David Kolander

Talk about Not Fair…

by David Kolander on May 12th, 2024
Acts 6:1-9; 7:2a, 51-60

Welcome to all guests who are with us – and to all moms among us today, Happy Mother’s Day!

Moms are great, but, if you were — or if you are — like me, don’t you sometimes feel like a martyr when your mom blames you for something that you say was not your fault in any way whatsoever, or when you get into trouble for something that really doesn’t seem like that big of a deal to get into trouble for? Talk about not fair… On the other hand, however, think about all the patience your mom has to have for all the things that really are your fault and all the love your mom has to have for all the things you should get into trouble for. Talk about not fair… Poor moms getting blamed by their kids for things that are not their fault, making them also feel like martyrs at times for doing all the work of being a mom and then not being appreciated as our moms should be appreciated. So, all we can say is what we should say on this day and every day: “We love you, moms!”

Well, Talk about Not Fair…Think about the man named Stephen in our Bible lesson for today who really was a martyr. We sometimes refer to ourselves as martyrs, when we think we are getting treated wrongly, but the word “martyr” means a “witness.” And a martyr is usually called a martyr when he or she gets put to death or persecuted in some harsh way for witnessing to their faith in Jesus and the teachings of God’s Word. That really is getting blamed for — or in trouble for — something that no one should get blamed for or get in trouble about. That really is something about which we can say, Talk about Not Fair… So, let’s talk about that for a few minutes to help us think about those kinds of things in our lives today. Since this Lesson from Acts 6 and 7 is a long reading, I hope the words in bold print will help you focus on some of the points we will be making along the way about our lives today.

First, though, back to that day for a bit, not too long after Jesus had risen from the dead and returned to heaven, as we celebrated this past Thursday on Ascension Day. Some things were going great, and some things were not going great. What was going great was that the apostles were sharing the life-saving message of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and in the name of the Lord Jesus were performing miracles, like in one instance giving a man who from birth was unable to walk the ability to walk again, so that we are told he went on his way walking and jumping and praising God. What was not going great was the reality that the devil cannot stand people walking and jumping and praising God, so he continually infiltrated the hearts of people to make life rough for those apostles, putting some of them into prison for talking about Jesus as the Savior of the world from its sin.

In our Lesson we are also told that what was going great in the midst of those difficulties was that the apostles were caring for the earthly situations of widows and people in need, and that they needed help with all that so that all the people in need could be treated fairly and so the apostles could concentrate on doing their work of prayer and the ministry of the Word. So, seven men were chosen, often called deacons, to assist with the organization and carrying out of this important work of compassion ministry so the apostles could carry out their important work of Word of God ministry. One of the men chosen to be a deacon was this Stephen, who was described as “a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit.” That means he was a faithful dedicated Christian who wanted to help his church in any way he could. All this care for God’s people resulted in even more blessings for God’s people, as we are told the number of God’s people kept increasing, and that even a large number of priests “became obedient to the faith.” In other words, many religious leaders among the Jews who were responsible for the death of Jesus came to realize that Jesus of Nazareth was the long-promised Messiah who had come to do exactly what God had prophesied he would come to do – and that he would come again to take all believers home to him in heaven. That means people who may have been among the crowd which was shouting, “Crucify!” were now thanking God that Jesus was crucified for them and for their sins, including the sin of putting him on the cross!

But what was not going great was that even though God was blessing Stephen’s work and even allowed him to also do miracles among the people, Satan would not slink away, but instead moved other Jewish unbelievers to lie about Stephen and say that he was speaking blasphemy against God by speaking about Jesus, leading Stephen to then begin his witness to them in verse 2 of chapter 7 of our Lesson, when he said: “Brothers and fathers, listen to me!” And then in words that are not printed in our worship folder, he went on for almost fifty verses in Acts 7 to give them a summary of one thousand years of the history of God’s people from Abraham of old to King Solomon the son of David… (If you want to get a quick summary of a good portion of the Old Testament in just a few minutes, take a few minutes this week to read Acts 7.) – But, as Stephen gave this summary of those days back then, he was making it clear to them that right now on this day on which they were challenging him, they were just like all their stiff-necked ancestors who had persecuted and mocked and killed so many of God’s prophets before, who had spoken about the ultimate Son of David, leading those people that day to do the same thing to Stephen, as they pelted him with stones until he gave his last breath in death. Talk about not fair… This was a good man, a godly man, a believer in Jesus, put to death as a martyr precisely because he was a believer in Jesus.

It is not fair, but it is not one bit surprising that that silly and ridiculous hatred toward believers in Jesus who hang on to the teachings of God’s Word continues today. God predicted that it would. In fact, one of those apostles at Stephen’s time, the apostle Peter, said this to you and me in one of his letters in the Bible: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.”  Some of you have experienced this a fair amount in your life – others of you maybe not so much, at least not yet – but all of you know or should know that there are people who think you are sadly ignorant because you believe that Adam and Eve were real people that God created, and that God himself gave the words of the Bible, and that there even is a God in the first place who watches over his people; you know there are people who misunderstand your love and think you are hateful because you believe that God in his Word says that there are sexual behaviors that are inappropriate and sinful, and that there even is something called sin of any kind against God, and that there is an eternal judgment that the Lord says will come at the end of time for anyone who doesn’t trust in Jesus as the forgiver of that sin; you know there are people who think you are weak and pitiful because you believe you yourself need a Savior because of your own sin, because you know you are no better than anyone else, and that every single moment of every single day you must rely on God’s mercy to stay alive physically and to keep clinging to him spiritually… But God here tells us that even if – and I pray not ever – but even if everyone in the world would say you do not deserve to live because of what they call your ignorance and your hatefulness and your weakness, God tells you and me we can rejoice. We can rejoice, because in that way we can get a tiny little taste of the sufferings Jesus went through for you and me to make each of us a dearly loved child of God – and in that way there will often be a chance for more people to see what it is like to be a child of God, and some will want to hear more about the Word of God so they can be a child of God, too.

That’s why the spirit of any suffering we may go through – or that we may go through in the future as individual believers or as a Christian church, which does seem possible, as is the case, sadly, in many other countries today – that any suffering we may go through dare not provoke a response of a sinful kind of anger or hatred or vengeance on our part, but, because we are so sad for their souls that they feel that way, one of concern for others and love for others and forgiveness for others, exemplified by Stephen when his last words before falling asleep in his death were, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them,” just as his Savior had done a little bit earlier on the cross, when he said about those around him, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” It certainly was not fair Jesus had to suffer like that, and, humanly speaking, it is not one bit fair that we have to suffer in any way – whether a little or a lot – for being a follower of our Savior, but it is a high honor to do so. Jesus once said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Talk about not fair… Jesus says the kingdom of heaven itself belongs to people like you and me because of what he did to save people like you and me.

And what that means is that God uses people like you and me to show what God’s kingdom is like and to tell what God’s kingdom is like. In the midst of increasing human divisiveness all around us, let’s ask God to help each of us remember how special we are to him so that we can be careful to maintain a positive, Christ-centered attitude that looks to do what Stephen did, when he simply told people what the Bible said, like we also do today; when he was privileged to see wonderful results in God’s church, like we also see today; and when he entrusted his uncertain earthly future to his Lord, as we also want to do today and always, as we join him in someday seeing in our eternal future what God allowed him to see on that last day of his life: “Look,” Stephen said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” You and I will someday see Jesus standing at the right hand of God because we are part of the kingdom of God, so let’s all help each other not get all confused and worried if and when people oppose the very message that means so very much to us, and let’s all join each other in continuing to share the loving, saving message of our risen Savior Lord with ourselves and our children and others who at this time may not want anything to do with it – or with us – but whom our Lord wants everything to do with, because they, like us, are the ones whose sins our sinless Savior died for when he gave his life on the cross. Thank God that that’s the kind of fairness our Lord tells us for Jesus’ sake is his kind of fairness. And thank God that for the sake of Jesus we can hang on to that promise, when things we go through for the sake of Jesus don’t seem fair. Because of Jesus, all will be good. Amen. 

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