““For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.” All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel. Then the High Priest asked him, “Are these charges true?” To this he replied, “Brothers and fathers, listen to me! The God of Glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran.””
In this past week I have found myself wrestling with two key concepts regarding the definition of the Gospel and the approach which must be taken in calling people to believe it. The Apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 gives us a powerful description of the Gospel with these words, which he tells us he received through revelation from God and passed on to them and on which the Corinthians have taken their stand.
“for what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”
It is this Gospel that we, like the Apostle Paul and Stephen in Acts 6 and 7, are called to proclaim calling people to faith in Christ crucified. This was the work that Stephen was engaged in as he laboured to meet the needs of the Christian widows in Jerusalem. It seems as if Stephen cannot help but proclaim the truth of the Gospel. He ends up being arrested and dragged before the Sanhedrin in ordered to be tried for the following three crimes.
- Stephen is speaking against the Temple in Jerusalem.
- He is also speaking against the Law of Moses.
- Finally he is charged with speaking with approval the words of the Lord Jesus Christ. In other words he is accused with being a disciple of Jesus.
The consequence of this trial is that Stephen is asked a key question. It is a question that every Christian has to answer constantly. The High priest asks him, and through Acts us, “Are these charges true?”
The question is asked and Stephen is given a platform to answer it. Could it be that as he begins to answer the charges levelled against him that Stephen recalls the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ recorded in Mark 13:11?
“Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.”
Luke makes it abundantly clear here that Stephen is a man filled with the Spirit of God. His face betrays the radiance of the Lord’s presence in him. He responds to the question, as must we, with a masterful, Christ Centred exposition of the history of the people of Israel. In his answer Stephen leads us to see that the focus of all of history is the God of Glory who has revealed Himself to us through the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the Gospel we are called to believe which has at its heart the sacrificial love of God revealed in the Lord Jesus Christ bearing our sin upon the cross of Calvary. More than that is revealed to us here because that same redeeming Son of God triumphed over death when He was raised from the grave. Now He lives eternally interceding for us at the right hand of the Father in heaven. Death can no longer hold us because He was raised on the third day and we are now raised to life in Him.
Stephen proclaims this Gospel clearly. So too must we proclaim it. Charles Haddon Spurgeon in a sermon entitled “The Dew of Christ’s Youth” in Spurgeon’s Sermons, Volume 6, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Mass., 2011, pages 262-263, deals with the modern problem that we have with the methods by which we proclaim this truth. His advice is to proclaim it clearly just as Stephen did.
“The first is a lesson for the pulpit, a lesson of admonition. Dear brethren, we who occupy the pulpit must take care we never entertain the idea for a moment that the Gospel is worn out. There is a good deal of nonsense talked about a Gospel adapted to the times. People say that the way Whitefield preached, and the way that John Berridge and Rowland Hill preached, was all wrong. True, many sinners were converted under their ministry, but you know sinners then were a different sort of sinners to the sinners of these days, different shaped sinners, and they do not want the same sort of preaching. They do say that the devil is improved. I don’t know, I find him worse if anything – improved the wrong way. They say that sinners are improved, and do not require to be addressed with the same fiery, burning words as of old, The nineteenth century has become so learned that it has got beyond the simple knowledge of Christ crucified; it has become so erudite that the simplicity of the Gospel is far behind it, it has marched on so far ahead that it has left the cross miles in the distance. Well, do not believe them for a moment, my dear brethren. If you want to wake up the people of England, preach and old fashioned Gospel; if you want to crowd your halls, and gather thousands around you, it is the truth as it is in Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever, that you must preach. And as for the matter of your style, you may leave that to the occasion, and never study that. Only stick to your subject. Stick to the simple Gospel in all its freshness and glory.”