In the first scripture, we find Stephen being pelted by stones
for preaching about Jesus. Stephen was one of seven men who were
chosen to serve as deacons to care for the widows among them. Acts
2 says Stephen was “full of grace and power” and did
many signs and wonders. He was an eloquent speaker, but the wisdom
and boldness of Stephen’s sermons caused some opposition.
“We’ve heard him say blasphemous words against Moses
and God,” they accused. When Stephen was arrested, the high
priest asked him, “Is this so?” Stephen responded with
a beautiful Hebrew history lesson from Abraham and Joseph to Moses,
David and Solomon, and noted the frequent disobedience of their
ancestors. Like Peter, his sermons got a little accusatory. “You
stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever
opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors did. Which of the
prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who
foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become
his betrayers and murderers. You are the ones that received the
law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it” (Acts
7:51-53). His accusation incited a riot, and Stephen was stoned
to death. His testimony in death resembled Jesus’ words on
the cross. The heavens opened up and Stephen saw Jesus standing
at the right hand of God. Like Jesus, he forgave those who stoned
him, and as he breathed his last, he committed himself into the
hands of God.
If you remember last week, the youth read from Acts 2 that after
Pentecost more than 3000 people were added to the church. In Acts
4, the boldness of Peter and John amazed everyone, because they
knew these men to be uneducated and ordinary folks. They were arrested
for their boldness, and upon their release, the apostles prayed
to be even more bold! The story of Jesus’ resurrection made
the disciples alive and on fire for Jesus Christ! Of these same
apostles people would nervously complain, “They are turning
the world upside down!” (Acts 17:6) In other words, the disciples
Turning now to 1 Peter 2, I like The Message translation. Think
of it as a three-step process to becoming alive. Peter says:
There is a story about the Abbey Church of Saint Peter and Saint
Paul in Bath, England, known commonly as Bath Abbey . It was built
on the remains of a massive Norman cathedral and founded as a monastery
in the seventh century. Bath Abbey has been a house of worship for
centuries. The very structural stability of the abbey, however,
was in jeopardy, not because of its age, but because over 6000 people
have been buried just below the stone flooring of the church. The
extent of the problem was realized only recently when workers were
digging to find the foundation walls of the Norman cathedral, hoping
those would provide a solid ground layer on which to lay new floors.
They found instead that the old foundation was gone and there were
huge voids under the entire structure. Over time the buried bodies
were reduced to bones and the graves settled, leaving large open
spaces beneath the floor. An extensive project to stabilize the
edifice had to be done.
The church of Christ is not built on dead bones but on living stones
with Jesus as the anchor. “God wants us to be part of an edifice
where people can meet God.” One preacher said, “Stephen
became a world-changer . . . because he set his sail according to
the Christ Compass . . . We don’t have to die to change the
world. We simply have to live in a particular way and move in a
distinctive direction” with Christ as our compass.
What does it mean to be a church built of living stones with Christ
as the Cornerstone? Bruce Bishop says, “It means that instead
of skipping stones across the surface of the water, we take the
time to let them sink. Most church business meetings are so intent
upon achieving the decision, or on presenting or avoiding a personal
agenda, that our collective spirit skips across the surface of God’s
Spirit, only occasionally stirring the waters and getting wet. But
when a group decides that they will be content only with the leading
of the Spirit, it requires them to sink below the surface, to settle
for a time on the sandy bottom and to be completely encompassed
in the presence of the living Christ. The church is the body of
Christ, and Jesus Christ didn’t ‘do business.’
He moved and acted out of his times of prayer.”
Think of a mosaic as a metaphor for the church. Every movement
is composed of a diverse people participating together for a common
purpose. Alice Paul comments, “I always feel a movement is
like a mosaic. Each of us puts in one little stone, and then you
get a great mosaic at the end.”
Will we as a church be satisfied skipping stones or will we dive
deep and become living stones? Will we be a diverse church and become
a beautiful mosaic for the world to see? Will we become world conformers
who follow the crowd or world changers, following the compass of
For Stephen it was a no brainer. He charted his course with Jesus
Christ as his compass. If Jesus could stand firm to his calling
and forgive those who persecuted him, Stephen would follow his example.
You see, even before Stephen’s death, he had become a living
stone in faith and life, securely fitted into the chief Cornerstone.
Stephen’s story notes one person sitting on the sidelines.
It was Saul, not yet known as Paul. Chris Seiple says, “Saul
was an extremely zealous and advanced student of religious law.
He possessed legalistic righteousness.” This state-sponsored
terrorist oversaw murder of Christians, destroyed their places of
worship, hunted down, imprisoned and forced renunciations. After
Christ met him on the road to Damascus, he became “the most
successful evangelist in the history of the world. Paul knew he
was forgiven, but he never forgot the terrorist he was before his
transforming encounter with Christ.”
Would it surprise you to know that persecution of Christians is
higher in the last quarter century than at any other time in history,
and more geographically dispersed than in most time periods studied?
According to Christianity Today, approximately 215 million Christians
experience high, very high, or extreme persecution. In 25 years
of “chronicling and ranking” the political and societal
restrictions experienced by Christians worldwide, 2016 was the worst
year yet. North Korea remains the most dangerous place to be a Christian.
Pakistan rose to No. 4 on the list, even exceeding northern Nigeria.
Getting back to the stone metaphor, Joshua 4:19-24 tells another
story. After wandering forty years in the wilderness, the people
of God were set to enter the land of Canaan. Normally the Jordan
was a small river that could be easily forded. However, during spring
the melting snows in the mountains turned the river into a torrent.
It spread out over the flood plain and could be as much as a mile
wide. But Joshua assured the people that God was about to do something
wonderful so that they might know that He was their God and that
He was with them!
As the priests carried the ark of the covenant into the flooded
river, the waters stopped flowing. After they had all crossed on
dry land, the river began to flow again. As a memorial to this event,
the people took stones from the river and placed them upright on
the shore, like altars. In later generations, when people saw the
stones and asked what they were for, the story of God's great act
for the people was recounted. These stones were a way to recall
who God is, who they as a people belong to, and who they should
be as God’s people.
There are stones standing that others have left for us--stones
from their life experiences where have seen their own lives empowered
by a really true God! When we ask, "What do these stones mean?"
they testify "I met God here. I know that the hand of the LORD
is powerful. And I want you to know so that you might always reverence
the LORD your God."
Living stones of faith, like Stephen. Living stones that say, “I
met God here.” Living stones built and securely fitted together
with Christ the cornerstone. People of God alive! World-changers.
May it be true of us as well.
“The stone that the builders rejected became the cornerstone
of a whole new world.”