“How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” Romans 10:14-15
The preaching of the Word of God. What greater privilege could there be in all the world for a man to stand up in front of a congregation of souls in the sight of God? To preach the saving grace to even one soul who was a foot away from Hell, grasped and pulled from the fire at the last second. There have been some great sermons given throughout history, that is for certain. How many hearts were pricked by the very words of God through these wonderful messages? Many of them were preached prior to the electronic age, so we will never know how great they really were except to see the effect they had on the generations to come. We could talk about those old-time Bible-believing preachers in history that are well known to have preached their hearts out and made great strides for Christendom, such as George Whitefield, Billy Sunday, Ian Paisley, to name a few. Oh! please forgive me, the list is seemingly endless! There are many sermon titles you may recognize as very well known messages, “Sinners In The Hands of an Angry God”, comes to mind, or, “Dr. Law and Dr. Grace”. Time would fail me to write all the magnificent titles that have moved so many to their knees in repentance. We find messages still in print today from the likes of Lester Roloff, Peter Marshall, B.R. Lakin, A.W. Tozer, Andrew Murray, or Jonathan Edwards. You may have heard them on the radio from such faithful radio preachers as Theodore Epp on “Back to the Bible Broadcast” from the U.S., or Perry F. Rockwood on, “The People’s Gospel Hour” from Halifax, Canada.
For those who love the preaching of God’s Word, there have been many great vessels used by the Holy Spirit to pour out the gospel liberally unto men and women whose hearts have been pricked to turn unto the true and living God. But, there is one sermon recorded in the annals of time that may be argued to have outdone them all. This message was preached without the aid of notes and without any scholarly doctorate. It was proved and disseminated without the aid of lexicons, commentaries, and exhaustive concordances. Yes, this sermon was preached by a man whose countenance was changed into that of an angel and to such a degree that those who saw and heard were stunned silent, but then moved altogether into action. With such grace did he preach that it even moved our dear Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, Himself, to stand up out of His seat in glory.
This preacher was a very unique man in that the account tells us of his character as, “a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost”. At the time, he was recently chosen to be a deacon along with six others to serve people in the ministry of his church so that the pastors of the church could give themselves to continual prayer and to the ministry of the word. This man was also described as one who was full of power and did great wonders and miracles among the people in his day. It is also accounted of this man that the highly educated intellectuals in the community were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spoke, so much so, that they finally set him up, brought him to court, and made false accusations against him. We find his sermon in the transcript; and his “pulpit” in front of the council chambers of the government where he stood. You can read the full transcript of what the man said for yourself in the Holy Bible, The Book of Acts, chapter 7. In this account you will find, arguably, the greatest sermon of all time; a preacher preaching the history and a scathing indictment of judgment against sinners, resulting in the final outcome.
A History Lesson
Then we hear the high priest asking the preacher about the false accusations brought against him:
“Then said the high priest, Are these things so?” Acts 7:1
His name was, quite simply, Stephen. There is no account of any scholarly letters of this great preacher, not even his surname. His sermon was not your traditional three-point, alliterative sermon that we may hear from our preacher boys today. Stephen simply spoke by the movement of the Holy Spirit beginning with a rather comprehensive history lesson to the ones congregated at this council. One interesting thing about Stephen’s message is his audience already knew the history. Very well. They were themselves at the apex of the education of the law and the prophets. Really, they did not need a history lesson about the Israelites from anyone. I can sort of picture these people in my mind’s eye – the Libertines, the Cyrenians, the Alexandrians, those of Cilicia and Asia, along with the elders, the scribes, the false witnesses and others; richly robed, slouching in their chairs, perhaps rubbing a bearded chin, rolling their eyes and glancing around at one another while hearing this account of Israel. The preacher preached, going through Abraham and the patriarchs, Joseph, Moses, David, then Solomon and his temple. It was then in the message that they would be pricked inside when they realized who Stephen was talking about. This had not taken the shape of a history lesson at all. Stephen was not just talking about the sin and unbelief of their forefathers, whom they knew so well, but by extension, about each one of them. Perhaps they thought, “What?! Who does this man think he is? Who is he to judge US?” Was it not he who was on trial here?
It was during this part of the sermon that God convicted and laid bare the underbelly that was so well hidden in these self-righteous Judaizers. They had only been deceiving themselves all this time just as their fathers did throughout the generations before them. After preaching about Solomon and his temple, Stephen spoke on with great boldness. Found in vv. 48-53 of our text in Acts 7, the preacher turned to judge and indict these Pharisees through the inspiration of the Holy Ghost. The power of his preaching stripped them of generations of self-glory and gave glory, instead, to the one True and Worthy God; beginning by quoting a prophet, he said:
“Howbeit the most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; as saith the prophet, Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool: what house will ye build me? saith the Lord: or what is the place of my rest? Hath not my hand made all these things?
“Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers: Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it.” Acts 7:48-53
Upon hearing this, these men were wroth! They were incensed; beyond furious! This was not to be borne from this man. The Bible account states,
“When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed upon him with their teeth.” v.54
They could not escape any of it. They were guilty before the whole court and guilty before God, but this did not appease them and their great pride would never allow them to repent.
The Preacher’s Murder
Sadly, they did not repent. To add insult to their injury, Stephen, his face pointed steadfastly toward heaven, described what was opened up unto him: the heavens opening up to him and the preacher seeing Jesus standing on the right hand of God. To add to their fury, these men knew what that meant: Jesus was not to be standing, but sitting at the right hand and certainly not for this interloper. Their hearts were so bitterly adamant and deceived that, as the scriptural account states,
“They they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, and cast him out of the city, and stoned him: …” vv.57-58a
Now, someone, somewhere, could say that this occurrence was a complete debacle. Some could say that this man wasted his faith, talent and ability to help those he was called to serve. You may say, what a waste! Any naysayer may say, ha! You see? Where was his God? He failed and His God failed. This only proves the effort and preaching was all for nothing. I say, if the outcome of this message was failure, then I will take that kind of failure every day of the week! But, it was not all for nothing; it was all for one man and to the glory of God.
One Soul At The Altar
The last words out of this preacher’s mouth, while being stoned to death by this vicious, angry mob, was of meekness and grace; the pure fruit of the Spirit. Stephen called upon the Lord, saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” and crying with a loud voice, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.”. Then, he died.
There was one man present whose heart was deeply pricked. He was just a young man, an up-and-comer, perhaps an apprentice of sorts. There, in the mob’s presence, was a young man by the name of Saul. Before this mob descended on the preacher like a pack of mad dogs and murdered this man with stones, they laid their coats at this young man’s feet. At that time, he consented to the murder of this preacher, but then his heart was moved by his faith. It would happen later, on the road to Damascus, that this man would have a face to face interaction with that same Jesus, our God, who stood up upon hearing this preacher’s sermon. It is possible that Saul was the only one who repented, it does not say, but what a testimony of what God can do with a man who is willing to preach an uncomfortable sermon, to get out of his comfort zone and place himself squarely in the path of potential danger without fear. Was it worth it? Just imagine what would have happened if that preacher decided to water down his message to the council, knowing his audience would not exactly have liked what he had to say. What if you knew that which God wanted you to say would cost you your life? What if fear was in man rather than God? What about you? Was there ever a time where God told you to go and open your mouth and speak His words to give someone the hope that is within you, but you were afraid of what they would think of you? Perhaps, the command to hand someone a tract? To ask the question of whether that person knew they had a soul that would exist in one place or another after death? Do you know the verse references to point a sinner to repentance? What is our commandment?
“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: ” 1 Peter 3:5
Whether this sermon that Stephen preached was the best sermon in history is not the point. The question is, are you ready to give that next sermon to a lost person on their way to hell? It could very well be that the next person you lead to Jesus will meet him on a similar road as the one Paul was on. It may be that they will carry that message until the Lord pricks their heart and, just maybe, they might be the next great soul winner on the narrow road.
If you do not say what God wants you to, God’s perfect will may be changed to a permissive will instead. Pray and ask God how he would have you to be prepared, ready and available in the Master’s hands, just like Stephen.
© 2015 Remi Fernhout