Sermon Options: May 7, 2023

April 6th, 2020


ACTS 7:55-60

The astronauts' observations of the earth from outer space are always awe inspiring. They wax eloquent about the astounding beauty of our planet. The pictures they draw are breathtaking. Those of us who are frequent flyers can attest to the earth's beauty from an even less elevated height, but what I have discovered is that almost anything is beautiful if you can just get far enough away from it. From ten thousand feet, even the city dump doesn't look bad. The stoning to death of the first Christian martyr, Stephen, was a barbaric and shocking event, full of blood, pain, and slow death. Only as we view it today from such a great distance would we dare to romanticize it. Compared to stoning, the electric chair is kind. And yet, we can learn spiritual lessons on how to live and how to die from Stephen.

I. While They Were Stoning
Luke informs us that "while they were stoning Stephen, he prayed" (v. 59). Even as they killed him, he prayed. In one of his darkest moments on earth, he turned to God. As naturally as he prayed in pleasant times, he turned to God in an impossibly difficult time and communed. Wherever he was and in whatever circumstance he found himself, Stephen found it natural to pray to God. Every disciple knew that could be the outcome, for Luke heard Jesus say, "They will put some of you to death" (21:16). That was being fulfilled.

II. A Prayer of Trust
Stephen's prayer was, "Lord, Jesus, receive my spirit" (v. 59). It was not a prayer of panic or fear. It was not a prayer of desperation or bargain. It was a prayer of trust and affirmation. He was saying, "I have always trusted you in life, and now I trust you in death."

Following the model of the way his Lord had died, he quoted a familiar Jewish children's prayer found in Psalm 31:5: "Into your hand I commit my spirit." These are almost the exact words of Jesus from the cross: "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit" (Luke 23:46) . He had learned that whether he lived or died, he was the Lord's.

III. A Prayer of Forgiveness
Again, following the model of his Master on the cross who said, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34) , Stephen prayed, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them" (v. 60). Jesus influenced Stephen, who influenced the apostle Paul (Acts 7:58 ; 22:20), who in turn influenced millions of others.

The popular 1957 film “The Bridge on the River Kwai” documented many of the atrocities that the Japanese perpetrated on the Allies during the Second World War. On February 19, 1994, some survivors from both sides got together. Some of the Allies refused to acknowl-edge their former captors' presence. "What the Japanese did was unforgivable," said British leader Arthur Lane. Takashi Nagase responded by saying, "The former prisoners' feelings were only natural." That is true. It took a supernatural power to bring about forgiveness in Stephen's life, and so it does in ours. (C. Thomas Hilton)


1 PETER 2:2-10

Children like to play guessing games, especially ones where they pretend to be something that others have to guess. Adults do that sometimes, too, only the game can become a habit with no real answers. Today's text uses a succession of images that tell us who we are as followers of Christ.

What am I? Paul suggests three images that demonstrate the nature of the Christian life.

I. We Are Hungry Babies
This is a humorous image. Can't you just picture yourself right now in a diaper fumbling with a big bottle? Or think about your spouse. Or your grown children.

Peter used the term in a serious way, though. The way a baby hungrily slurps a bottle is the way hungry Christians are to ingest spiritual milk in order to grow. The spiritual nourishment is the living Word of God that is both the Bible and the Holy Spirit living within us. We are to dine deeply at Christ's table.

What am I?

II. We Are Living Stones
Peter again reached back into his heritage and used an image from Isaiah. This image is about a "living stone." Isaiah spoke of a stone that was rejected as being useless but became the cornerstone. We can easily see why people heard that analogy and immediately thought of Jesus. He was condemned by the Jewish leaders as being worthless and was crucified. But like a stone at first deemed useless that later became the cornerstone of the building, Christ is the living cornerstone.

Peter tells us that people who follow Jesus are likewise living stones. But these stones are being used to build up a spiritual house. What am I?

III. We Are a Chosen People
Throughout this section, Peter used a series of visual images to identify people and give them a new identity in Christ. In verses 9-10, he tells us that Christians are a chosen people.

That is good biblical language to identify people who are selected by God for a purpose. That purpose is to serve God and tell others about God's ways. Other ideas are "chosen people," "royal priesthood," "holy nation," and the recipients of God's mercy. In verse 10, Peter tells us that we were once nobodies without mercy. But in Christ, we are now the people of God and people who receive grace.

What are we? We are individuals who have experienced the transforming touch of Jesus Christ, and who are called to a higher and deeper purpose than any we have known before. (Don M. Aycock)


JOHN 14:1-14

"Do not let your hearts be troubled." Again and again at funerals we read this passage. John's recollection of Jesus' words spoke to the disciples and speaks to us, also. The experiences of that last week troubled the disciples of Jesus. Jesus' ministry was moving to a meaningful climax. The people were willing to proclaim Jesus to be their Messiah. They should have been days of triumph, but Jesus was speaking of death. He was talking about his own death rather than his triumph. He portrayed the end of his ministry rather than its beginning.

Jesus knew the troubled hearts of his disciples. He had experienced the same emotions. Jesus stood with the sisters at the tomb of his friend Lazarus and shuddered (John 11:33) . Facing the death of a friend was a troubling experience for Jesus. Jesus experienced the same troubling when he considered his betrayal by Judas (John 13:21) .

I. Troubled Hearts Are Common to All
We also have troubled hearts today. We see our children waste their talents as they wander from the way of living we taught them. Our hopes and dreams are shattered as we see them wasted like the prodigal. Our hearts may be troubled by difficulty at work. Our hearts may be troubled by our lack of faith or our failure to develop our faith in God. Death of a friend or family member or self may cause our hearts to be deeply troubled. Whatever the reason for our troubled hearts, it is so similar to that experience of the disciples—even of Jesus himself.

II. Faith Can Overcome Any Fear
"Do not let your hearts be troubled." That is no glib or easy answer. It is an answer of faith. John MacMurray described most of us when he described many persons riddled by fear because they think they are alone in a hostile world. Like the disciples of long ago, we do have plenty around us that can trouble us—and does trouble us.

False religion promises that the worst will not happen. Many seek God to escape troubling times. We think that if we can only be with him, obey him, love him, ask him, then God will make sure we do not have to endure the worst. Such a promise is impossible. We cannot escape the troubles of life. A teenage son of friends was killed in an accident. The father and the mother have given their lives and their talent to serve God. If any family should have received a special favor from God, it would be them. No one escapes troubles in life.

Jesus promises that when the worst does happen, one does not have to live in fear and pain. Faith can overcome fear. Calm can come to anxious spirits. Comfort can come to those in deep anguish.

Mark tells the story of Jairus's daughter. Jairus was the leader of the synagogue. His daughter was ill. Jairus came to Jesus begging him to cure the girl. While they proceeded through the crowds, friends admonished Jairus not to bother Jesus any longer since the daughter died. Jesus heard them and said, "Do not fear, only believe" (Mark 5:36).

Matthew couples fear and faith in a story found in chapter 8. Jesus and the disciples were in a boat during a storm. The disciples awakened Jesus and pleaded for him to act to save their lives. Jesus objected that their faith was not strong enough to overcome their fear (Matt. 8:23-27). "Do not let your hearts be troubled." Jesus' words are no simple answer or flippant advice. Jesus' words are a call to faith. Believe in him; believe in God. One can have faith in the power of the divine. One can trust in him, depend upon him. With such trust and faith, the troubles of life will not disappear. They can be overcome. "Do not let your hearts be troubled." (Harold C. Perdue)

comments powered by Disqus