faith proclaims the gospel of Christ no matter the response. We must proclaim and preach the gospel no matter if we get a positive response or negative response.  We must faithfully share Christ with others whether we receive a confession or receive a criticism. (Acts 7:51-53)


Verses 51 to 53 are a snapshot of the entire sermon that Stephen preached. He doesn’t withhold any punches when calling out the religious leaders as stubborn unregenerate sinners.  Not only does Stephen strike against their fake religiosity, but he calls them out for their murder of faithful believers.  Stephen’s sermon explains the definite separation between the old Jewish faith and the new found Christian faith. He shows them that everything in the Old Testament was leading to Christ, the true Messiah. And their response is not favorable as they become furious and angry.


So, the Church must share with others no matter the response, because we don’t know how long we’ll have with people. Eternity is a lot closer to us all than we think.  And secondly, the results aren’t up to us. God is the one who saves, not us.


What God does call us to is faithfully deliver the message, and leave the results up to Him. God doesn’t call us to control favorable responses, but He does call us to faithfully proclaim His Word.


(2) Risky faith proclaims the glory of Christ no matter the cost. We must share about the wonders of God for it is the glories of Jesus that will be attractive to people.  And at moments, it may cost us something along the way, but that cost is so minimal compared to following Jesus. (Acts 7:55-58)


In verse 55, there is the Holy Spirit in the life of Stephen. The recognition of the Spirit encourages us, because if one ever had to do what Stephen did, the Spirit would be the one leading us, not ourselves.  There is a real assurance in this story, because the main character is still God, His Spirit, carrying Stephen to the very end.


In the midst of Stephen’s persecution, God shows up with a glimpse of Jesus standing in Heaven. Generally, we think of Jesus sitting upon His throne and interceding on our behalf in Heaven. But in this moment, Jesus’ standing is a sign of vindication, assurance, and approval for Stephen. 


One has to think that this glorious picture of Jesus was what kept Stephen going through all that he endured to his final breathe. And we can be assured when we too receive a glorious picture of God through His Word, then there will be nothing to hold us back from doing the work of God.


So, we must contemplate the cost to understand our high calling as Christians, but more importantly, we must contemplate the great cost to understand the great love of Christ. 


The gospel reveals there were no limits for Jesus. He lost His perfect home. He lost all His Heavenly rights. He limited Himself to a finite body.  He was crucified and humiliated on a cross to incur the wrath of God to love us!  So that any of our costs are minimal compared to Christ, yet so worthwhile to be faithful to Christ. And the risk Jesus endured will always be far greater than ours, making our risks a whole lot easier. 


(3) Risky faith persists in the gospel love just like Christ did for us. We endure because He endured for us. We can forgive others because Christ forgave us. (Act 7:58-60)


The religious leaders stone Stephen to death.  They do so in an unlawful way as they become a lynch mob, and they drag him out of the city to stone him.  There is no trial, no court hearing, or no judge to say if Stephen is guilt or not. These leaders are so enraged by his proclamation of the gospel that they pronounce their own judgment and execution.


Yet, Stephen’s final words are heavenward, not earthbound, as he is ready for Heaven and to dwell with His Savior and Lord. There is such peace, assurance, and faith in Stephen’s words.  Not only are Stephen’s words heavenward, his final words are grace filled. They are seasoned with forgiveness, not bitterness. Love, not hate. Mercy, not malice.


The rage of man came against Stephen, and his response was grace.  The injustices of man came against him, and his response was mercy.  The hate of man came against him, and his response was, “Forgive them!”  Stephen set out to live like Jesus and He ended up dying like Jesus.


Once again, what risk are you willing to take for Jesus? Are you willing to take a risk and invite your friend to church or Harvest Festival?  Are you willing to take a risk at work or at school to love someone different than you, someone like Saul?


Are you willing to take a risk to mend a broken friendship or a hurting marriage? Take the first step toward forgiveness and reconciliation!  Are you willing to take a risk to finally sit down with your roommate or your good friend to share the gospel in love?


If you take that risk, one can't be guaranteed you will have a favorable result, but one can be guaranteed that God will show up, and He might do it in a significant way just as God did for Stephen. 


What a glorious life of faith we get to live, free from any fear, if we would step out of our comfort zones to follow Christ and to share the good news of Jesus!


Praise Songs:  Battle Belongs, Our God, Hosanna (Praise Is Rising), Doxology