Sunday, February 26, 2012

From Acts to Revelation Part 18 – Sanhedrin's Response

From Acts to Revelation
Part 18 – Sanhedrin's Response
Pastor Bruce A. Shields
House of Faith Church | www.PS127.org | www.TruthDigest.org

INTRODUCTION
Today's scripture gives us insight into “Extremist-religious” groups, and their mishandling of faith, as well as how God will use all things for good, even when we don't understand.

SCRIPTURE REFERENCE
Acts 7:54-60 
 54 When they heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
 57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.
 59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.

Up to this point in the Book of Acts, we have seen;

ñ Jesus gave the Apostles their command before His ascension
ñ Apostles obeyed, returning to Jerusalem
ñ They replaced Judas, and waited for the promise
ñ The Holy Spirit came on the Day of Pentecost
ñ The Church began
ñ Peter & John were preaching and teaching in front of the temple daily
ñ They healed a man lame from birth
ñ The Sanhedrin became jealous and angry and arrested them
ñ They warned them to stop preaching and teaching about Jesus
ñ They continued, and were arrested again, and beaten
ñ They continued and the Church grew
ñ They appointed Deacons to help see to the Disciples needs
ñ Stephen was arrested for preaching Christ
ñ He was charged with Blasphemy
ñ Last week, we examined Stephen's defense in Acts 7:1-53



I.       THE SANHEDRIN'S RESPONSE
1.      Religion does not save, nor make one righteous
1.      The Sadducee and Pharisee's were very religious. But religion is not what God wants from us.

2.      From the beginning, God has wanted a relationship with us.

3.      Sin broke that relationship, and only Christ can restore it, not religious acts, liturgical performances, there is nothing one can “do” to restore this relationship with God, short of submitting to the Lord.

2.      The Sanhedrin is desperate, and losing control of the people
1.      We see time and time again, religious groups controlling people through fear, intimidation, power, authority.

2.      When Jesus came, He said in John 12:47, “I did not come to judge the world, but to save it. ”

3.      In John 8:32 we read, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

4.      Jesus is the Truth, the way and the life.

5.      The Sanhedrin began losing their control over the people when Jesus came and began preaching. This is why they worked so hard to kill Him. But the Disciples and Apostles continued to preach and teach the things Jesus taught them.

6.      In their fear, they acted desperately.

3.      We see acts of violence from factions who begin to lose control all the time
1.      When the Sanhedrin began to lose control of the people, they expounded on God's law and commands to the point where no one could keep them. This was to hold the people down in a continual state of oppression.
2.      When the Savior came, just as foretold in scripture, the Sanhedrin began to lose followers to Christ, and so they plotted for His murder, and the murder of anyone who taught about Jesus.

3.      When the first century Church was losing control over the people, they began creating new laws as well, using fear and intimidation to control God's people, such as teachings on purgatory, weekly confessions, weekly communion, to bring fear into the people so they could have power over them.

4.      But Jesus, He does not come to control people, but to set them free, from the evil powers, authorities and rulers, as well as from sin itself.

4.      The Sanhedrin respond to the truth from Stephen in evil hatred
1.      They have always responded to the Truth in hate, not love

2.      This is why Jesus called them children of the devil, doing what their father wants

3.      He called them the synagog of satan, because they were not interested in the Truth of God's Word, rather, the power and authority ruling over God's people, and controlling them, holding them down, oppressing them.

4.      They refused to receive the truth from Jesus, and now they refuse the Truth from the Apostles.

II.    MURDER IN THE NAME OF GOD
1.      Self-Serving
1.      They Sanhedrin did not serve God, they served themselves.

2.      This self-serving attitude is selfishness, and a sin

3.      They only cared about their power and authority over people.

4.      This is the opposite of Christ and His teaching.
5.      Selflessly serving others is not for gain, but because when we serve others, Jesus tells us we are serving Him!
1.      Matthew 25:40 “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me. “

6.      This was one of the reasons they hated Christ's teaching, because they were no longer ruling viciously over God's people.

2.      They acted unjustly against Christ and His followers
1.      In frustration, because they could not defeat Christ or His followers head-to-head in debate over scripture, they chose murder.

2.      But, because murder is a sin, and would break one of the commandments they supposedly loved, they created for themselves justification.
1.      Most people know what sin is, and when they are about to sin.

2.      Most people will create for themselves justification for that sin, believing that they will then be able to sin freely.

3.      Just because you may deceive yourselves into thinking it is OK to commit sin, does not change the fact that you knowingly sinned, nor does it change the fact that you will be charged with that sin.

3.      They justified in their own minds that this was not murder, but they were punishing a blasphemer, who should be stoned to death for blaspheming against God.

4.      As we discussed last week though, the things Stephen said against the Temple, the Law of Moses and the old way of life was going to change because of Christ. What he said was not blasphemy, but fulfillment of prophecy.
1.      When the Sanhedrin charged Stephen (as well as Jesus and the other Apostles and Disciples), with blasphemy, they were not judging those who taught and preached this, but God's Holy Word itself!

2.      They had become so self-centered and serving, that they believed whatever they said and did was justified because of their own power and authority, to the point where they weighed their own words and actions on the same level as the Word of God itself!

3.      Crooked Justice from Crooked Judges
1.      vs 54, “When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart...”
1.      Hebrews 4:12 “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

2.      The Word corrects our hearts and thinking...we can listen and obey, or we can close our ears and continue in our sin.

3.      vs 57, “The Sanhedrin cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears...”
1.      If they would have only cried out in repentance instead of murder...

2.      They shut their ears instead, unwilling to let go of their hate, their sin, their selfishness.

4.      Hiding Behind God
1.      We see this all the time...people, powers, authorities, hiding their selfishness behind pseudo-religion, false-hope, pretending to be acting in the name of a God they do not truly follow.

2.      I was friends with a man for nearly a year who did just that.
1.      Pretending to be something he was not.
2.      Going to church weekly.
3.      Singing in the Church Choir.
4.      Talking about God at work.
5.      Then one day he doesn't come to work, turns out he was molesting his three daughters for years, and was caught.

3.      We see the same thing happen in leadership of religious groups and countries.
1.      Politicians saying they believe in the Bible, yet live contrary to its teachings.

2.      Groups, such as cults, and religions like Islam, using fear, intimidation and murder to control people.

3.      Even in the history of Christianity, straying from the Truth, killing millions in the name of God. This is not what Christ taught.

4.      We can hide behind religion, fooling others, maybe even fooling ourselves, but we cannot fool God, and we will still stand before Christ on that Day of Judgment.

III. INTRODUCTION OF SAUL
1.      We see Saul enter the picture
1.      Saul, who would later convert and become Paul, was going to be one of the greatest influences in Christianity, writing many of the New testament Books.

2.      But for now, he was a zealot, who worked with the Sanhedrin in the practice of seeking out Christ followers, and seeing to their death.

3.      Witnessing Stephen's death would play a big part in Saul's conversion.

2.      Stephen could have saved his own life
1.      All he had to do was deny Christ.
2.      Instead, he chose death, and faced it
3.      Christ died for me, therefore I shall live for Him, and die if need be.

3.      All things work for good...
1.      Stephen stood his ground, and did not deny his faith...and died for it.
2.      How can this be a good thing? It's not.
1.      However, God uses it for good.

2.      Stephen's death was a witness in itself to Saul, and everyone watching.

3.      God took a bad situation that was man's doing, and used it to do good in the lives of others, spreading the Gospel of Christ and Salvation, which would in turn free many others from the slavery of sin, and help in the conversion of one of the greatest Apostles in the scriptures.

CONCLUSION

In our lives, and walk with God, we too will be met with trial and tribulation.

Things happen in this fallen world to the righteous as well as the wicked, and we know from scripture this is true.

We also know from scripture that, the man who builds his house on the rock, having Christ his foundation, will be able to withstand any storm that comes his way, while the one who builds his house on sand, which is anything other than the truth, will suffer great loss when the storm comes, because he did not truly trust in God.

Stephen gave his life for the Lord, and was the first martyr.

His death cried witness to all who watched, including Saul.

This terrible event was turned into something good by God's hand, so that others, including Saul, would have a seed planted within them. A seed of God's Truth, which the Holy Spirit could then work with and grow.

We need to make everything we do in life as well, be witness to God's Glory, and Christ's saving Grace.