Acts 7

Sermons come in every shape and size and are as individual as the preachers who preach them. The discourse in Acts 7 is the longest and most famous in scripture. It comes from Stephen and is long, 51 verses to be exact. And if the effect of a public speech is to move people from one place to another, then this talk had that effect in spades. However, it wasn’t a great outcome. No hearts changed; instead, there was anger, rage, and a willingness to make sure Stephen couldn’t speak anymore after this speech concluded. They killed him, which is no spoiler for you, but in this final speech, Stephen laid out a history of Israel, spoke prophetically about Jesus, and stayed faithful to who he knew God to be.

For those of us preachers, we look at this talk as a bit rambling, too long on the illustrations, and maybe not a great example of homiletical genius. But it was effective. While many scholars struggle with this speech as they feel it does not address the specific charges that Stephen was accused of, if you read it carefully, you will see that he does make explicit remarks that speak to their particular issues with him.

His argument convicts them so powerfully that they are interested in making sure they don’t hear from him anymore.

You know how this story ends; they take him outside the city and stone him to death. Those picking up the rocks put their garments at the feet of Saul, who would later become the Apostle Paul. This makes it seem as if this long sermon of Stephen’s actually might have had some effect on at least one person who was there. While Saul needed the prompting of Jesus to accept the gospel into his life, it is also clear that this instance was something that he experienced and must have played a part in his decision to give his life to Jesus Christ.

Have you ever said anything that has upset the people around you? Have you ever been so convicted that you needed to make a statement that enraged those listening? While creating anger was certainly not the point, were you willing to take the consequences of upsetting your listeners to say what you believed needed to be said?  
Over the last few years, as we have been divided on everything from politics to race to health and safety precautions, it has felt like someone will be upset no matter what you say. It is a tough time to be a preacher, a teacher, or someone whose call is to speak life and wisdom into others. We ultimately will not make everyone happy.

But is our call to make people happy, or is it to speak as we are convicted? And as listeners, are we called to hear with generous ears, hoping to hear a word that might open our hearts more, not close them off? How are we allowing what we hear to speak to our hearts? Are we willing to have our minds changed? Or are we already decided on the course of action, and therefore any words that might deter us only make us angrier?

Those who speak the gospel will always be in danger of making others upset. That is something we have to accept. However, we also have the Holy Spirit who works in partnership with us to change hearts and minds. We are not giving these speeches and sermons alone but with the collaboration of a God who loves and cares for us. Sometimes, we must accept the consequences of our actions and allow God to continue working to change hearts. The truth is, without Stephen, there might not have been a Paul. Our sacrifices may lead to a greater expression of the kingdom in ways we can’t imagine.

By Timothy Gillespie

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