Last time, I was underscoring the Gospel as it was delivered in Acts 7 by Stephen – and I was trying to say (I think I didn’t say this explicitly) that the second thing evident in Stephen’s message was that Stephen did not cover every systematic category in his presentation, and included at least two categories – that is, the matter of sequential covenants, and the omnipresence of God – which have only secondary importance to the matter of the Gospel. They are important matters, and they can be matters in which someone errs terribly even into heresy, but they are not central to the Gospel.
And ironically, Stephen never says the words “resurrection” or “repent”. Stephen who was discipled by the apostles. I am sure some people will find that troubling.
But that brings us to the matter of the first thing which Stephen does in his message, which is of critical importance to the actual point of the discussion which is all over the place. Stephen takes special consideration to frame his message in terms that his listeners will immediately connect to.
You know, for the Jews, the matter of Abraham and/or Moses are definitely facts of history – and for us Christians who have been following Christ for more than a brief time, they are critical for us, too. But Stephen doesn’t start by presenting to the council of the High Priest the matter of their sinfulness under the law: he begins by telling them that God is faithful.
- The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, and said to him, 'Go out from your land and from your kindred and go into the land that I will show you.' Then he went out from the land of the Chaldeans and lived in Haran. And after his father died, God removed him from there into this land in which you are now living. Yet he gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot's length, but promised to give it to him as a possession and to his offspring after him, though he had no child. And God spoke to this effect--that his offspring would be sojourners in a land belonging to others, who would enslave them and afflict them four hundred years. 'But I will judge the nation that they serve,' said God, 'and after that they shall come out and worship me in this place.' And he gave him the covenant of circumcision. And so Abraham became the father of Isaac, and circumcised him on the eighth day, and Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob of the twelve patriarchs.
Now, why start there? Why not start with God the Creator, or God the Eternal, of God the Powerful, or God the Just? Aren’t these the attributes which call to mind the glory of God? Shouldn’t the Gospel be presented in order to glorify God?
“Yes” to both of those questions, amen? “Yes” these attributes glorify God; “yes” the Gospel should be presented to glorify God. But it is a mistake to think that the only attributes of God which glorify Him are the attributes which make Him transcendent. I will submit something to you which is hardly radical or unorthodox today: Jesus Christ is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death.
Now, what does that have to do with Stephen? Stephen, as I astutely pointed out, barely gets to Jesus at the end and only points out that the Jews have killed Him as they did all the other prophets. He mentions Christ resurrected only by way of reporting his vision of the Son at the right hand of the Father.
It has this to do with Stephen: the glory of God is demonstrated to us in real, historical ways, and in them we are given real, historical events by which God is glorified. God has given us quality time. So, for example, God is glorified by making and keeping promises to Abraham; God is glorified by keeping His promises to Abraham’s offspring; God is glorified by prophesying through Moses, and fulfilling that prophecy; God is glorified even by the sinful acts of men who treat all His messengers the same way; God is glorified when someone like Stephen forgives those who hate him with his last dying breath.
And my point here is not to start ranting about objective signs of anything: my point here is that God is glorified by what God does. The quality the the ways in which God has demonstrated Himself to man in time glorify Him. So if we are seeking to discover in what way God is glorified by Stephen, we have to admit that He is glorified by Stephen’s exhortation that God does things – specifically for the nation Israel – which are glorifying to Himself.
So the matter of effectual calling never comes up; the matter of the limits of the atonement don’t come up; the matter of whether or not those saved can ever be lost doesn’t come up. The matter of the sole sufficiency of the Bible doesn’t come up; the matter of Christ’s uniqueness never comes up; the matter of God’s glory alone never comes up. What comes up is the singular truth that God is faithful to His promise and that fidelity is manifest in Jesus Christ.
Now listen: there’s no way I’d say “that’s all the Gospel”. It’s not! But it is enough of the Gospel to point men at God for salvation. We shouldn’t stop there – and I suggest that if he hadn’t been dragged out and stoned, Stephen wouldn’t have stopped there. But what he said was enough of the Gospel to the Jews to want to stone him!
Think about that – they killed Stephen because he said, directly, that they rejected the promises of God because they killed the Christ in exactly the same way their fathers had killed the prophets. The people at Pentecost heard that and said, “Oh no! We’re doomed!” and the council of the High Priest said, “Shut up! We’ll kill you!”
Was there reason to kill Stephen apart from the truth that Jesus is Lord and Christ? I can’t think of one. Maybe you can – I’d be glad to hear other views of this.
My point in speaking to this passage is that the method by which we will deliver the Gospel will undoubtedly change when we encounter different people - some people have contextual need to know God is Just, and Christ fulfills the justice of God; some people have a contextual need to know that God is faithful, and Christ fulfills the faithfulness of God. But some people have the problem that they know love ought to exist, but they can't see it in God's creation. Guess what: Jesus Christ fulfills the love of God.
Let me end today with this about that, which ought to be enough to keep everyone from crawling out of their skin: someone has asked, in one place or another, “Does God love all men exactly the same?” And the answer has to be “no”. It cannot be true. But if God loves all men enough to offer them the opportunity to repent and believe, how does that disrupt the fact that some will never accept? How does that denigrate God? Doesn’t it glorify God that He can still make this broad an offer out of love and can love His enemies?
This is not about the census at the end of time and how many there are saved: this is about calling all men to the same offer. God is making His appeal to you through me right now: I implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. That offer is not made as a grudge or as a token: it is made at the price of the blood of Christ.
The blood of Christ was spilled to offer you forgiveness through repentance, dear reader -- and more than that, it saves the believers, gives forgiveness that cannot be removed. But if the sacrifice of the one and only son cannot be called an offer made in love and out of love, I have no idea what it can be called. God loves you, and is making this offer to you right now. Do something about it.
I’ll do something about this blog tomorrow, probably late. There are literally dozens of loose ends to clean up, and I am sure this post will create more. Anyone with direct questions can ask them here in the meta, or you can e-mail me.