You have heard often there are two kinds of people in the world. There are a million ways we can be divided into two camps. Huskies and Cougars. Ford and Chevy. Red States and Blue States. Coke and Pepsi. iPhone and Android. Those who eat the crust and those who don’t. Toilet paper over front or down the back. Morning people and those who want to shot morning people. Our text sets side by side a great contrast between Stephen and the Sanhedrin, a difference created by the presence or absence of the Holy Spirit, by one filled with the Spirit and those resisting the Holy Spirit. We see those that look around and one who looks up. Those filled with rage and one filled with peace. Those who show no mercy and the one who prays for mercy. Those ready to kill and one ready to die. Those who hate and one who loves. Those who are acting according to the flesh and one who sees and says and does things the flesh never could.
Did you notice there was no time of confession in our Thanksgiving Day service? Does that mean we get a pass on Thanksgiving? Sort of like when you can ride the WTA buses free on fair week. Sort of like getting free shipping on Black Friday. There is a time for looking at our sin, at what we have done. There is a time for confessing and repenting. There is a time for taking honest inventory of our souls. But there is also a time to get our eyes off of ourselves and lift them up to God. There is a time to look at what God has done and express the gratitude of our souls. There is a time to weep and a time to laugh. A time to mourn and a time to dance. There is a time for fasting and a time for feasting.
Telling time is important to us Americans since we are so time conscious. In other cultures time and dates and deadlines are not nearly as important and some cultures barely have clocks. I preached at an Apache Indian church in Oklahoma that didn’t start until about 20 minutes after the stated hour and even then we started before the pianist arrived. But there is more to telling time than what a clock or watch tells us. There is knowing the times. “The Doomsday Clock is a symbol which represents the likelihood of a man-made global catastrophe. Maintained since 1947 by the members of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists' Science and Security Board, the clock represents an analogy for the threat of global nuclear war” (Wikepedia). It is set once a year at the University of Chicago by a group of scientist. Right now it is set at two minutes to midnight, two minutes to an apocalypse. They hope this clock will somehow wake people up to the seriousness of the nuclear crisis and that we will do whatever we can to turn the clock back.
Last week we heard about the powerful ministry of Stephen, one of the seven men set apart as a deacon. Some of the Jews charged him with speaking blasphemously against Moses and God. Acts 6:13-14 They set up false witnesses who said, “This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, 14 for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.” Stephen has been charged with two very serious charges of blasphemy, blasphemy the law and the Temple, the most sacred things in the mind of any Jew.
When John says do not love the world we have to understand what he means and doesn’t mean by world. After all, the Bible says God so loved the world, so shouldn’t we love the world? What is the world John is talking about? The word world has not one meaning but three meanings in the Bible.
How many of you have been impacted or influenced or greatly helped by a person who was in your life for a very short time? Someone who in the span of a few months or weeks or maybe even hours left a positive lasting mark? Who knows maybe you have been touched by an angel unawares? Some brief encounters can be as profound and life changing as a lifelong friendship. This reminds us not to take for granted how God might use us in some stranger’s life, how a word or action could make a lasting impression. Being salt and light, bringing a cup of cold water, lifting a broken spirit, doesn’t have to take a long time. Don’t underestimate what the Holy Spirit of God can do through you if you are open and available and paying attention to what He is doing around you. Stephen comes on the stage of Biblical history in Acts 6 and by the end of chapter seven he is dead and gone, but not forgotten. He has left a powerful example in his brief appearance. It is obvious Luke wants us to know him because he tells us a lot about him and he included his speech which is the longest speech in Acts.
Picture yourself in a classroom taking a test and you open the test booklet and there’s one essay question. The question is do you know God? That’s it, do you know God? Oh, and it says, give three examples. What would you begin writing? Life is that test. Life is a test of whether we know God or not. John puts this test out there; do we know God and he gives three ways to know or test whether we know God or not. Last time we had the moral test of whether we do we know God, whether we are in Christ, and Christian, by keeping the commandments of God, by keeping His Word. In a couple of weeks, we will come to the theological test, a test the false teachers are failing. This week we have the social test of whether we know God, whether we are in Christ, and Christian, do we love our brother, our neighbor.
In our reading of Acts, we have heard stories about how the church devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers, how they gathered together in homes, practiced hospitality and sold their possessions to help those in need. We heard stories of bringing money and laying it at the feet of the apostles’ to be distributed to the poor. Several times Luke has mentioned how much the church grew even in the face of opposition. We have heard about the church together in bold prayer and the Spirit filling them. It is good for us to hear about the growth of the church in the world, it encourages us that God is at work, His Spirit is still as always powerfully transforming lives and gathering worshipers from every tongue, tribe and people. Now Luke tells us about a problem in this growing church and how the Spirit led them to solve the problem. And it’s good for us to hear that all churches have problems and issues.