“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…teaching them to observe all that I commanded you, and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20, NASB).
1) Escape (Frank Himmel)
2) “Lord, Do Not Hold This Sin Against Them” (Adam Litmer)
3) An Exhortation: Ephesians 4:1-6
The English word escape comes from an old Latin compound word composed of ex-, “out of,” and cappa, “cape” or “cap.” It therefore literally means to get out of your cape; that is, to leave a pursuer holding only your cape while you get away. We use the word primarily of either breaking free from confinement or control (e.g., escaping from prison), or of successfully avoiding something dangerous or unpleasant (e.g., escaping death). The New Testament has a good bit to say about escaping in the spiritual realm.
Our first concern must be escaping divine punishment. “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). The righteous judgment of God calls for wrath against sinners—and that is all of us (Romans 3:23). Thankfully, He has provided salvation in His Son. It is the exclusive means. “And there is salvation in no other; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:13). Therefore, being Jesus’ disciple is serious business; it calls for careful attention. “How will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” (Hebrews 2:3).
Escaping divine punishment involves several other escapes. It begins with escaping our captivity in sin. Sinners often see themselves as free, but in reality they are held captive by the devil to do his will (2 Timothy 2:26). Escape from that condition requires repentance and learning the truth (v. 25). Escaping the devil’s hold on us also requires that we escape the world’s thinking and conduct. Peter emphasized the importance of escaping the corruption that is in the world by lust (2 Peter 1:4), the defilement of the world (2 Peter 2:20), and those who live in error (v. 18).
Satan will not leave us alone when we escape to Christ. He will still tempt us. Nevertheless, “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
It is up to us to use the way of escape, and it is vital that we do so. “For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first” (2 Peter 2:20).
“See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven” (Hebrews 12:25).
— Via Pathlights, April 28, 2019
“Lord, Do Not Hold This Sin Against Them”
Stephen, a horrifying mess of blood, lacerations, and broken bones, falls to his knees as the stones continue to crash against his body. They’ve done their work. Even were every hand to drop its stone rather than throw it, irreparable damage has been done. Stephen is going to die.
I do not know whether the vision Stephen was granted of Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father (Acts 7:55) had continued as they cast him out of the city and began stoning him. If it had not then Stephen’s rapidly dimming sight would have been filled with the malevolent faces of his murderers. Indeed, his final statement before death may indicate this. Regardless, the statement itself demonstrates a number of important points worth consideration.
As he fell to his knees, Stephen cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Immediately after these words, Stephen died.
When one carefully considers the situation, Stephen’s final words become even more striking than they appear at first blush. The “natural person” (fleshly, sensual, selfish, proud, ungodly. See 1 Corinthians 2:14; Romans 8:7; Jeremiah 6:10) typically responds to hate with hate, violence with violence, and anger with anger. Instances where the “natural person” does not respond in this way tend to be the exception rather than the rule.
To face the moment of an unjust death at the hands of hateful people with forgiveness in one’s heart is foreign to humanity generally. Even if something deep inside the “natural person” recognizes transcendence in such a heart, they have long learned to ignore pesky pricks of the conscience God installed within them.
Truly there is something transcendent in the heart displayed by Stephen. It is the result of the complete transformation God works within His people. (Philippians 2:12-13; Ephesians 3:14- 16; 1 Thessalonians 2:13) It is a transformation that must be desired and permitted, for God will not work it apart from our will. This is why we are told to let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, (Colossians 3:16a) to strive for…the holiness without which no one will see the Lord, (Hebrews 12:14) and to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. (Romans 12:1)
Stephen was not the man he had been before putting on Christ. Perhaps that man was already kind and patient. Certainly, he was not so Christ-like before Christ filled his heart and mind. (Luke 23:34; 1 Peter 2:19-23) Indeed, Christ would have to fill a heart to overflowing for it to be so deeply concerned with the souls of its own executioners.
That Stephen spent the last of his strength appealing on their behalf makes this even more astounding. What type of person would do this? Certainly not the atheist with all his hopeless humanism. He hates those who cause him needless pain. Certainly not the agnostic who has refused to commit to any belief. His cherished skepticism provides only horrifying doubt at a moment like this. He despises those who have brought him to it. Certainly not the lukewarm Christian. He never took it all that seriously. If he does come to this moment (which is doubtful for why would he be willing to die for his “faith”?) his thoughts will not extend beyond his heart’s own worry. Only the heart transformed and remade in the image of Jesus Christ can think in the way Stephen thought. How glorious it is!
Peace and love fill this heart. At the moment of death, it need not plead and beg. It is confident of its salvation, (Romans 8:1; 1 John 5:13) not because it believes itself deserving or has compiled enough works to earn it, but because its life has been one of trusting faith reliant upon God’s grace. (Romans 9:30-32a; Ephesians 2:8-10) This repentant, active life has been dedicated to God’s service and trusts Him to the end. (Titus 2:11-14; 3:8) This saint longs for all to possess what has so graciously been given to him, even those who may unjustly take his life.
May we all grow to love and trust our Lord as Stephen did. May our love for souls abound to the very end.
— Via the University Heights Messenger, Volume 11, Number 4, January 27, 2019
An Exhortation: Ephesians 4:1-6
“Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all” (NASB)
The Steps That Lead to Eternal Salvation
1) Hear the gospel, for that is how faith comes (Rom. 10:17; John 20:30-31).
2) Believe in the deity of Christ (John 8:24; John 3:18).
3) Repent of sins (Luke 13:5; Acts 17:30).
4) Confess faith in Christ (Rom. 10:9-10; Acts 8:36-38).
5) Be baptized in water for the remission of sins (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Rom. 6:3-4; Gal. 3:26-27; 1 Pet. 3:21).
6) Continue in the faith, living for the Lord; for, if not, salvation can be lost (Heb. 10:36-39; Rev. 2:10; 2 Pet. 2:20-22).
CHURCH OF CHRIST
1402 Tebeau Street, Waycross, GA 31501
Sunday services:9:00 a.m. (Bible class); 10 a.m. & 5 p.m. (worship)
Wednesday: 7 p.m. (Bible class)
evangelist/editor: Tom Edwards (912) 281-9917
http://thomastedwards.com/go (Older version of Gospel Observer website without pictures, but back to March 1990)
http://ThomasTEdwards.com/audioser.html (audio sermon)