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The Giant of Religion - Acts 6-7

Taught on | Keywords: the gospel, heaven, Israel, Old Testament, relationship, religion, respect, salvation, self-righteousness, truth

Religion might not seem like a giant to overcome unless you’re an atheist. But did you know the source of much persecution and oppression around the world is religious groups? The prophets, the apostles, the early church, and even Jesus Himself all had run-ins with religious leaders and formalized religious systems. Some of you come from a very religious background but now enjoy the freedom of a relationship with God through Jesus. How does one successfully stand up to religious pressure while impacting it with the gospel? Let’s see how Stephen did it.

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10/10/2021
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The Giant of Religion
Acts 6-7
Skip Heitzig
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Message Summary
Religion might not seem like a giant to overcome unless you’re an atheist. But did you know the source of much persecution and oppression around the world is religious groups? The prophets, the apostles, the early church, and even Jesus Himself all had run-ins with religious leaders and formalized religious systems. Some of you come from a very religious background but now enjoy the freedom of a relationship with God through Jesus. How does one successfully stand up to religious pressure while impacting it with the gospel? Let’s see how Stephen did it.
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Hunting Giants

Hunting Giants

There are giants in the land. They are not easy to recognize like the literal giants of the Old Testament, "tall as the cedars and strong as the oaks" (Amos 2:9, NIV), but they can be just as dangerous. And we must have the courage to destroy them. In this teaching series, Skip Heitzig explores literal and symbolic giants throughout the Bible and the heroes who slayed them. Daniel challenged the giant of conformity. Nehemiah obliterated the giant of apathy. Esther executed the giant of self. Courage starts where confidence ends.

Outline

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  1. He Was Spiritually Equipped (Acts 6:3, 5, 8-10)

  2. He Was Scripturally Adept (Acts 7:1-50)

  3. He Was Skillfully Direct (Acts 7:51-53)

  4. He Had Sacrificial Respect (Acts 7:54-60)

Keywords: the gospel, heaven, Israel, Old Testament, relationship, religion, respect, salvation, self-righteousness, truth

Study Guide

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Connect Group Guide: October 10, 2021
Speaker: Skip Heitzig
Teaching: “The Giant of Religion”
Text: Acts 6-7

Main Point
Religion might not seem like a giant to overcome unless you’re an atheist. But did you know the source of much persecution and oppression around the world is religious groups? The prophets, the apostles, the early church, and even Jesus Himself all had run-ins with religious leaders and formalized religious systems. Some of you come from a very religious background but now enjoy the freedom of a relationship with God through Jesus. How does one successfully stand up to religious pressure while impacting it with the gospel? As we confront the giant of religion, let’s see how Stephen did it.

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” —Luke 18:14

Talk about It
  1. How would you briefly describe the differences or contrasts between religion and the gospel to 1) a religious person; 2) an unbeliever; 3) a child? Practice with your group.
  2. As a believer, how can religion creep into your own heart? How can you be on guard against religious hypocrisy? What needs to change?
  3. Read 1 Peter 3:15. Share what you do to equip yourself with Scriptures, ready to give an answer to the religious person.
  4. Why is thinking, They’ve got their own belief system, I’ve got mine, and I don’t want to impede on them wrong? How could you overcome that to be impactful, giving answers for biblical faith?
“When you’re religious, you make it about what you do. When you’re saved, you make it about what He’s done. —Pastor Skip

Make It Practical
  • Value what’s priceless. Religion is more concerned with property than people, with building things than building lives, with form than function. Read 2 Timothy 3:5. When you focus on the externals, you ignore what concerns God most, valuing what is worthless and devaluing what is priceless.
  • Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t do. Religion emphasizes what you can’t do—rule keeping. The trouble with rules is that you can keep them and still not be saved. The gospel sets us free to real heart change—what we can do in Christ.
  • Break barriers. The gospel is a great bulldozer; the cross is level ground. When you’re religious, you make it about what you do. When you’re saved, you make it about what He’s done. When it’s only about the external rules, people trust in themselves. When it’s internal, we enjoy relationship.
  • When defending your faith with unbelievers, use apologetics. When speaking to religious people, use the Scriptures.
Pray
  • Who in your life do you want to have the certainty of salvation? Intercede for them.
  • Like Stephen, how can you be skillfully direct with them? Ask for wisdom.
  • What needs to change in your heart to confront them with gentleness and respect? Ask the Holy Spirit.
Cross references: Matthew 3:9; 23:13-39; Luke 13:28; 18:10-14; John 1:12; Philippians 3:4-11; 2 Timothy 3:5; James 1:26-27; 1 Peter 3:15

Transcript

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The Giant of Religion - Acts 6-7 - Skip Heitzig

[MUSIC PLAYING]
Good morning. You know what I love, is that you were singing that while that little video was going. Do you find yourself singing that song during the week like I do? It's been great. Would you turn in your Bibles, please, to the book of Acts Chapter 6 and 7. Acts chapter 6 and 7.

We're doing a series called Hunting Giants, and we've looked at several so far, and this week we are looking at the giant of religion, which some people would not consider being a giant. But if you have a religious background like I do, you understand what we mean when we talk about the giant of religion.

Acts Chapter 6 and 7. So there was a pastor and he was preaching on the book of Genesis Chapter 28, you know, the story about Jacob's ladder, the ladder that went up into heaven that Jacob saw, and there were the Angels of God ascending and descending on that.

So a preacher was given a sermon on that. His young son was in the audience. He was very impressed with the message. A few days later, he said, Dad, I've had a very similar dream to this sermon you preached last Sunday. I also saw a ladder going up to heaven. And the dad said, oh, really? Well, tell me more about it.

He goes, well, the only difference is-- well, one of the differences is at the bottom of the ladder there were pieces of chalk. And to climb the ladder, you had to take a piece of chalk and you had to mark on the rungs of the ladder for every sin that you committed. Dad said, OK, well that's interesting. Well, what else? He goes, well, when I got on the ladder to climb it, I heard a noise. And I looked up and it was you, dad, coming down the ladder?

And the dad said, coming down the ladder? Why on Earth would I need to come down the ladder? And the boy said, to get more chalk.

So that is how most people think of what it takes to get to God. You climb a ladder. You work your way to Heaven. You do good deeds, and you hope that your good deeds will outweigh the bad deeds that you have committed. That, in essence, is religion.

And so they kind of picture God like Santa Claus. He's making a list. He's checking it twice. He's going to find out who's naughty or nice. And if you're nice, you get in. If you're naughty, you don't get in. Religion says you work your way up the ladder. You climb your way into Heaven.

Now I've discovered that religion is an interesting word. I've discovered that unbelievers like to use that term to describe us. They describe people of faith as being religious people. That's how they would picture you. You may disagree with them, but they would say you are religious people. They would say that I am a religious leader. It's their way of categorizing people that have dynamic faith. We are religious.

It's also a word that religious people sometimes like to apply to themselves. They're very comfortable with the term. I'm a religious person. You see, it's a little more standoffish to say you're religious. It's a little more convenient to say that than to be fully committed and say I'm madly in love with Jesus, or I'm a disciple of Christ. I follow the Lord. To just say I'm religious is an arms length description.

It's even a term that shows up in the New Testament five different times-- the word religious or religion appears. Most often, it is used in a negative, not a positive sense. It is used to describe people who have an outward show while what's going on the inside is very, very different.

So for example, in James Chapter 1, James says, if any one among you thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one's religion is useless. Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this-- to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted with the world.

Now James uses the term religion in that passage to describe an outward form of worship. He's saying basically look, you guys think you're religious? But it's all outward show and there's no real change on the inside of the heart as evidenced by a change in your lifestyle. That's worthless.

So most of us probably-- I'm just going to speak for myself. I'm not a big fan of the term religious. And I usually correct people when they say, oh, you are a religious person. No I'm not. Believe me, I am not. Well, you certainly are. You teach the Bible. You're religious. No I'm not. So I'm not fond of the word. I'm not a fan of the word, and here's how I'm describing religion in the context that we are dealing with it today.

Religion is rules without reason. It is a system without substance. It's belief without Bible. Why do you do that? Well, we just do it that way. Those are the rules. Yeah, but where does it say that in the Bible? So rules without reason, system without substance, belief without Bible.

Let me remind you that Jesus' biggest enemies were religious people. Not terrorists, not prostitutes, not drug addicts. Religious people. He had most trouble with them. It says they sought to put him to death and the religious crowd was so glad when he finally died. Also, Jesus' harshest words were for religious people, especially leaders-- religious leaders, woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites.

Let me remind you also that it was religion that motivated the bloodlust of the Crusades. 200 years of history from 1095 AD to 1291 AD that pitted belief system against belief system at the point of the sword. It was religion that brought civil conflict to Ireland between Catholic and Protestant for years, even to this day.

It was religion that brought airplanes into the Twin Towers 20 years ago on September 11. It was religion that motivated ISIS to take Christians and behead them on the beaches of Northern Africa, and also, it was religion that motivated them to put other Muslims in cages who didn't agree with their religious beliefs and burned them to death. That was religion.

So in that context, I think it's safe to say y'all not religious. It's not that you have religion. You have-- if you're a believer in Christ, you have a relationship with the living God through his son Jesus Christ.

[APPLAUSE]

As many has received him, the Bible says, to them he gave the right, the power, the authority, to become children of God to those who believe in His name. Well, with that as an introduction, I take you to our passage where we have the hero of the story, a guy named Stephen. He is a young man. He is religious. That's his background. He's of the Jew's religion, and he confronts in the synagogue the religious system that is opposed to his belief system.

And what I want to show you-- I want to give you four ingredients that Stephen had to be able to stand up to this giant of religion. He was spiritually equipped. He was scripturally adept. He was skillfully direct, and he had sacrificial respect. I'm going to go through those four. First of all, let's see what he had. Let's see who he was.

We begin in Chapter 6 and let me just kind of set the story for you. The church is experiencing a good problem. It is growing. More and more people coming, but with that growth comes some problems and the problem was some people felt neglected. Some of the widows felt neglected, especially non-Hebrew speaking Jewish widows felt neglected in the early church. And so they decided they needed to solve the problem.

So in Acts Chapter 6 verse 3, says therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men-- and here's their qualifications. Seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. We need deacons. We need helpers. We need workers, but they have to have certain qualifications.

So everybody liked the idea. Look at Verse 5. They're saying please, the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen. He's first on the list and he will occupy center stage for the rest of the story in the next two chapters. They chose Stephen. Look at this. A man full of faith and the Holy Spirit. And Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch.

So when I say Stephen was spiritually equipped, this is what I mean. Go back in Verse 3 and look at that description of these seven men, Stephen being first on the list. They have to be from among you and they have to have a good reputation. So obviously they're involved in the church, and their life is observable. Then they have to be full of the Holy Spirit-- the idea of being filled with something is to be dominated by something. So he is filled with the Spirit. He is filled with wisdom. He is filled with power.

These things dominate Stephen's life. And then it says full of wisdom. Do you understand the difference between wisdom and knowledge? You can be a smart person and be a fool. Or you can be a smart person, have knowledge, but then have wisdom, and wisdom is the application of knowledge, and in this sense, it means the insight into the heart of things. Stephen had that. He had insight into the heart of the matter.

And though he was a young man, he was spiritually equipped, and that spiritual equipment will help him stand up to this giant of religion. Now go down to Verse 8, because we have Stephen more fully introduced. Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. Then there arose some from what is called the synagogue of the freedmen, and it describes who those are-- Cyrenians, Alexandrians, those from Cilicia and Asia, disputing with Stephen. So they get into an arguing match, and they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke.

So this young, Greek-speaking Jew by the name of Stephen now takes center stage, and now has this disagreement, argument, confrontation with religious Judaism. By the way, it's the first time we read in the book of Acts that the gospel is preached inside a synagogue. Up to this point, it has not been up to this point. They spoke in the courts of the temple. They did it from house to house, but now Stephen goes into the synagogue and somebody who is listening that day will do exactly the same thing later on.

His name is Saul of Tarsus. He will be Paul the Apostle. Whenever he travels he's going to first go into the synagogues. This is the first occurrence of that. Go down in Verse 11. We are told then they secretly induced men to say, so you get the picture, it's like, hey, come here. Come over here. You should say this. Here's the message.

We have heard him-- him being Stephen-- speak blasphemous words against Moses and God. OK, this is fake news. Didn't happen. Fake news, but that's the spin. Make this story up. Say these words. And they stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes. And they came upon him, seized him, and brought him to the council. The council is the Jewish council. It is the Sanhedrin. It is the high court of the religious system.

They also set up false witnesses who said this man does not cease to speak blasphemous words against this Holy place and the law. We have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs which Moses delivered to us. And all who sat in the council, looking steadfastly at him, saw his face as the face of an angel.

Here's what I want you to see about Steven. Steven was not an apostle. Stephen was not a prophet. Stephen was not an elder. He was not a theologian. We have no record of him having any formal theological training whatsoever, but he is spiritually equipped. He is, from among them, good reputation, filled with the Holy Spirit, filled with wisdom, filled with faith, filled with power.

I tend to think that most of you are more spiritually equipped than you think you are. In fact, I would say that you probably know more Bible than 90% of the Christians on Earth, just because you live in this country and you were exposed to Bible teaching more so. You're equipped. You are also filled with the Spirit. I think God gives you wisdom, as well.

Now let me take you back to a time in my life when I was 18 years of age. I think most of you would admit and agree that that was a long, long time ago. But one time I was 18, and I was raised in a religious system-- most of you know my background. And I was, at 18 years of age, asked to speak to a group of religious leaders in my church, at what they call the synod.

It was a gathering-- ecclesiastical church gathering that talked about faith and morals. And in particular, they wanted to know why so many young people like myself were having this religious experience with Jesus. And we were so happy and carrying our Bible. They wanted to know what's happening. So they had this synod. They asked me to speak. I was very nervous, because at this synod meeting was my father, who was sitting, like in the front row with his arms folded. He also wanted to know what's happening to his son.

There were several nuns. There were some priests, Monsignors, was even a Bishop. And I did not have a good reputation up to that point. I don't know how much wisdom I really had-- probably not much. But I did know that I was saved. That I knew. And I knew that my experience with Jesus was vastly different from the religion that I had grown up with. That I knew and that I was able to testify to. But that experience galvanized, for me, the need to be ready, in season and out of season. Not to simply believe, but to be able to know why I believe what I believe and to be able to articulate the difference between biblical faith and religion.

By the way, let's do that. Let's just make known some differences between religion and biblical faith. Let me give you a few. First of all, religion emphasizes the outward. Religion emphasizes the outward. The gospel always emphasizes-- tell me what. The inward. Always the inward.

Go down to Verse 13 and notice something. They also set up false witnesses who said, this man does not cease to speak blasphemous words against this Holy what? What's the word? Place.

Yeah, you can, in their mind, you can actually blaspheme a place-- this Holy place and law. Again, Verse 14, for we have heard him say this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this what? This place, and change the custom which Moses delivered to us. What are they concerned with? A place. They are more concerned about property than they are about people.

They are more concerned about buildings than building lives. They're more concerned with form than they are with function. Remember Paul the Apostle will say they have a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof. Their focus is externals. That's religion. Religion emphasizes the outward. Gospel emphasizes the inward.

Here's another difference. Religion emphasizes what you can't do. The gospel emphasizes what you can do. Paul said, I can do all things through Christ who gives me the strength. Religion is about keeping rules. I do this, I don't do that, I don't smoke. I don't chew, I don't go with girls that do. Well whoop-de-doo.

You see, the trouble is you can keep all the rules. You can keep them all, and your heart can be far from God. Even after keeping all the rules, you can still not be saved. It's not something that is real. You can go to church, carry Bibles, sing songs, serve, and in your heart you can be dead towards God. The music doesn't move you. The Sermon doesn't convict you. The experience doesn't change you. That's just religion.

And there's another difference. Religion sets up barriers. The gospel breaks down barriers. With the gospel, there's neither male, female, Scythian, bond or free. We are all one in Christ. The gospel is a great bulldozer. The cross brings us all down to the same level ground.

Religion sets up barriers. You're speaking against this place. It's about this place. And this place is the temple. And in the temple, there were courtyards and there were walls, and if you were a Jewish man, you could go to one place. If you were a Jewish woman, you had to go to another place. If you were a non-Jewish person, a Gentile, you were in the nosebleed section way far away. There were barriers.

So if it's not outward, or if it is outward, but not inward, if it's all about rules instead of relationships, if it's all about barriers rather than Bible verses, you will produce people who trust in themselves, because they keep the outward. They keep the rules. They have the barriers. I don't do this, I don't do that. So you'll end up with people who don't trust God for their salvation. They trust in themselves for their salvation.

Remember Jesus told a story about a guy like this. In fact, two guys, in Luke 18, he said two men went up to the temple to pray-- a Pharisee-- religious dude, and a tax collector-- non-religious dude.

And the Pharisee, religious dude, prayed thus with himself. Here's his prayer. Lord, I thank you. That's a good way to start your prayer-- with Thanksgiving. But that prayer went into the ditch pretty quickly. Because he said, Lord, I thank you that I'm not like other men. Or even like this tax collector, non-religious dude.

And then he said this-- I fast twice a week. Check. I give tithes of all that I possess. Check. Kept the rule, kept the rule, kept the rule. But Jesus said that the tax collector wouldn't even raise his head up, but he pounded his breast. And he said Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.

Jesus said that guy, non-religious dude, went away justified. Religious dude did not. And that's the difference. When you're religious, you make it about what you do. When you are saved, you make it about what he's done. It's a big difference. So I'm going to throw this up on the screen. I don't know who wrote it, but it's good.

Religion is man-made. The gospel is God-given. Religion is about what man does for God. The gospel is about what God does for man. Religion is good views. The gospel is good news. Religion ends in outer reformation. The gospel ends in inner transformation. Religion can become a farce. The gospel is always a force. And in fact, the force that Paul spoke about is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes. So that is Stephen. Stephen was spiritually equipped. Good reputation, filled with the Holy Spirit, filled with wisdom, man full of faith, and full of power.

Second ingredient that he had as he was scripturally adept. What I mean by that is in his sermon, which is Chapter 7. It's a very long chapter. We're not going to go through every verse. There are 60 verses in that one chapter. How many in favor of me not going through every verse? Yeah, I'm one of them. OK. So I'm just going to show you a couple of things. He quotes Old Testament scripture over and over and over and over again. It is the, as I said, longest chapter in the book because it is the longest recorded sermon in the book. And get this, it's all based on a single, simple short question.

So Steven is accused of things he never did-- blasphemy of all different sorts. And look at Chapter 7, verse 1. Then the high priest-- right, he's like the judge in court. The high priest said-- look how short his question is. Are these things so?

That was enough for Steven to launch him to give a long sermon. Preachers can be like this, right? Doesn't take much. Ask him a question. There they go. Are these things so? I was like, dude, is this right? This accusation, is that right?

Really, what he's asking is how do you plead? Guilty or not guilty? And so he starts answering it and he does not answer it like you would typically think he ought to answer it. Are these things so? You would think he would say no, these things are not so, Your Honor. That's fake news. Here's the truth.

But he doesn't do that. His response seems like it's not a direct answer at all. We're not going to read it all, as I said, but notice a couple of things. Just let's begin in Verse 2. And he said, men and brethren, and fathers, listen, the God of Glory appeared to our Father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia before he dwelt in Iran and said to him, get out now. He's quoting scripture, Genesis 12, get out of your country and from your relatives and come to a land that I will show you.

And he came out of the land of the Chaldeans and dwelt in Iran and from there. When his Father was dead, he moved him to this land in which you now dwell and God. He launches into a history lesson. He gives, as his answer, a panorama of Old Testament history from the patriarchal period. He talks about Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph to the giving of the law under Moses of Mount Sinai to the setting up of the Tabernacle in the wilderness, which became the temple later on. And he does it with scripture, scripture, scripture, scripture this whole long chapter.

He obviously believed the Old Testament is the Inspired Word of God and he quotes it to his audience-- something else I want you to make note of. The message opens and closes with the glory of God. I want you to see that. Look it, Verse 2 of Chapter 7. He said, men and brethren, and fathers, listen, the God of glory appeared to our Father Abraham. Then he ends his sermon in Chapter 7. Look at Verse 48.

However, the most high does not dwell in temples made with hands, remember they said this Holy place, this Holy temple, you're messing with this temple. The most high doesn't dwell in temples made with hands. As the prophet says, heaven is my throne, Earth is my footstool. What house will you build for me, says the Lord? Or what is the place of my rest? Has not my hand made all these things?

Then after the sermon, look at Verse 55. He, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. So the sermon begins and closes with the glory of God.

Why is that important? Because they're making it all about the greatness of their temple and the greatness of who we are. And so what he reminds them is this. It's not about a Holy Land, it's about a Holy God calling out a Holy people. It's not about the greatness of this temple. It's about the greatness of God and his plan. It's not about rules. It's about relationships. It's not about property. It's about people. It's not about my greatness, your greatness, our greatness, the temple's greatness. It's about God's greatness and God's glory.

And so he's showing the difference between religion and the gospel. You guys are geocentric, right? It's all about a geographical place. The gospel is theocentric. It's about Him. Stephen, what he is doing is exactly what Peter will tell all of us to do when he writes his letter. First, Peter Chapter 3 Verse 15, he says always be ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you. So he was asked to give an account.

Are these things so? He launches into this masterful Bible verse-filled sermon. Now again, he was not a theologian. He was not a prophet. He was not an apostle. But he did know his Bible enough to know that the Old Testament points repeatedly to Jesus. And this young man gave an incredible testimony.

I hope that encourages you. I hope you'll walk away with this knowledge. You don't have to be Theodore Theologian. You don't have to be Britney the Bible Nerd. You just have to have a relatively simple, straightforward working knowledge of your Bible, and most of you do, to be equipped to stand up to the arguments that may come against you.

Now back to my 18-year-old experience, when I stood in front of that group and I was asked to speak, so I remembered. It's been a long time ago, so I might have that facts fuzzy, but this, to my best memory, I do remember this. I didn't know much Bible, but I knew some verses.

And I was quoting Bible verses. So picture 18-year-old Skip standing up speaking to this group, including my dad, quoting Bible verses. As I'm quoting several Bible verses, I get interrupted by a nun. And she says, you keep quoting the Bible. She goes, we don't know Bible. We don't know Bible verses.

And I remember pausing. This is the best of my recollection. I go, well, that's on you. OK, so I'm 18 years old and I know a little bit. You should know enough to be able to teach me. You should have been teaching me the Bible, not me telling you what the Bible says.

Stephen knows his Bible and he works powerfully his way through the scriptures, the Old Testament from all those periods that I just mentioned. Now, when you are defending your faith against like, agnostics and atheists, that's where you pull out apologetics. That's where you take a philosophical evidentiary apologetics and you show why it's plausible to believe.

But when you're dealing with religious people, you pull out your Bibles because they're looking for biblical authority, especially Western religions, who claim some kind of attachment to the biblical text. That's why Billy Graham, whenever he would speak, he knew that his audience was mostly religious people. He would always say the Bible says, the Bible says, the Bible says. So that is Stephen. He is spiritually equipped. He is scripturally adept. But let's move on. There's a couple of other ingredients that he had.

He was also skillfully direct. Now when I say he was direct, you'll see what I mean. He is bringing his sermon to a close. He's landing the plane, we would say, in Verse 51. Here's how he ends a sermon.

You stiff necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears. You always resist the Holy Spirit, as your Father did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers, who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it.

OK, so whoa, right? This is not just a Bible study. This is not just a history lesson. He gets very direct. He gets in their grill. And I guess the real question is why? Why so direct? We would even say mean. Why does he call them stiff necked? Why didn't he just end by saying, and now may the Holy Spirit apply this to our hearts.

Why does he say you stiff necked? Why does he do that? Because that was the exact same name, exact same term God used to describe their forefathers in the Old Testament. Almost 20 times, God himself calls his people, the Jewish people, stiff necked, means obstinate. Heels dug in. It was a word used to describe an ox who would resist the goading of his master, the farmer, trying to pull that plow. You are stiff necked.

But then he tells them something else. You stiff necked and uncircumcised-- now those are fighting words. Those are fighting words. To call a Jewish person, who prided himself in the covenant of circumcision, to say you are uncircumcised and heart and ears is to basically say you are no better than a pagan. You are no better than a Gentile who does not have the covenant of circumcision.

I mean, he's direct. Charles Hadden Spurgeon said of Stephen's sermon, he takes the sharp knife of the Word and rips up the sins of the people laying open the inward parts of their hearts and the secrets of their soul. Why does he do that? Why? Why so direct?

Let me give you my best shot at trying to tell you why. I think it's because usually, religious people don't think they have a need. This is my experience when I talk and engage with them. They don't have a need. I don't need to change anything. I don't need anything. I got religion. My parents, my grandparents handed down this religious system. I got all that I need.

And so it's Stephen's way of saying, to be clear, you don't have what you need. You are stiff necked and uncircumcised. You have the Bible. You have the law. Problem is, you just don't do what it says, so he's being very, very clear. By the way, John the Baptist did the same exact thing. John the Baptist, when he's baptizing in the Jordan River and the religious folks come, he says you brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath that is to come?

And don't start thinking in your mind, we have Abraham as our Father. God can raise up sons of Abraham out of these rocks. It's pretty direct. Jesus did the same thing. Matthew 23, almost the entire chapter. Whoa, you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites. You clean the outside of the vessel, but the inside is filled with dead men's bones and all corruption. What are you blind, guides? Whoa. That's being very direct.

So at some point in your dialogue with religious people, you need to be direct. Maybe not this direct, but certainly direct. When you deal with religious people, at some point you need to address certainty and willingness. Certainty and willingness. Are you sure you are saved? That's certainty. I think so. I hope so. Are you sure? And willingness. Are you willing to trust in Jesus Christ to save you? That's being direct.

Now let me give you a fourth and final ingredient. Stephen, and that is, though he was very direct, at the same time he had sacrificial respect. So let's finish the story out. Verse 54 says when they heard these things, they were cut to the heart. Yeah, I guess. They were convicted. And they gnashed at him with their teeth. And we don't typically use that word much-- gnashing. And gnashing is this. It's grinding your teeth. It's ugh. We are just so mad.

So, so try that. Give me some gnashing. Yeah, come on. Give me the other mark. OK, yeah. Good gnashing. So it's like, when you're done, we're going to rip you limb from limb. They're just chomping at the bit, gnashing at him with their teeth.

But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into Heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, look. I see the Heavens open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God. Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, this is religion. Don't tell me that. And ran at him with one accord, cast him out of the city and stoned him, and the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul, who will become Paul.

And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God. And that's in the present tense, meaning he called over and over and over, probably with each stone. He said Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. Lord Jesus receive my Spirit.

Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, Lord, do not charge them with this sin. And when he has said this, he fell asleep. What's he doing in Verse 60? He's praying for their forgiveness. That's what I mean when I say he had sacrificial respect. Yep, he's direct with them. You are stiff necked, you are uncircumcised in heart and ears, but at the end, he goes, Lord, don't lay this sin to their charge. He's praying for their forgiveness. He has hopes in his dying breath, that some of them will repent and be converted.

Let me ask you a question. Was his prayer answered? You see, you could look at this and go, well, he lost this battle. They killed him. First of all, a Christian never loses when he dies. He wins. For me to live as Christ to die is gain, so he just went to heaven. You say, well that crowd just sort of went on their religious way.

Yeah, they did, except one. Very notable person named Saul of Tarsus. That sermon is the first time probably Paul the Apostle, Saul of Tarsus heard the gospel from the Old Testament articulated, and it made such an impact on him that within weeks, he himself, though resistant at first, will surrender unto Christ and be the greatest missionary the church has ever known.

So Stephen had a very short life and a short ministry. It was one sermon long. He preached one sermon, died, went to Heaven. I know some of you could only wish. You don't need to live long to have an impactful life. Stephen had a very impactful life. Now I mentioned that Saul of Tarsus was there. He was obviously very resistant to this. He will leave that place and he will persecute other Christians, we're told, in this next chapter. But eventually, he will surrender his life to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Now Saul of Tarsus, who's listening to this sermon, in a synagogue, was probably the most religious person in the entire New Testament. By his own admission, he said, I was a Pharisee of the Pharisees, a Hebrew of the Hebrews, because touching righteousness which comes by the law, perfect. I kept the rules. I checked the boxes. But all those things that were gaining to me, I have counted as rubbish loss that I might gain Christ.

He gave up his religion for a relationship with Christ. Reminds me of two caterpillars that were walking down a flower bed and they looked up when a butterfly flew over them. And one caterpillar said to his buddy, you could never get me up on one of those things for a million bucks. That's Paul. That's Saul of Tarsus. You couldn't get me to become a Christian for a million bucks. Couple of chapters later, he's a believer, preaching the gospel, because of the testimony of Stephen. So incredible.

Would you bow your hearts and your head, and let's pray together. Father, we really have a story here about two young men. A young man named Steven who was just obedient and courageous and fearless and stood up to the intimidating giant of the religious system that held him down.

And with great boldness and great articulation, he gave witness of Jesus Christ predicted by the Old Testament scriptures that made an impact on another young man, who was very resistant on that day, but later on, surrendered, because you were goading his soul with the very words he heard from the lips of Stephen.

And so much of the world was changed because of that, including our lives, directly related to this young man standing up to the giant of religion. As we close, Lord, I pray for anybody who might be here who, like me at age 18, came from a religious background and relied upon my religious background for my future eternal salvation.

I am so thankful that I was allowed to live and see the difference between the glorious gospel of Jesus and the religious system that made me think I was good because I kept rules. Lord, I pray for those who may be in that same situation. They come from that background, or they come from a religious background, but they don't have a relationship with you yet, but they could, because you said in Your Word, whoever, as many have received Him, He gives them power to become children of God.

So Lord, I pray that you will change hearts before our very eyes. And if you're here this morning and you've never asked Jesus personally to come and save you to be your Lord and Savior, though you were raised in a church or a religious system. You don't have a relationship with God. It's not personal. It's not real. It's not authentic. It can be, but you have to invite Him in. He won't force His way in. The Bible says he stands at the door and he knocks. You have to open the door. You have to let Him in. You have to ask Him in. If you're willing to do that, or maybe you walked away from the Lord. You had a rich relationship of sorts in the past and you've walked away. You're not walking with Him today, you need to come back home.

Either way, I want you, if that describes you. I want you to raise your hand if you're willing to surrender to Christ right now. Just raise it up so I can see your hand, and I'll acknowledge it. I'll bless you. Right up in the middle in the front, in the middle, toward the middle, anybody else? Just raise your hand up. I'll bless you. In the back, a couple of you.

Who else? Raise your hand up. It's a good time to do this. This is a good time to just say, I want to get my life right with God. God bless you. To my left, who else? Anybody else? If you're outside, raise your hand up. A pastor will call out and acknowledge your hand. Way in the back. A few more. Father, thank you. And we do pray for these precious souls, these people. They have their story. They have their lives. You love each one. Lord, I pray that you would do a work of transformation complete do over, complete makeover, spiritually speaking. Let them know that you have a plan for their lives is the best plan of all.

And I pray that as they come to you in truth and in repentance that they would experience fullness of joy. In Jesus's name we pray, Amen. Amen. Let's all stand. We're going to close in a song, and I'm going to ask those of you who raised your hands to do something besides raising your hands. As we sing the song, I'm going to ask you to get up from where you're standing. Find the nearest aisle. Make your way all the way down here. I'm going to lead you in a moment when you come in a prayer to receive Christ as your Savior. Let's not just raise our hand. Let's come all the way with this. So if you raised your hand, come on down as we sing. We'll give you that opportunity. If you're outside, they'll bring you inside. Come stand right here.

[SINGING]

We're glad you're here. Yeah. Yeah. So glad you're here. Right. Bless you. Thank you.

I want to just give a couple more moments at a time. Again, if you're on the outside, you may be out in the amphitheater, we'll give you a chance to make your way inside. We think this is important. I also discovered that sometimes people making this decision, kind of we see someone do it, so we go yeah, I've always needed to do this. OK, I'll do it, too. And it could be that they'll encourage you to do so. I hope so. Some of you have been fighting God just way too long. You've been just hanging out on your own way too long. This is your time. This is your day. God set this up for you. So come on.

[SINGING]
Are you saved? Are you sure? Are you willing to receive Jesus as Savior? Anyone else, quickly? For those of you who have come, so happy to see you here.

[CHEERING]
Now I'm going to lead you in a prayer. I'm going to pray out loud. I want to ask you to pray out loud after me. Say these words from your heart. You're saying them to God. You're giving God your life. He gave you life to begin with. You're giving your life back to Him. You're surrendering your life to Him. So you say these words out loud from your heart. Say Lord, I give you my life. I know I'm a sinner. Please forgive me. I believe in Jesus, that He died on a cross, that he shed His blood for me, that He rose again. I turn from my sin. I turn from my past. I turn to Jesus as Savior. I'm going to follow him as Lord. Fill me with your Spirit. Help me. In Jesus's name I pray, Amen. Amen.

We hope you enjoyed this special service from Calvary Church. We'd love to know how this message impacted you. Email us at mystory@calvarynm.church. And just a reminder, you can support this ministry with a financial gift at calvarynm.church/give. Thank you for joining us for this teaching from Calvary Church.

Additional Messages in this Series

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8/15/2021
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The Giant of Conformity
Daniel 1:5-16
Skip Heitzig
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There are giants in the land, both moral and spiritual, and we need courage to confront them! Truth is, the world around us is not at all sympathetic to the Christian cause. In fact, they would like nothing more than to silence us and make us conform to their standards. As our Lord said, “The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you” (John 15:19, NLT). Daniel and his three friends were pressured to conform, but they refused. Let’s find out the source of their strength to make such a courageous stand.
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8/22/2021
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The Giant of Silence
Matthew 14:1-10
Skip Heitzig
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"Silence is golden," says the old adage. But that is true only sometimes. Many other times, to be silent is to be complicit in the evil that is being committed around us. John the Baptist, one of the most outspoken prophetic voices in history, helps us navigate the need to speak out against evil and immorality. He confronted a powerful political leader of his day, pointing out where he had violated God’s law. John was imprisoned and executed as a result. Should Christians enter the public square to dialogue about moral issues? Yes, but let’s see how.
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8/29/2021
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The Giant of Apathy
Nehemiah 2:1-9
Skip Heitzig
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The Oxford Dictionary defines apathy as “lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern.” It’s the state of being indifferent to something that should otherwise arouse, provoke, or motivate you. It has been noted that cooling down a fanatic is easier than warming up a corpse. When a person ceases to care, that person ceases to attempt change. Though Nehemiah had it made in terms of his earthly status, the condition in his homeland wouldn’t let him stay silent and inactive. Let’s explore the five steps he took to overcome the giant of apathy.
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9/5/2021
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The Giant of Fear
1 Samuel 17
Skip Heitzig
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One of the most paralyzing of all human emotions is fear. It can rob us of reason and faith. It makes a bad situation worse than it really is, and it saps us of energy and confidence. David would write later on, “I sought the Lord, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears” (Psalm 34:4). But in our story today he faced a fearsome giant (literally) that his country was in dread of. Let’s consider how fear works and by what means it can be defeated.
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9/12/2021
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The Giant of Self: How One Person Can Make a Difference
Esther 4:13-17
Skip Heitzig
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On this weekend that commemorates the tragedy of September 11, 2001, we especially honor those who gave their lives in trying to rescue others, especially the first responders in law enforcement and fire departments, as well as citizens. Journalist Geraldine Brooks reminds us, “September 11, 2001, revealed heroism in ordinary people who might have gone through their lives never called upon to demonstrate the extent of their courage.” Today we look at the story of Esther’s choice to put self aside and make a difference for those facing death. Here we see the extent of her courage!
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9/19/2021
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Addressing Deconstruction and Cancel Culture
Sean McDowell
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Sean McDowell is a sought-after international speaker on cultural, ethical, theological, and apologetics topics, and he retains a PhD in Apologetics and Worldview Studies from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has authored and co-authored over one dozen books and study guides, including So the Next Generation Will Know: Preparing Young Christians for a Challenging World and Chasing Love.
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9/26/2021
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Skip Heitzig Interviews Cissie Graham Lynch, Vince Torres, and Lenya Heitzig
Skip Heitzig
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In this special service, Skip Heitzig interviews Cissie Graham Lynch, Vince Torres, and Lenya Heitzig. Cissie Graham Lynch is the host of the podcast Fearless, in which she discusses living with a fearless faith in a compromising culture. Vince Torres is president of the Family Policy Alliance of New Mexico, and he joins us to discuss political issues facing Christian families today. Finally is Reload Love founder Lenya Heitzig, who speaks about the global efforts to fight terrorism and how everyday people can help.
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10/3/2021
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The Giant of Overwhelming Odds
Judges 7:1-15
Skip Heitzig
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By now you have discovered that we who are Christians are surrounded! There seems to always be more who are against us than who are for us. We face the reality (and we feel it, too!) that we are living in enemy territory. That doesn’t give us permission to be adversarial or combative, for we’ll attract more flies with honey than with vinegar (see 2 Timothy 2:24-25). But Christians are either overcome by their unbelief or they are overcomers because of their faith. How do we navigate through life when the odds are stacked against us and circumstances seem overwhelming?
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10/17/2021
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The Ultimate Giant Slayer
Hebrews 12:1-3
Skip Heitzig
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10/31/2021
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A Courage Revival
Psalm 31:24
Johnnie Moore
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Johnnie Moore is an author, businessperson, and itinerant pastor who is best known for his religious freedom advocacy all around the world. His latest book, The Next Jihad, is about the persecution of Christians in Africa. He is the recipient of many awards and honors, including the prestigious Medal of Valor from the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. He has been twice appointed to the US Commission for International Religious Freedom by the president of the United States.
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There are 10 additional messages in this series.
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