Hard Preaching

“You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers, who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it.” (Acts 7:51-53)

Hard Preaching

Dale Carnegie would not have been impressed with the first-century disciple, Stephen. Very little is known about Stephen except that he had a good reputation, was full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom and was willing to work in whatever capacity the church needed. Stephen was a powerful defender of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, he performed miracles and signs among the people. What set Stephen apart was not the power of the miracles but the power of his words. When a group of men from the Synagogue of the Freedmen could not resist the wisdom of Stephen, false witnesses were brought in to slander Stephen. Charging Stephen with blasphemy, he was brought before the council for judgment. Sitting quietly in the assembly was a young man named Saul of Tarsus. He listened intently to Stephen growing angrier with each passing moment.

The defense by Stephen was a powerful sermon outlining the history of the nation of Israel. Stephen was charged with speaking blasphemy against the institution of Israel, the Temple, and the Law of Moses. The charges included the same ones leveled against Jesus not many weeks earlier when the chief priests and scribes accused Jesus of threatening to destroy the Temple in Jerusalem. As Stephen wove his historical thesis through the story of Israel, he reminded the council how often Israel rebelled against God. The history of Israel was not a noble story, no matter how often the Jews tried to reinvent themselves under cover of a false narrative. First-century Judaism suffered from the same woke society that plagues every generation that ignores the reality of the past.

Stephen knew he faced a hostile crowd. No indication of the wrath and fury would be brought against him as he outlined the sermon in bold statements of fact. A tipping point came when he called the council a stubborn people. The truth lay in the fact the council acted like the Gentiles who were deaf to the truth. Almost from the beginning at Sinai, the Hebrews resisted the will of God. Their history was not one of honor, and the Jews of the first century were more corrupt and filled with pride than ever. Stephen tells them they forever resisted the Holy Spirit and denied the word of God. The council was no better than the ancestors before them. Stephen was not trying to anger the council but did not back away from preaching the truth. It cost him his life. Hard preaching can do that.

The world of the first century is no different than generations before and after. One of the singular natures of man is his inability to change. The character of sin has corrupted the heart of men to reject the gospel of Christ. Stephen boldly took a stand for righteousness and truth. After the death of Stephen, Saul of Tarsus began a campaign of terror against those who preached Christ. It would be nearly two hundred years the early church would suffer under the hand of persecution. Preaching Christ crucified and the Savior risen is not a popular doctrine. The modern ‘woke’ world does not abide well in preaching the truth about morality, fidelity, modesty, righteousness, and singular devotion to the one church. What happened to Stephen is not an isolated case. The people of God will always suffer persecution because the light shines in a dark world that does not accept the light.

Preaching must not always be hard preaching, but there comes a time when it is required. It is easy to soft-peddle the gospel not to offend the audience. When elders instruct the preacher to go easy on the message to create an inviting atmosphere of acceptance, it begins to pave the road to compromise. Preachers and elders who refuse to preach hard doctrines when necessary are spiritual cowards. Jesus taught many sermons of grace, truth, and mercy. He also preached hard sermons against the hypocrisy of the Jewish leaders. Stephen was a great preacher who changed the lives of many people. When Peter preached his sermon on Pentecost, the hearts of many were pricked and moved to obey the gospel. Stephen preached a hard sermon that also pricked the hearts of the audience, but then they killed him. Hard preaching is hard. So is judgment.

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