Acts 6:8—7:3; 7:51-58
We are continuing our new sermon series this morning: “A wider view of God”. In this series, we are celebrating that all of us have a window or perspective into the character of God. None of us see God completely or fully. But all of us see and know some part of God. Thus, if we want to know God more, we need two things: (1) we need to pursue him ourselves. (2) We need to pursue him alongside people who are different from us: people from different ethnic groups, different genders, different generations, socio-economic groups, different abilities. And, of course, we need people with different perspectives.
As the world becomes more diverse (and as the church becomes more diverse), differences can feel like a threat. We are tempted to wonder, “why don’t other people behave as I do?” and “Why don’t other people care about the same things that I care about?” Over this series, Pastor Harrison and I are interviewing diverse members of our congregation, asking three questions:
1. Which person of the Trinity do you feel closest to?
2. What characteristics of God are most important to you?
3. Can you share the story of the Gospel in a few sentences?
For those who are interviewed, we’re not even going to be able to share everything you say. There’s just too much good stuff even in those three questions. But to those of you who are listening—know that you may not see things the same way. But that is the point. So ask yourself, “what does this person see about God that I do not? How can I learn from her or him? How can I appreciate them?
This past week, I talked with Naylis. Naylis is in grade 12; he’s been a part of RPC his whole life and I had the privilege to get to know him better this week and hear about his hopes and plans for the future. He was also kind enough to share his answers.
Naylis has a beautiful perspective into the character of God—as friend and as protector. Because of Naylis’ story and his experience growing up in his family, he can help us see another aspect of God that scripture talks about. We’re going to look at God the Father this morning, especially—but we see in Acts the same thing that Naylis said: we can’t just have one person of the Trinity.
[READ ACTS 6:8—7:3]
Stephen continues for a whole chapter, outlining God’s promises and faithfulness to Abraham and to his descendants. He outlines how God was with Joseph, rescued him, and lifted him up. He details how God sent Moses to fulfill his promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And how God met Moses and guided him; how God gave him his (God’s) words to share with others as a prophet—even though God’s people refused to obey.
Then Stephen continues,
[READ Acts 7:51-58]
Did you notice how all three persons of the Trinity show up in Stephen’s telling of the story?
One of the beautiful ways that I noticed Naylis talking about God is the same way that Stephen talks about God in Acts 7. I wonder if you have ever noticed this before: Often when we tell the story of the gospel, we emphasize that Jesus came to earth. Some of us have a view of God as being “mean” or “angry” in the Old Testament and then suddenly “nice” in the New Testament. God seems to have different personalities!
But to hear Naylis tell the story, “God didn’t want to destroy the world because he loved us too much for that. And so, instead, he came down to seek us out each individually. But by saving us, he took on our punishment, and so every bit of shame and sorrow and darkness—every not happy thing that you can imagine—he took onto himself.” This is the same tone that Stephen takes in Acts 7.
We won’t go into all the details again, but Stephen outlines God’s faithfulness: his friendship with Abraham—how God protected, guided, and provided for him. Then Joseph—“God was with him”. And Moses— “God directed him”. God drove out nations before Joshua and David enjoyed God’s favour. This is a picture of God as a friend. He is a constant presence and encouragement and source of strength for the “heroes” of the Old Testament. Stephen offers this picture of God not just in general, but as his protection—as his criminal defense in a capital trial. Don’t forget that as he tells this story, Stephen is on trial for blasphemy. And his defense is to tell the story of God as friend and God as protector—and to remind his accusers that humanity has always resisted God’s work in the world.
Stephen, like Naylis, paints a picture of God as a good Father. A friend and protector. But also a holy judge. It’s true, of course, that the Old Testament contains many stories of God’s judgment. But it is not God’s arbitrary wrath against mostly good people; it is God’s righteous and holy decision about people who are harming themselves and others. You only need to read a little bit of the Old Testament to see that God is the main character and that God is the hero. Stephen can tell this story with very little preparation and even less detail. It’s true that the Bible contains many stories of judgment. Judgment is necessary against sin because God is holy and God loves us so much that he does not want us to remain stuck in sin. So judgment is necessary. But judgment is never God’s final word.
As we close, we’re going to talk about those two things: God’s judgment and God’s final word.
In our world, one of the joys of being young is having a world of possibilities ahead of us. You can pick some of your classes even in high school. You can decide afterward if you want to go to university, or to college or trade school. Perhaps you want to travel or move far away! Maybe you want to live at home forever. The joy of possibilities for the road ahead is a part of the joy of youth. But that joy is tempered by the reality of sin, pain, and instability in our world. You cannot just go to any school—you have to apply and maybe you don’t get in. You cannot just go visit any place—it may be dangerous or too far or too expensive. And there is always pressure to make up your mind because adults are always telling you that time is wasting away!
So two realities exist in tension in our world. On the one hand, our world is a sinful, painful, and unstable place. On the other hand, A friend and protector can guide you into the next chapter. This is one significant place that you as young people find yourselves—at the crossroads between an old age and a new one; navigating the tension between the broken, uncertain reality of our world and the friendship and promises of a good God. You are wondering about what comes next in your life and what comes next in our whole world! All possible futures are laid open like a blank page—wide open before you. And sure, it’s exciting. But it’s also intimidating; scary. So when you see God, perhaps you also see that God shares God’s friendship and his protection with you. He is what you need most for the future. To be certain: God is more than this too; but he is not less.
God is a good friend to us—he is committed in his love for us within the tension and broknness of our world. But he is a holy friend as well—he is so committed in his love for us that he will not allow us to remain forever in the tension of our world. God is committed to guiding his people through the tension in our world. He is so serious about it, in fact, that he will defeat sin in our world, in our lives, and even in our own hearts as he draws us to himself. This is God’s judgment: the purification and removal of sin in our world, in our lives, and even in our own hearts. Stephen reminds us that God does judge sin; but that judgement is never God’s final world.
Because God is not just a good friend but also a holy friend, we can trust that he will only guide us to what is good in the future. He will protect from evil the ones that he loves; and even when we suffer, he will bring something even better for us in the future. Stephen was killed because he could a perspective of God that the religious leaders couldn’t see. They refused to accept his perspective and so they refused to accept him. You may have heard judgement from other people. Even judgement from God’s people! But this morning, I want you to hear God’s last word to you. And judgement is never God’s final word.
The good news about God and the final word from God are the same: God is with his people. God is with you! God is sharing his glory, his life, and his eternal home with you. God is sharing himself with you! “There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother!” Proverbs says (18:24). God is that friend who is close to you and with you now.
There is a “now” to the good news of God’s friendship and protection. But also there is a future to it! If God has been this way in the past; and if God is this way in the present, then certainly he will continue in the future. And this is precisely what the Bible says.
So if you are in one of the dark spots in life—that is how life goes for all of us at times—but God has a better future for you. God has more of himself for you: more of his grace. More of his glory. More of his protection and his provision. And if God can offer you that, and if he does hold that out to you—why would you ever look anywhere else? Why would you claim another family, another allegiance?
Imagine the possibilities of the future without the pressure of the present. Imagine the joy of exploring the world without the pain of worrying about money or about danger. This is the future “protection” that God offers to his people—a final removal of sin and suffering, of danger and evil. So as we close, I invite you to look for the glory of God! If even you glimpse it, this side of eternity, it will be greater than anything else our world can even promise.
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