The Smiting of God’s Glory
June 26th, 1977 @ 7:30 PM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Acts 6:8, 7:60
6-26-77 7:30 p.m.
And thank you, Sanctuary Choir and all who have made this service a beautiful thing for us who are happy in the Lord. And, welcome, the thousands uncounted of you who are listening to this service on the great radio of the Southwest, KRLD, and on our stereo broadcast, the radio station, KCBI, of our Bible Institute.
You are listening to the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. In our preaching through the Book of Acts, we left off this morning at verse 7, in chapter 6 of the Book of Acts. And we pick up there at the eighth verse in chapter 6 of the Book of Acts. And I’m going to read, beginning at verse 8 in chapter 6, to the end of the chapter. Then I want you to read out loud with me in the next chapter: chapter 7, beginning at verse 54.
We are standing at a great divide in the kingdom and patience of our Lord, and in the Christian faith. The title of the sermon tonight is The Smiting of God’s Glory. Now, I read first:
And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people.
Then there arose certain of the synagogue, which is called the Synagogue of the Libertines, and Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and of them of Cilicia and of Asia, disputing with Stephen.
And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spake.
Then they suborned men – they hired men, which said, We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses, and against God.
And they stirred up the people, and the elders, and the scribes, and came upon him, and caught him, and brought him to the Sanhedrin.
And set up false witnesses, which said, This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words against the this holy place, and the law:
For we have heard him say, that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered us.
And all that sat in the council, looking steadfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel.
Smitten with the glory of God. Now, turn to chapter 7 and read out loud with me, beginning at verse 54. Acts 7:54, all of us, out loud, together:
When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth.
But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,
And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God.
Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord.
And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s neat, whose name was Saul.
And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.
And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
And, the title of the message: The Smiting of God’s Glory. It is a message on Stephen, the first Christian martyr.
As we come to this place in the Bible, beginning at verse 8 in chapter 6, we are coming to a great division and a great departure in the program and plan of God. It is the same kind of a great epoch as when we come to the end of the eleventh chapter of the Book of Genesis and begin chapter 12, which is the story of Abraham. So it is in this great transitional period in which Stephen stands before the presence of the Lord, as God’s mighty witness. The Greek word is martyr.
You see, when we come to the eighth verse of the sixth chapter of Acts, we are changing, we are shifting from Peter to Paul. Did you notice, in the passage that you read, they laid down their garments, their clothes, at the feet of a young man whose name was Saul – Paul? [Acts 7:58]. This is the great transition from Peter to Paul. That is, this is the transition from a sect of Judaism to the world-wide universal faith that we know as Christianity.
This man Stephen has a beautiful and meaningful name. His name is Stephanos, Stephanos, and it means a crown, a garland. It refers to the reward that was given to a civic leader of the state or of the city. And it refers to the crown of glory that was received by one who ran and achieved in the Olympic Greek games. His name was Stephanos: garland, crown, and how unusual that this man should be, in that name, Stephanos, the first Christian martyr and the first one to receive the martyr’s crown.
Because of the length of the story of Stephen, which covers half of the chapter, number 6 and all of the very long chapter number 7, I have just read a part of the beginning and the end of this one day in his life. But, this is a long record of the death: the martyrdom of Stephen. And next to the life of our Lord, this is the longest account of any death in the Bible.
What an unusual thing that the Holy Spirit should single out this man’s life and this man’s martyrdom for such detailed portrayal on the sacred page. Do you ever think how briefly, if at all, mention is made of the death of the apostles, or of those first Christian leaders?
Herod Agrippa the II beheaded James, the brother of the Lord. It is only mentioned parenthetically, in that many words [Acts 12:1-2]. The only reference made to the martyrdom of Peter is that the Lord in the twenty-first chapter of John prophesied that he should die by crucifixion [John 21:18-19]. It is only in tradition that we learn that Paul was martyred, beheaded because he was a Roman citizen on the Ostian Way, just out of the city of Rome. The rest of the apostles, outside of Judas, we have no idea how they died.
Such a brief reference to the death of anyone in these great company of martyrs. But, the martyrdom, the death of Stephen is meticulously delineated here in the Bible. Just one day of his life, the last day of his life, and that is the sixth and the seventh chapters of the Book of Acts.
When you look at the man himself, first of all, he is a helleniste. He is a Hellenist. Ah, me, that is a new breed and a new kind of preacher: a Hellenist. If he – all of the apostles and all of these who have been introduced to us before are Galileans. They are rude, crude, uneducated men. In the fourth chapter of the Book of Acts, Peter and John were called agrammatoi kai idiotai. As they appeared before the Sanhedrin, the King James Version translates that "ignorant and unlearned men" [Acts 4:13]. And, these emissaries of the gospel of Christ heretofore have been men who were not academicians. They are not scholars. They are not men of the schools. They are not men of culture and refinement. They are not men of travel. They are not men of broad perspective. They come from a tiny, tiny province called Galilee. And all of their life they have been rude, crude fishermen.
But, when you come to Stephen, you enter into an altogether different world. He is a helleniste. He is a Hellenist. He is a man of education and culture. He is foreign-born and he speaks Greek. And beginning with him, the whole spectrum of the Christian faith takes on a different hue and a different color, such as Apollos the eloquent and brilliant theologian from Alexandria: the man taught more perfectly by Aquila and Priscilla [Acts 18:24-26]. Beginning with Stephen, you have the gospel message of Christ thrust into the cultural, and political, and social, and economic, and academic life of the world, just as it is today.
Will you notice again this man Stephen? He has tremendous conviction! It is as deep as the earth beneath and as high as the heaven above. He is a man of vast commitment and persuasion. How different that is from this dilettante, effete society in which you and I live in this present hour. In our day, the agnostic and the sophisticated cynic is the man who is admired and exalted in our academic world. He doesn’t believe anything. And he makes conviction a word that is opprobrious, full of antipathy.
A man today who is accepted in the academic community is to be eclectic, eclectically broad-minded. Life to him is just a leaf or a speck. Life to him is without purpose and without plan and without meaning. And he stands an existentialist, looking at the whole creation of God and recognizes no part of the hand of the Almighty in it.
If Christianity is any one thing above anything else, it is dogmatic. All truth is like that. In poetry and in fiction, you can be fanciful. But, in mathematics, you have to be actual and real and truthful. That is an exact science. So is the truth of the Christian faith. It is not a speculation. It is a revelation. It is not a puzzle or an enigma. It is an oracle of Almighty God. The Christian faith is of all things dogmatic. It has great propositional truths. This is the truth of God. And therefore, it can have no parley with infidelity or atheism or agnosticism or rejection or denial.
In God’s sight and in the Christian faith, a thing is right or it is wrong. I cannot but be amused, almost, at the effort of these coming out of the wood termites, called sodomites, lesbians, and they are organizing for their rights and their privileges and their status before the law. And we have been caught up in reading about it in all of our magazines and of our newspapers. Does the Christian faith have anything to say about that? Just so long as the judgment of God fell upon Sodom and Gomorrah, and just so long as the first chapter of the Book of Romans is in the Bible, just so long will the sodomite and the lesbian be an affront to God and a disgrace to the human race and an affront to the nation. Why don’t all of these murderers get together, and all of these thieves get together, and all of these violates who have violated the law, get together and say, "We demand status. And we demand our rights before the law."
Christianity, as long as there is a Christian faith, says that some things are right and some things are wrong. And God says sodomy is wrong! It always will be – always has been and always will be – until the Lord Jesus comes again. Now that is the Christian faith.
"But I don’t like that."
"You don’t like Jesus."
"I don’t like that."
"Then, you don’t like the Bible." And you sure wouldn’t like Stephen. It is, of all things, dogmatic.
Now you look again. This man Stephen is an interesting kind of a man: Stephen, standing there as an emissary of the Lord God, preaching the truth of the Almighty.
What kind of response did he have – did he have? It was vicious and violent in the extreme. What an amazing thing. He is there in the synagogue of the Cilicians – you see, Saul is from Cilicia. He comes from Tarsus, the capital of the Roman province of Cilicia. And these foreign-born Jews had their own synagogues in Jerusalem. And there in the synagogue of the Cilicians, Stephen is standing proclaiming the message of Jesus Christ. And Saul of Cilicia is there.
We are going to pick this up next Sunday: Saul of Cilicia is there. And these men like Saul and all of those with him, are unable to stand before the power and the wisdom and the truth by which Stephen is speaking an apology, a defense of the Christian faith [Acts 6:10].
So they suborn men, hire witnesses, and hale Stephen before the Sanhedrin [Acts 6:11]. Wouldn’t you think now that all it takes for a man to win the hearts of the people is to avow his affinity for the truth? This is the truth of God. This is the revelation of heaven. And immediately, wouldn’t you think that men would bow down before it, and they would rise in its coronation, accepting the truth of Almighty God? Wouldn’t you think that? It is just the opposite. Truth creates a repercussion of violence and viciousness in the hearts of those who hear it and see it. That’s the most amazing thing to me in human life.
Let me give you a little illustration of that. There is a great university, not too far away from us, and it belongs to a Christian denomination – not too far away from us. And they have on the campus of that great university, their theological seminary – not too far away from us. So they decided that in that university and on that campus, they would have a discussion, a dialogue, a debate, between those who believe that God created us and those who believe that we evolve from an amoeba, a paramecium, a marsupial, a tadpole, a monkey. So, they went throughout that university to find somebody who would defend the creationist’s belief that God made us. And they could not find one somebody on the faculty or entire campus to defend the creationist position, not one. Then they went through the seminary, and they could not find one professor or one student who believed that God made us. And out of extremity, they went to the Dallas Theological Seminary and chose a professor there, to present in defense the truth of Almighty God.
Can you believe that? It is only in evolution, only in evolution, that a river rises higher than its source. It is only in evolution that there are affects without causes. It is only in evolution that something was created out of nothing. It is only in evolution that you have life born out of dead inert stones. It is only in evolution that you have purpose and plan in life without intelligence. And yet, when you stand up to defend the presence of Almighty God in human life and the presence of the creative hand of God in this universe, you are scoffed at and scorned, as though you were an affront to our academic intelligence.
Isn’t that an astonishing thing? You would think truth would immediately be seized and loved by the people. It is just the opposite. And, if you go on in life and look at it more closely, you will find that tragic response and repercussion in every area of human life.
So they seized this man, Stephen, and dragged him out of their city, and stoned him to death [Acts 7:57-60]. Why, I thought that capital punishment had been taken out of the hands of the Jews and was now lodged in the office of the Roman procurator. It was so.
Do you remember the story of the death, the crucifixion of our Lord? They wanted to crucify Him, but they had not the power to put Him to death. Capital punishment was in the hands of Pontius Pilate, the governor, the procurator. So to encompass the death of Jesus, He had to be condemned by the Roman governor [Matthew 27:22-26; Mark 15:15; Luke 23:21-24; John 19:13-16].
Did they take Stephen to the Roman governor? No! So furious was their answer and reply to the truth that Stephen preached, that they seized him and, without consulting the governor or the Roman law or the Roman soldier or anything else, they haled him out of the city and stoned him to death [Acts 7:57-60].
All right, why don’t we raise the question? Why didn’t God deliver him? Why did God let Stephen be the merciless, ruthless, victim of that implacable anger? Why didn’t God deliver him?
It is a good question, isn’t it? Why doesn’t God deliver us from a thousand troubles and afflictions? And why doesn’t God deliver us from a million problems that seemingly to us are insoluble? And why does God allow us to fall into tears and sorrow and heartache and disappointment and frustration? And all of the ills of flesh is there, too. Why didn’t God deliver Stephen? Why didn’t He?
I have two answers. Number one: God, through Stephen, brought to pass before the eyes of the world, both in that day – and in ours, because I’m preaching on him tonight – God brought to pass, in the life of Stephen, a moral miracle. When a man praises God in the day of sorrow, as the psalmist says: "When we can sing songs in the night" [Psalm 77:6]. When a man can name the name of the Lord, as Job did – "He gave. He took away. Blessed be the name of the Lord" [Job 1:21] – that is a moral miracle.
Look at Stephen: "And he kneeled down, and cried out with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep" [Acts 7:60]. And I don’t have time tonight, the next Sunday that I preach we are going to pick it up there. That converted Saul. He never saw a man die like that man died. Looking into their murderous faces, as they beat the life out of him and crushed him to the ground, beneath a hail of stones, he lifted up his face to heaven and said: "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. Forgive them" [Acts 7:60].
That’s great. That’s mighty. That shook heaven itself! And it plummets us into humility, as we think of the littleness of our own murmuring and griping and fault-finding, with the little old things that plague us in our lives, when we ought to be Christians, glorifying God in our distresses and in our sorrows and in our hurts and in our ills, finally, in our death. That’s just great.
All right, number two: why did God allow Stephen to die? Why didn’t God deliver him? Because it is only in the crises of our lives that we ever obtain, achieve, get a real vision of God.
Now, I can tell you truly both by experience and reading this Word, when everything is going along beautifully with you, everything just flowing along, you may verbally say, "O Lord, I thank Thee." But you haven’t had a real experience with God until that day of trouble comes. It is then, in the hour of crisis, that we see the vision of heaven: "And Stephen said: Behold, behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of God standing on the right hand of Power" [Acts 7:55-56]. In that hour of crisis, he cried, saying: "I see!"
And that’s the cry of every true Christian in the hour of trouble: "I see. I see the hand of God. I see the presence of the Lord. I see the face of Jesus. I see plan and purpose and blessing and, finally, my brethren, I see the farther shore. I can see heaven itself. I can see the beautiful and holy city."
Why, by the thousands have God’s Christian people died, saying, "I see. I see. Sometimes, "I see my sainted mother." Sometimes, "I see my darling little child." Sometimes, "I see the gates of glory." Sometimes, "I see the golden city." Sometimes, "I see the face of our blessed Lord." That’s when we see, is in the crisis and the sorrows and the tears of our lives.
Now, I want to show you another thing. It is in that hour of sorrow and tragedy that we shine for Jesus. Look: and all they, "looking steadfastly on him, saw him, his face as it had been the face of an angel" [Acts 6:15]. His face shone and he wist not that he shine like an angel.
This is from Alfred, Lord Tennyson, talking about Stephen. Listen to him:
He did not reviling tones.
Nor sold his heart to idle moans
Though cursed and scorned
And bruised with stones.
But looking upward,
Full of grace.
He prayed and from
A happy place
God’s glory smote him
On the face.
And that’s where I got the name of my sermon: The Smiting of the Glory of God.
But looking upward
Full of grace,
And from a happy place,
God’s glory smote
Him on the face.
[from "The Two Voices," Alfred, Lord Tennyson]
"Looking steadfastly on him, they saw his face, as it had been the face of an angel" [Acts 6:15]. Isn’t that great? O Lord, how I am rebuked in my sorry life and encouraged to life up my spirit unto God. I must close. Time is already gone.
"Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God" [Acts 7:56]. Did you know? Did you know, everywhere else in the Bible; everywhere else in the Word; everywhere else Jesus is seated on the right hand of the Majesty on High; everywhere. Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father [Hebrews 1:3, 8:1]. Jesus is seated at the right hand of God [Colossians 1:3]. Always, He is seated except one place, just one place: when Stephen saw Him, the Lord arose, stood up to welcome His first Christian martyr home in heaven; stood up, stood up to receive the soul of Stephen in heaven. O Lord, how did Stephen know Him?
"Behold, I see the Son of Man" [Acts 7:56]. That is the name of the Lord in the days of His flesh; the Son of Man. How does Stephen know Him? Stephen was born abroad. I do not think Stephen ever saw Jesus. He was a foreign-born Greek-speaking Jew. How did he know the Lord? Just by spiritual intuition. How did they know Moses and how did they know Elijah? [Matthew 17:1-4]. There is an intuitive knowledge just as certainly as there is an empirical, practical knowledge. I know that is my watch. I know these are my glasses. I know this is my Bible. I know is my hand; all that is empirical knowledge. There is another kind. There is a knowledge of the soul and of the heart, and it is with the eyes of the soul and the heart that we see God. And it is with the understanding of our inward spirit that we know the things of God. And Stephen knew the Lord, looking upon His face. And the Lord knew Stephen, and stood up to receive the soul of His first Christian martyr [Acts 7:55-56]. Oh, when glory smites our face!
We must sing our song of appeal, and while we sing it, a family you, coming into the fellowship of the church; a couple you, giving your life and heart to Jesus and to us; or just one somebody you, out of that balcony, down one of these stairways, in the press and throng on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, "Pastor, tonight I give my heart to the Lord. I confess my faith in Jesus, and I am coming." As the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, make it now. Do it now. Come now. On the first note of the first stanza, make the decision in your heart now, and when we stand to sing this hymn of appeal, stand walking down that stairway, coming down this aisle, "I am on the way, pastor, here I am." God bless you and angels attend you as you come, while we stand and while we sing.
THE SMITING OF GOD’S GLORY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Acts 6:8, 7:60
I. The deacon-martyr Stephen
A. His name means "garland, crown"
B. Fullness of the story of his death
C. The man himself
1. He was a Hellenist
2. A man of tremendous conviction
a. Contrast with today’s broad-minded, agnostic cynicism
b. Christianity is of all things dogmatic
3. His defense aroused a fury of opposition
II. His martyrdom
A. God did not deliver him
1. A moral miracle – praising God in the day of sorrow
2. It is only in the crises of our lives that we achieve a real vision of God
B. The Son of Man stands to welcome him