Summary: Will our obituary read that we were used mightily by God, and loved deeply by others?
AN OBITUARY TO DIE FOR
OF EPITAPH’S ...
What happens when someone dies? Now that’s a leading question if ever I’ve asked one. Quite often, the site of the remains of the mortal coil is marked with some sort of memorial. It may be a plaque or tombstone, or some other reminder that the body of one who once walked this earth is located at that place. Quite often these plaques or tombstones are inscribed with a brief sentence or two that sums up that persons life or contribution to humanity.
I have some samples of epitaphs for your edification. If you have access to the Internet or email, or read New Idea or the Women’s Weekly, chances are that you’ve seen these before ...
"I told you I was sick!"
Here lies Ann Mann,
Who lived an old maid
But died an old Mann.
Dec. 8, 1767
For not rising
Sir John Strange
Here lies an honest lawyer,
And that is Strange.
She always said her feet were killing her
but nobody believed her.
Under the sod and under the trees
Lies the body of Jonathan Pease.
He is not here, there’s only the pod:
Pease shelled out and went to God.
Born 1903--Died 1942
Looked up the elevator shaft to see if
the car was on the way down.
... AND OBITUARIES
In addition to an epitaph on a memorial, there may be some form of obituary in a newspaper or magazine, or a eulogy at the funeral that serves as a reminder of that person’s character and contribution to society.
Well, today I want to discuss an obituary of sorts. It’s almost a throwaway line that’s tucked away in Acts chapters 8 verse 2. It reads, "Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him."
What I want to do is talk about this guy Stephen, and examine some of the events in his life and aspects of his character to get a view on why Godly men buried him and mourned deeply for him. As we progress, we’ll see how the background to these lines was one of the most significant occurrences for the early church and the part it played in the spread of the Gospel beyond Jerusalem.
THE STORY SO FAR
This is the third sermon in our series on the book of Acts. Three weeks ago, Roger provided an introduction to the book – that it’s a continuation of Luke’s Gospel covering the period from Jesus’ Ascension through the growth of the early church spanning around 30 years. It’s not an exhaustive account of the early church’s history, but is instead a selective retelling of significant events from those days.
Remember that the key theme of Acts is found in chapter 1, verse 8, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." Everything in Acts should be read in light of that verse and the question asked as to "how the events being read about fulfil those words". The precursor and driving force for their fulfilment is the Holy Spirit, which Philip preached on last week at the celebration of Pentecost.
As we look back briefly to parts of Acts 1-5, we see that the authorities - the Sanhedrin and the Sadducees were continually trying to stop the spread of this new religion. In chapters 4 and 5, we see the Apostles being hauled before the authorities and threatened. A guy called Gamaliel, a Pharisee, displays substantial wisdom in chapter 5 when he exhorts the authorities to, "Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God." Wise words that were ignored.
1. SERVING THE TRUTH
CRACKS IN THE EARLY CHURCH
As we begin looking at Acts 6 and 7, the first thing we see is that the church had a problem - nothing new to us, but it was new to them. Earlier in the book (in chapter 4), "All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had." That passage is followed by the account of Ananias and Sapphira where some cracks appear in the unity of the very early church.
In Acts 6, the problem was that there was some whinging going on based on cultural differences about the distribution of food. Funny how the church generally finds material possessions the first thing to whinge about. Now there appears to have been a legitimate problem in that the Hebrews was overlooking the Greek widows in the daily distribution of food.