You know something?? Most of us, myself included, have no problem claiming Jesus Christ as Lord and savior, happily claiming for ourselves the forgiveness of our sin that only He can bring. Yes, if we are Christian, we all pretty much believe and proclaim that Jesus was indeed the son of God, sent to God’s holy people. We know that He was mostly rejected by those to whom he was sent, that he suffered under Pontius Pilate, that he died on a Roman cross in our place, and was raised on the third day, proving for all history that He was who he said He was.
But – do we believe the teachings of Jesus as much as we believe the suffering and sacrifice of Jesus? If Jesus was counter-cultural in his day, what would He be today? I think He would be much more counter cultural today than He was in his own time. Imagine this – You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. Seriously?? Love my enemies?? Pray for those who persecute me? How many of us really believe in that? And when I say believe, I mean believe so much that we actually DO that? Doesn’t Jesus know that I have my pride? I mean, I love Him and all, but you gotta draw the line somewhere! Right!!
So, what would happen if, instead of just believing in Jesus, we actually meant it when called him “Lord” of our lives. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, gave us the example in the bible of not just claiming Jesus as Lord, but LIVING Jesus as Lord. Look at Stephens reaction as he was being STONED to death for the name of Jesus – “And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.” Acts 7:59-60 ESV. So, how many of us in 2016 would actually put this teaching of Christ into action? Particularly 2016 America? Not many! Most of us consider it Christian suffering if we are asked to miss an episode of Dancing With the Stars to spend an evening at church. We consider it Christian suffering to give up our parking spot AT CHURCH on a Sunday morning to make room for a visitor who has never met Christ. But consider the POWER that came from this submission by Stephen. Remember who was there observing – “And Saul approved of his execution.” Act 8:1. Perhaps this selfless act by a guy who truly believed in the power of Jesus Christ enough to actually DO AS CHRIST TAUGHT made an impression on Saul of Tarsus that day. Perhaps Saul, despite dialing up his persecution after Stephens death, was haunted by Stephens prayer for his enemies that day. Maybe this softened Saul’s heart just enough to make his later conversion possible.
Just imagine if Stephen had responded as most of us would have responded? What if he had responded with anger and bitterness instead of love. What if we as the church actually responded to our world with love, instead of so much anger and bitterness? Do you think we could change some hearts, as Stephen helped to change Saul’s heart?
““You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Matthew 5:43-48 ESV