Sermon in a nutshell: Acts 7:51-60 “God opened the heaven”
In this season of Peace, we hear the tragic news of the New Town. When they adopted the name, New Town, they must have dreamed of a town with hope, joy, love, and peace, a New Jerusalem. However, forces of evil never stop attacking our vision of New Town. When we had loving relationship with God, Satan came to us and lured us to break the relationship with God. We betrayed God’s trust.
We lost our Paradise. Since that time, God has offered many instructions and suggestions for us to restore the lost relationship with God. However, our self-centered pride has rejected God’s offer time and again. We have wanted to be our own master of our lives. We have cultivated our intelligence and developed civilization. We have achieved quite a lot actually: Look at all the technological advances! However, with all those advanced technologies, our spirit is still fragile. We still blame others for our misfortunes and we compare our lives with others to feel miserable. We do not have peace in our heart and often we get mad at others.
However, we do not want to hear this truth. When someone points out this spiritual “inconvenient” truth about our realities, we get uncomfortable. Read the Bible for today. Stephen shouted out this truth to his contemporary audience: “You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him— you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.”
He said that “your heart and years are still uncircumcised”? Circumcision is a sign of God’s people (Genesis 17). However, Stephen is here saying that you have sign of God’s people on your body but your heart is far away from God and you do not listen to God’s commandments. Even though you have all the forms and looks of God’s people, you are “NOT” God’s people in your heart. If you are truly God’s people, you would “REPENT” your ways, saying, “Lead me back to Bethlehem!”
Because they were not truly God’s people, they were mad when they heard the truth about their realities. The Bible says, “When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. … At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him.”
In the ancient times, they threw stones to kill others. Now they shot and kill others. However, this is not the end of the story. The Bible says that the one who was killed was actually accepted by Jesus to enjoy eternal life and welcoming of the heavenly Master. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Stephen cried out, “Look, I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing right hand of God!” In the Bible, we do not see this description of heaven opening often. Jesus could not just sit at the throne. Jesus had to stand up to receive the soul of the innocent. So, those who were killed in the New Town, they must have also seen the heaven opening and Jesus welcoming them with open arms.
When Stephen saw this ultimate victory and the final ending of the universal fight, he could trust God and forgive others. The Bible says, “While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he fell on his knees and cried out, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he fell asleep.”
He fell asleep, the Bible says. He did not die. Actually, all who died in Christ, did not die but fell asleep. And we will all wake up when Jesus comes again with the trumpet sound at his second coming! With that hope, let us comfort each other and shout the hymns of joy! The heaven is opening for all of us who praise God and forgive our enemies! Evil cannot win the final victory! God wins! God reigns in the New Town where people with New Heart live!
1. Who needs to hear this Good News of eternal life and forgiveness?
2. When and how would you share this Good News with them?