Raging at the Spirit

Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.

Acts 7:54-55

Have you ever been the object of someone’s wrath? Rage is the caustic emotion which spills out of the heart when anger boils over into violence. While repentance is preferred, sometimes the guilty respond to the Holy Spirit with unholy fury.

Rage Principle: Repentance is self-rage, but impenitence is God-rage.

Full of rage, the Sanhedrin ground their teeth at him. The Gospel-wielding Church was riding roughshod over the broken gates of Hell despite the desperate distemper of its junkyard dogs. Gray-bearded men, growling through clenched teeth, rendered rage-inspired judgment and set the fate Stephan as our first martyr. With much the same effect as Peter’s Pentecost message (Acts 2:37), Stephen’s sermon literally left the Sanhedrin “sawn through the heart” (Acts 7:54). However, it wasn’t the preacher who did the cutting, but the Holy Spirit. The first group repented while the latter raged.

Full of the Holy Spirit, Stephen gazed at Jesus. By faith and his pure heart, Stephen saw God the Son standing. Scripture teaches that when Jesus ascended into heaven, he took His seat at the right hand of the Father (Colossians 3:1, Apostle’s Creed). Kings are seated as they rule their kingdoms and for that reason, Christ is reigning on His throne. But in Stephan’s vision, he saw Jesus standing—why? In only two places in holy scripture (Daniel 7:9-14, Revelation 5:6) is Jesus described as standing in heaven. “One like a son of man” was presented before the “Ancient of Days” who gave Him dominion over all the earth. For rejecting God’s chosen ruler, the nations were judged by the “standing” judge. Why did Jesus stand during Stephen’s stoning? He stood in defense of and solidarity with His witness.

He is “Wonderful Counselor”. Whenever there is a trial in our legal system, both the plaintiff and defendant are represented by their respective attorneys. However, in many ancient cultures, a defendant represented himself (pro se) without the aid of counsel. When the Sanhedrin tried Stephen, Jesus Christ, the judge of all the earth, stood to defend him. While a hail of stones rained down in rage upon him, Stephen’s soul was sheltered by his Savior. Before Stephen closed his eyes for the last time, he was transfixed by a vision of the “slain, standing”.

Several years ago, I was the victim of “road rage”. While driving to my favorite coffee shop for some solitude with my books, a driver in an opposing 25 miles-per-hour traffic lane thought my car crowded the center line threatening to strike his vehicle. He quickly turned around and gave chase. Arriving at the coffee shop about one minute before my stalker, I hurried inside and had management call the police. Before he opened the door, my enraged pursuer began screaming at me attracting the attention of everyone in the restaurant. Every patron stood in horrified silence while I was verbally pummeled by profanity-laced death threats during the most frightening two minutes of my life. Every apologetic attempt on my part only increased the heat under his boiling wrath. When it was finally over and my assailant was gone, I was left trembling and in a state of shock. One of those who was standing approached, put his hand on my shoulder and asked if I was going to be alright. He was a Christian from a nearby church and he was a sign—a sign pointing me to see Stephan’s last vision of the slain, standing in heaven for me.

When you are the object of hellish rage, can you, by faith, see the slain, standing for you?

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An Inconvenient Mercy

Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.”

Luke 10:36-37

My son was ZAPped. Zeros Aren’t Permitted is a program run by his math teacher. She is fastidious about her students keeping all their assignments completed and submitted on time. When they fall behind, they receive a ZAP notice which requires the student with delinquent work to report to the math class for about ninety minutes after school. Recently, my son, whose name shall remain secret to protect his guilt, was ZAPped because of a “zero” or three in his teacher’s grade book. Have you ever noticed how these things happen at the most inconvenient times?

Because it was the end of the quarter, the students were given a day off for teacher planning. Therefore, my son’s ZAP session was scheduled to begin on a Friday morning when only the teachers were at school. While all the good little boys and girls were enjoying extra hours of sleep, a three-day weekend, and peaceful parents, I drove to school while sipping coffee and delivering an impassioned and inconvenience-inspired lecture to my student, “Don’t you know I have better things to do today than drive you to school and wait for you to finish homework that was due two weeks ago?” Does mercy ever bump into you when you’ve got better things to do?

While dialoguing with my ZAPped conscience, it came to me: ZAP is really mercy. Mercy is when one doesn’t get something bad that is deserved. Students who earned zeros were given academic mercy, yet somehow, we perceived it as a massive inconvenience.

The Good Samaritan was mercifully inconvenienced. He risked his life, took time away from his journey, and spent his own money, but he did something much more than the sum of all those parts—he was a true neighbor to his enemy.

Have you considered the massive inconvenience of Christ’s mercy? God-haters, who earned by their wages of sin something far worse than zeros, were given the most expensive mercy ever purchased. For that mercy, Jesus didn’t risk His life, He gave it. For that mercy, the Master didn’t take time away from His journey—it was His journey. For mercy’s sake, He didn’t spend His money, He spilled His blood. The sum of all these parts is that while we were still His enemies, Christ died for us. If it had been convenient, would it be mercy?

As you pursue life bent towards convenience, remember: His is an inconvenient mercy.

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Resisting the Spirit

“You stiff-necked people, 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 announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”

Acts 7:51-53

Emotional congruence with the Holy Spirit is a slippery notion for most Christians. Somehow, many of us have misconstrued the Holy Spirit as immutably nice. However, scripture tells us of exemplary saints who—while filled with the Holy Spirit—gave vent to His holy spleen.

Resisting begins with deceit. False witnesses stirred up the authorities by accusing Stephen of profaning the law and temple (Acts 6:11-14). However, the trouble wasn’t as simple as the lies which were spoken against a man, but that darkened hearts reveled in the deceit. God has illuminated human beings with the conscience so that we may know the truth and He crafted our hearts to love “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God” (2 Corinthians 4:61 John 4:7). But men “loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). There is no truth apart from or known autonomously from the Holy Spirit. He has been sent as the Guide into all truth (John 16:13). Sadly, we tend to prefer lies to truth and resistance of instead of resignation to the Spirit.

Resisting is disbelief. Using the word “always” is often a prelude to falsehood. Very rarely is even the worst of us always angry, wrong, or anything else. But Stephen didn’t exaggerate for dramatic effect. From his fullness with the Spirit of Truth (Acts 6:3-5), he commandingly reproached the Sanhedrin, “you always resist the Holy Spirit.”

Scripture teaches that there are at least three negative and progressively dangerous responses to God’s Spirit: grieving (Ephesians 4:30), quenching (1 Thessalonians 5:19), and resisting (Acts 7:51, Matthew 12:31). Sin hurts the Spirit who indwells all who are born again. In an opposite way, the Spirit burns with holy passion—a reverent fury and consuming flame—causing believers to desire what God desires and love what He loves. When we quench the Spirit, we “throw a wet blanket” on that fire. Thankfully, the Spirit is stronger than our sin and burns hotter than our apathy, He is, after all, the Spirit of the Almighty, Sovereign God who is not thwarted by our “old man”. Grieving and quenching are ways believers can sinfully respond to the Holy Spirit. However, resisting the Holy Spirit is an activity unique to unbelievers.

In prophetic fashion, Stephen proclaimed that the Sanhedrin’s resistance was due to their unregenerate and impenitent hearts. He presents them with two colorful word pictures illuminating their Spirit-resistance: “stiff-necked” and “uncircumcised in heart”. “Stiff-necked” was frequently used in the Old Testament to describe Israel’s stubborn slowness to believe God (Exodus 32:9, 2 Chronicles 30:8). However, “uncircumcised in heart” does not describe weak faith, but want of faith due to an unregenerate state. The filth of the “old man” had not been put off by the Holy Spirit. Jesus told Nicodemus that a person could not see or enter the kingdom of God unless one was born again by the Spirit (John 3:1-5). Stephen rightly diagnosed the problem of the Sanhedrin: they were spiritually dead! Their response to the Gospel was to lie still in the rigidity of their spiritual rigor mortis.

Resisting is detestable. Stephen disposed of the “kid gloves” as he punched out the charges of persecution and murder. The Sanhedrin accused him of slandering Moses, but Stephen counterpunched by saying they had slaughtered Messiah (Acts 7:52). False witnesses said he blasphemed the law; Stephen responded that the Sanhedrin had broken the law in its proceedings against Jesus (Acts 7:53). With a law so shattered by those sworn to love and uphold it, what kind of justice was being served?

Resistance is damnable. The 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation has inspired a mixed celebration. Certainly, Martin Luther was a complex and sinful man, but God used him mightily to sanctify His Church. The harsh rhetoric he directed at the Jews of Germany has left some to ask, “Was Luther Anti-Semitic?” However, Luther’s problem with the Jews wasn’t ethnic or social, but spiritual. Like Stephen before him, Luther didn’t speak softly to “good religious folks” who rejected Jesus. Perhaps both men accurately understood that a harsher judgment than their own awaited those who—through resisting the Spirit—were baptized into the blood-guilty league of those who crucified Christ Jesus (Matthew 27:25). As punitive as Luther’s pronouncements were, we must all consider that one day the sheep will be separated from the goats and none who have resisted the Spirit—neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female—will stand in resistance to the eternal wrath of God in hell.

Sometimes God uses a hammer. Luther nailed his remonstrance to a church. God nailed our Redeemer to a cross. The Spirit nails the repentant with Christ:

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing,
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

Have you resisted the Spirit? Repent and believe in Jesus—He must win the battle!

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