A Sermon To Die For

Title: A Sermon To Die For

Bible Book: Acts 7

Author: Terry Trivette

Subject: Bible; Witness



One of the most powerful books I have read in a long time was written by Stephen Smith, son of famous evangelist, Bailey Smith.
The book is called Dying to Preach, and in it Smith argues that a preacher must die to himself if he is to truly accomplish the task of preaching the Word of God. Smith says, “So every preacher dying to preach must die to preach.”[i]

In Acts chapter 7, we find the longest recorded sermon in the book, and at the end, the preacher literally died. More accurately, he was killed for his preaching. Stephen preached a gospel worth dying for, and did just that, becoming the first Christian martyr. In this chapter we find Stephen standing before the same Jewish religious leaders that had previously arrested Peter and John. While they had only roughed-up and then released those two preachers, Stephen’s sermon was more than they could stand. Even before he had finished preaching, they bull-rushed him, dragged him out of the city, and stoned him to death. And yet, though they killed the messenger, the message could not be stopped. The blood of Stephen only fertilized the spread of the gospel.

As we look over this long chapter we are reminded of the power of the gospel, even in the face of those who resent it and resist those who proclaim it. The witness of Stephen, both in his life and in his death, calls us to fearlessly proclaim the gospel that has been handed down to us, and to give even our lives, if necessary, to see it proclaimed.

Look over this “sermon to die for”, notice with me some particular things about it. For one thing, we see here that:


The backdrop of this sermon is found in the previous chapter. There we find that Stephen’s preaching and ministry had caused him to run afoul of the Jewish authorities. When they could not overcome the power and persuasion with which Stephen spoke, they conjured up a couple of false charges against him, based on some shady testimonies.

The two basic charges were: 1) that Stephen had said blasphemous things about Moses and God, and 2) that he had said blasphemous things about the Temple.

The opening verse of chapter 7 says, “Then said the high priest, Are these things so?” To understand why Stephen preached what he did in this chapter, you have to recognize that he was answering that question. How did Stephen answer that question? He used his Bible. Notice this with me. First of all notice that:

A. The facts of Scripture were his argument

Rather than attacking the credibility of the witnesses that had accused him, or even trying to clarify what he had actually said, Stephen essentially just retold the story of the Old Testament, drawing a line from Abraham to his present day. There were two basic points that Stephen made as he told the Biblical story. He declared that there had been a history of the revelation of God, and there had been a history of the rejection of God.

In his sermon, Stephen spoke primarily of God’s work through Abraham, Joseph, Moses, and then the prophets. He pointed out how that God continually raised up deliverers to save His people. He gave them His Word, and then He had kept His Word to them. But, while God had been faithful, the people had not. At each point in the revelation of God, Stephen pointed out that the people had rejected Him.

For instance, the brothers were jealous of Joseph. In Egypt, the Hebrews initially did not want Moses to deliver them. Then, having been delivered, rather than worshipping God, they had turned to idols and false gods.

Every point Stephen made was backed up in black and white in the Word of God. His whole argument was based on the facts recorded in Scripture.

Is there not a lesson for us here? When the world asks us the basis for our beliefs and practice, we must point them back to the authority of the Word of God. Are there other arguments we could offer for our faith? Certainly there are. What we believe is supported by external evidence, and there are some Christians who specialize in that sort of apologetic ministry. And yet, in the end, all our arguments are rooted in what “Thus saith the Lord.” As the children’s song says:

“We stand upon the Word of God, the B-I-B-L-E”

As we watch Stephen use his Bible to counter the accusations of his foes, we need to note not only that the facts of Scripture were his argument, but I think it is important for us to recognize that:

B. The familiarity with Scripture was his advantage

These Jewish religious leaders may not have liked Stephen’s preaching, but one thing they could not refute was that he knew his Bible. Though Stephen did not necessarily quote the Scriptures word-for-word, he clearly had studied them thoroughly, and knew well the narrative and the storyline of the Word of God. Though Stephen did not have a Bible in his hands, he obviously had the Bible hidden in his heart. He knew his Bible even better than the so-called experts to which he was preaching.

It is unfortunate that in this country in which so many people own a Bible, that so many know so little about it.

Several years ago, Time magazine did a cover story highlighting Biblical illiteracy in our nation. Among other things, they pointed out that only half of the adults in our country could name the four gospels, and fewer than half knew that Genesis was the first book of the Bible.

Folks like Jay Leno and Stephen Colbert have made a joke out of the fact that most Americans cannot name the Ten Commandments, including some of the very politicians that are pushing to have them publicly displayed.[ii] At least part of what we learn from Stephen’s sermon is that those who are going to be witnesses for God had better know the Word of God.

Over a century ago, Charles Spurgeon said in a sermon, “[There is enough] dust on some of your Bibles to write ‘damnation’ with your fingers.”

The gospel we preach to this lost world is first and foremost revealed in the Bible. Yet, what kind of witnesses can we really expect to be if we know the lyrics to our favorite country or rock songs better than we know the language of our Lord?

John Bunyan said, “I was never out of my Bible.” John Wesley said, “I am a man of one book.” The people who are the most powerful witnesses are people whose witnesses are saturated with the Bible.

Looking further at Stephen’s sermon in this text, notice not only that with his Bible Stephen countered his foes, but notice also secondly that:


For most of his message, I imagine that many in the crowd may have been nodding their heads, “Yes,” in approval of what Stephen said. Yet, like the other apostolic sermons, Stephen was heading toward a point, specifically a knife point with which he would prick his hearers in the heart.

Back in 2009, Dr. Russell Moore of Southern Seminary preached a message in which he described Christian preaching as an act of exorcism. In the message he talked about how the preaching of the gospel always challenges and confronts the sinful blindness of those who are held captive by the power of the devil. When that kind of preaching takes place, there is always a discomforting conviction that falls upon the hearers. That was certainly true as Stephen preached.

Notice how Stephen’s bold proclamation affected his hearers. For one thing we see that:

A. This crowd was indicted by the Word

The whole reason Stephen had reviewed the long history of Israel was to bring this current generation of Jewish leaders to a reality check. Notice how Stephen turned the message on his hearers in verse 5He said, “Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye.” He then added a biting question in verse 52, saying, “Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers.” Thrusting the knife even deeper, he said in verse 53, “Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it.” What was the effect of this kind of bold preaching? Verse 54 says that they were “cut to the heart”. Literally, their hearts were sawn in two.

Stephen said, “You are guilty of the same rejection of God that your fathers were. Now you have killed His Son, and you have disobeyed His law.” Those words were a strong indictment of this crowd. Stephen’s witness here reminds us once again that the good news of the gospel we offer to this world must often be delivered through a syringe filled with strong medicine. The hearts of sinners must be convicted before they can be corrected. The gospel exposes the cancer of sin before it attacks it and heals it.

In this day in which too often men try to soften the gospel to make it more palatable and pleasing to the ears of the world, it would do us some good to remember that we ourselves were first indicted by the gospel before we were delighted by it!

This crowd was indicted by the Word, but notice also something further. As Stephen preached so boldly:

B. This crowd was indignant at the Word

Stephen boldly told this crowd the truth; and the truth hurt. Sometimes that hurt is a healthy hurt, because it brings a sorrow that leads to repentance, as we saw on the Day of Pentecost. At other times, the wound of the truth makes folks just, plain mad. That was the case with Stephen’s sermon.

Notice again verse 5It says, “When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth.” Literally, they began to grind their teeth at what Stephen had said. Imagine their brows furrowed and jaws clinched, showing how angry they were at what they were told. Stephen’s preaching made some folks mad, and the truth is that being a gospel witness today will not win you any popularity contests either.

If we share the gospel as we should, with boldness and clarity, inevitably there are some folks who will not like it. And, if it ever becomes the case that this world finds no problem with the gospel we are preaching, then there is probably a problem with our preaching of the gospel.

In Luke 6:26, Jesus said, “Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets.”

The witness of believers to this world is not like an advertising billboard by the road that hopes to catch the eye of passersby, and appeal to their interests and needs. It is more like a road sign that simply tells the truth about what it is ahead. Some people may not appreciate the speed limits, the warning lights, or the cautions, but that does not stop us from boldly telling them the truth.

With his Bible Stephen countered his foes, and with his boldness Stephen convicted his foes. Looking once more at this text, we see further that:


Before Stephen could finish his sermon that day, the crowd decided to finish Stephen. As one writer put it, “…their anger against Stephen reached such a heat that they would not hear him anymore and rushed him outside and stoned him.”[iii]

As you probably know, this stoning involved the whole angry mob hurling heavy rocks and stones down upon the body of Stephen, painfully bashing him and finally crushing him to death. It was a horrible scene, no doubt. But as the blood of this preacher seeped out from beneath that pile of rocks, what this mob didn’t realize was that both Stephen and his message had actually triumphed. What the executioners thought was a vindication for themselves, the Holy Spirit tells us was actually a victory for the martyred preacher and the gospel he died preaching.

Consider how the blood of Stephen conquered his foes. For one thing, consider:

A. The reward they initiated by Stephen’s death

Even before they laid their hands on Stephen, it seems that the preacher knew what was coming, and heaven prepared him for it. As the angry mob rushed towards him, verse 55 says, “But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God.”

In verse 56, Stephen told them what he was seeing, which only made them that much angrier. The text says that they covered their ears so as not to hear what their victim was saying. Nevertheless, his testimony was given, and what a testimony it was! Stephen saw Jesus standing up on the right hand of God.

What makes this vision so significant is that the Scriptures tell us in Hebrews chapter one that after Christ ascended back into heaven he sat down, signifying that his work was finished. It seems that as a reward for his faithfulness and martyrdom, Jesus Himself stood up from his eternal seat to welcome Stephen into his eternal home. The Savior who had himself suffered and died at the hands of wicked men, stood to His nail-scarred feet as a testimony to His approval of Stephen. I’m sure that the rocks still hurt and the wounds still bled, but the suffering of that moment proved to be but a “light affliction” compared to the glory of seeing the Son of God stand to welcome him home.

Though today we cannot see Jesus standing in heaven, He is just as much there today as He was the day Stephen died. And the knowledge of that ought to comfort us as much as the sight of it comforted Stephen. Let this world do what it will to us; they can never take from us the reward of seeing Jesus face to face one day, and hearing Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

I will probably not die like Stephen did. Nevertheless, when I die, I will see Jesus, and if this world should kill me, they will only secure for me that everlasting reward!

Consider with me not only the reward they initiated by Stephen’s death, but when they shed his blood, consider also:

B. The result they initiated by Stephen’s death

I love what G. Campbell Morgan writes about the close of this chapter. He wrote, “The story ends with the mangled body of Stephen. No, it does not so end! It ends with a brief word…[to] suggest something still to come.” That suggestive word is this: “And Saul was consenting unto his death.”[iv]

The mob thought they had silenced this powerful preacher. What they didn’t realize was that they actually set in motion a chain of events that would raise up a preacher even more powerful and persuasive than Stephen. Saul watched Stephen’s death, and was complicit with it. But, the day was coming when Saul would see for himself the Savior Stephen had seen at his death. Then Saul would become the Apostle Paul, and the gospel would flow passionately from his lips and his pen, and bury its foes as their stones had once buried Stephen.

In the second century, one of the church fathers famously said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” The messengers of the gospel may be persecuted and killed, but their blood does not dry up and disappear. It becomes the fuel that raises up even more witnesses in their stead. The devil and his evil forces can no more stop the gospel by killing its preachers than you can stop mathematics by breaking a calculator. They shut the mouth with which Stephen preached, but they only served to spread the message that mouth had proclaimed.

The word translated “martyr” literally means a witness. In reality, Stephen the gospel martyr was an even greater witness than Stephen the gospel preacher.

The text says that as he was dying, Stephen said two things. He said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,” and, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.”

Who does that sound like? Why, it sounds like the very things Jesus said as He hung on the cross. Stephen’s greatest witness was the fact that he reflected the Savior he preached. Like Stephen, we must take the Word of God, stand boldly in the face of a world that often does not want to hear it, and declare plainly the gospel of Jesus Christ. And yet, as we boldly witness, we are not trying to be jerks about it. Rather, we are trying to be like Jesus. Our prayer is that whether by our life, or if God so wills it, even our death, this world will see Jesus in us.

The Christ who died to save us has left us a gospel worth dying for. We may not have to die for it, as Stephen did, but may we nonetheless speak it out and live it out until we do die, and meet the Lord we’ve preached about face to face!

[i] Smith, Stephen W., Dying to Preach, (Kregel, Grand Rapids, MI, 2009), p. 13

[ii] Hansen, Collin, “Why Johnny Can’t Read the Bible”, 5/24/10, www.christianitytoday.com, accessed 10/11,12, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/may/25.38.html

[iii] Boice, James Montgomery, Acts, (Baker Books, Grand Rapids, 1997), p. 126

[iv] Morgan, G. Campbell, The Acts of the Apostles, (Fleming H. Revell, New York, 1924), p. 193


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