Sermon Summary - The Christian Doctrine of Death - Acts 7:54-8:1
The Christian Doctrine of Death
Reality: None of us get out of here alive. It’s only a matter of time. Death is the great enemy of the human race. Heb. 9:27. That’s no big deal, unless you’ve sinned (which we all have, Rom. 3:23). We’re all dying, but for the Christian to live is to live for Christ and to die is gain (Phil. 1:21). Stephen is a model for how God gives special grace in dying to those who belong to Him. Stephen is the first recorded martyr in the history of the church. “Martyr” is the English transliteration of the Greek New Testament word “witness.”
Context: Stephen has just finished preaching before the Sanhedrin (Acts 7:51-53). Stephen repeats something that Jesus said He saw before His death - that they would see the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:55). The religious leaders stopped their ears when they heard this (Acts 7:57). The world hated Jesus and they will hate those who love Him. Those who speak out boldly and clearly about the truth of God, sin, and salvation in their families, workplaces, and culture will be persecuted (2 Tim. 3:12). The mob picked up rocks and began to stone Stephen (Acts 7:58), laying their robes at the feet of Saul (a.k.a. Paul).
Question: Was Stephen a radical or just a Christian filled with the Holy Spirit who believed the gospel and spoke without shame? The latter. When Christians live in this world as worshipers and gospel preachers who boldly speak out against sin, we move ourselves into the line of enemy fire. It happened to Stephen, and it will happen to us. Why should we risk it? Because it is far better to die with Stephen and be received by Jesus into glory than to live a long, peaceful, comfortable life but ultimately hear the words “Depart from Me, I never knew you,” (Matt 7:23). We should be encouraged, that as Jesus supported Stephen in the process of dying, His grace will be sufficient for us too. Notice the Trinity (Acts 7:55) - Stephen full of the Spirit, saw the glory of God (the Father), and Jesus standing (not sitting) at the right hand of God.
Next, let’s contemplate the Biblical doctrine of Christian death. First, death is an enemy (1 Cor. 15:26), a consequence of our sin. The central Christian doctrine of victory over death is not ultimately at the time of our physical death, but when Jesus returns at the final resurrection (1 Cor. 15:54-57). Jesus has made our physical deaths a servant to usher us into His presence (see Rom. 8:35-38, 1 Cor. 3:21-23). Question: How will I be on my deathbed? Will I have what it takes to suffer well for Christ? No, but we will not be left to ourselves. Our Savior has special grace for the hour of death.
For Stephen, Jesus gave him a vision that stripped death of its power of fear (Acts 7:55). For us, not on the doorstep of death (as far as we know), though we may question ourselves, our love for Jesus, His grace will be sufficient. Stephen died like Jesus did, asking for mercy for those who put him to death (Acts 7:60). God answered that prayer, as evidenced by Saul’s conversion. Stephen died in the fullness of the power of the Holy Spirit, just as he lived in the same way. May we Christians also live in the same way we hope to die - in the fullness of the power of the Holy Spirit.
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