Septuagesima Sunday Morning Service (13 February 2022) Acts 6:10 and 15
Today is Septuagesima Sunday. It is the third Sunday before Ash Wednesday or the beginning of Lent. Septuagesima is derived from Latin and refers to the seventy days before Resurrection Sunday. The three weeks from Septuagesima is the transitional pre-Lenten period when we prepare for Lent.
Today’s sermon is based on our New Testament Reading, the book of Acts, chapter 6. Verse 10 says, “they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake.” Verse 15 says, “all that sat in the council, looking stedfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel”. In today’s New Testament reading portion, we heard about Stephen the martyr.
According to John 3:16, Jesus came to this world to redeem the world from eternal death. People who lived in darkness saw a great light through Jesus Christ. But the first century was a time of persecution for the early Christian churches and believers. After Jesus was crucified on the cross, the apostles were scattered. The Jewish leaders made a law not to preach about Jesus. But when the Holy Spirit was poured upon the disciples on the day of Pentecost, they began to preach about the LORD Jesus. They stood firm in their faith and boldly proclaimed the gospel of salvation through Jesus. They prepared people for the kingdom of God. Jewish leaders and those in authority continued to trouble the early church and the Christians. Even when they faced persecution, every day, the apostles preached about Jesus in the temples and houses and the number of disciples multiplied. When there was an increase, verse 1 says, “there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.” When the twelve heard of this, they decided to ordain another seven to serve tables while they gave themselves “continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.” Acts 6:5 says, the whole multitude were pleased with this proposal and they chose seven men. The apostles prayed and laid their hands on the seven men. Persecution continued, but as said in Exodus 1:12, “the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew.”. Likewise, Acts 6: 7 says, the word of God increased and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.
Stephen was one of the seven men who were chosen. He was a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost and did wonders and miracles among the people. Some people in the synagogue disputed with Stephen as “they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake”. They bribed men to bear false witnesses to say they heard Stephen speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God. Verse 12 says “they stirred up the people, and the elders, and the scribes, and came upon him, and caught him, and brought him to the council.” Those who bore false witness said “This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words against this holy place, and the law: For we have heard him say, that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered us.” Those who sat in the council saw his face was like that of an angel.
First, I would like to meditate about Stephen’s wisdom and the spirit by which he spoke. We have information about this in Acts 7. When Stephen stood before the council, the high priest asked about the accusation. Stephen was not afraid. He recollected history from Abraham. He spoke about Abraham’s call, his faith on the LORD God and God’s covenant with Abraham. The covenant was circumcision. God told Abraham that his seed would be slaves for four hundred years. He spoke about how the Lord was true to His promises and released people from their bondage land. The LORD God gave them their promised land Canaan. He gave commandments and Old Testament laws through Moses. The Lord performed many miracles, met their needs and revealed Himself through laws and commandments. Stephen knew he was in the last moments of his life. So he seized the opportunity to warn the people. We read him admonishing them in Acts 7:51-53: “Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers: Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it”. The people were cut to their hearts but they hardened their hearts and gnashed their teeth against him. Stephen was filled with the Holy Ghost and said “I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.” The people shut their ears and stoned him to death. Stephen called upon God and said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” He pleaded for those who stoned him saying “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.”
THE WISDOM WITH WHICH STEPHEN SPOKE: When Stephen started speaking, he started from Abraham and not from creation. The reason for this is because the people compared Jesus with Abraham. Jewish people called Abraham as their father. In John 8:53 the people asked Jesus, “Art thou greater than our father Abraham, which is dead?”. John the Baptist also said to the people in Matthew 3:9, “think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father”. Stephen had the wisdom to understand why the people were accusing him. How did Stephen receive the heavenly wisdom? Psalm 111:10, Proverb 1:7 and 9:10 give the same answer to this. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”. Stephen received his wisdom because of his fear on the Lord. He knew he had to suffer persecution because of his faith. Even in the last minutes of his life, he spoke the Word with His heavenly wisdom.
THE SPIRIT WITH WHICH STEPHEN SPOKE: In Acts 6 and 7 we read that Stephen was full of the Holy Ghost. Because Stephen had the anointing of the Holy Ghost, he was full of faith and power and did great wonders and miracles among the people. The people were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spoke. Jesus promised in Acts 1:8 “ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” Stephen’s life is an example of this promise being fulfilled. Stephen spoke boldly with Holy Spirit’s guidance and was willing to die as a martyr for the Lord Jesus.
We can also see a few similar characters between Stephen and Jesus in this passage:
- The Jews did not accept Jesus as Messiah. They were pricked in their hearts with His teachings. But they were not willing to listen to Him. When Stephen spoke, the people were cut to their hearts but they were not ready to change their ways.
- Jesus was also accused and brought before the council. Jesus did not open His mouth because He knew He had to die on the Cross bearing our sins and transgressions. Stephen was also brought before the council. Stephen was filled with heavenly wisdom and the Holy Spirit. He preached the truth about the people before him and their stiffnecked and uncircumcised hearts and ears.
- In Matthew 26:65 we read that the high priest rent his clothes, saying, Jesus had spoken blasphemy. When the people of synagogue accused Stephen, they said he spoke blasphemous words.
- The heavens opened when Jesus came out of Jordan and the Almighty Father bore witness saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”. In Stephen’s last moments, he saw “the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.”
- When Jesus was crucified on the cross, He pleaded for the people saying, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”. Jesus commended His spirit into His Father’s hands and gave up the ghost. Stephen “cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.”. Stephen said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit”.
- Jesus saved the life of the thief in his last minutes. Stephen admonished the people and fought for the Good News in his last minutes.
Stephen had heavenly wisdom and knowledge. He was filled by the Holy Ghost. He boldly spoke the Gospel of repentance and salvation. He was willing to sacrifice his life for the Lord God. He committed his spirit in the Lord’s hand. Stephen followed the foot prints of Jesus Christ and these are very important qualities we can learn from Stephen’s life in these two chapters.
Let us compare our lives with Stephen’s life. We too are followers of Jesus and are called Christians. We also have accepted the Good News of Jesus’s birth. Have we received wisdom from the Lord God to preach about Jesus and His salvation? If we love our LORD, we will the fear Him and obey His commandments. When we do this, He will fill us with His heavenly knowledge and wisdom. James 1:5 says, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him”. Have we received the Holy Spirit to be His witnesses? When Stephen was chosen, they saw he was “a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost”. How do people around us see us? Do they see our faith and being anointed by the Holy Ghost? On the other side, how do we react when the Word of God cuts our hearts? Are we repenting and reconciling our relationship with the Lord or are we hardening our hearts and remaining stiffnecked? Are we accusing others to prove we are right? Are we willing to face prosecution and to be witnesses for the gospel? The people saw Stephen’s face was like that of an angel’s. How do they see us? Are we mirroring Jesus in our lives? Does the world see Christ in us Christians?
Jesus said in John 12:24, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit”. Jesus died on the cross and reformation took place in Judaism. Stephen died as a corn and the LORD Jesus transformed Saul, one of the witnesses Paul was the seed that established the early churches among the gentiles. The apostles died as martyrs and the salvation reached many people. We are Christians because of the life and sacrifice of many people before us. What are we willing to sacrifice for the Lord?
While we are waiting for the second advent of our LORD Jesus, There are people who have not heard about Jesus or tasted His love. Luke 12:48 says “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.” We have been given much, and much is required from us. Let us examine ourselves and receive heavenly wisdom and the Holy Spirit to be His witness. I pray we are able to boldly bear witness for our Lord who sacrificed His life for us on the Cross. May the LORD Jesus preserve us until the end to inherit our eternal life in the kingdom of heaven. Amen!