Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship – BLCF Church Message for Sunday:
‘Sin and Sanctification: Just a Stone’s-Throw from Each Other’
© September 9, 2018, by Steve Mickelson
Originally shared with BLCF on November 15, 2015
Call to Worship; Prayer Opening Hymn #276: In the Stars His Handiwork I See; Choruses Tithing and Prayer; Hymn #572: Praise God; Prayers Responsive Reading #648: A Challenge to Faith (John 8:1-11) Message by Steve Mickelson: ‘Sin and Sanctification: Just a Stone’s Throw from Each Other’
Let us pray…
As you may surmise from the Scripture verses, today’s lesson, entitled ‘Sin and Sanctification: Just a Stone’s Throw from Each Other’, will look at accounts of stoning in the Bible.
Before talking about these passages, let us check with our Wikibits for a definition of this cruel form of execution:
Stoning, or lapidation, is a form of capital punishment whereby a group throws stones at a person until he or she dies. No individual among the group can be identified as the one who kills the subject. This is in contrast to the case of a judicial executioner. Slower than other forms of execution, stoning within the context of Modernism or contemporary Western Culture, is considered a form of execution by torture.
The first of today’s accounts of stoning an individual is found in John 8:1-11, where we have the familiar account of a woman who was caught in adultery, who was brought by the scribes and Pharisees to Jesus as part of a plan to test and trap our Lord, as he was teaching in the temple.
John 8:1-11 (ESV)
8 1 but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. 3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst 4 they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. 5 Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” 6 This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7 And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9 But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”
Jesus was asked what should be done with the adulteress, citing that Mosaic Law mandated that she be stoned or killed for her transgression. But as Jerusalem was under Roman jurisdiction, and only Roman officials had the authority to judge or execute the woman.
The trap was intended to have Jesus side with one authority over the other. If Jesus agreed with the Mosaic Law, to stone the woman, the scribes and Pharisees would inform the Roman authorities that Jesus was guilty of usurping the authority of Rome. If the Lord told them to bring the woman to the Roman authorities, the scribes and Pharisees could accuse Jesus of breaking the Mosaic Laws.
We see that our Lord did neither, but challenging anyone who believed himself to be without sin, to cast the first stone at the woman. No stone was tossed and the crowd dissipated. Jesus then asked the woman whether any of her accusers had remained, to which she answered no. Jesus responded that neither did he accuse her, instructing her to go and sin no more.
Our second Scripture Verse, tell the story of the Apostle Stephen, the first to be martyred for preaching truth from the Scriptures.
Acts 6:8-15 (ESV) Stephen Is Seized
8 And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people. 9 Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and disputed with Stephen. 10 But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. 11 Then they secretly instigated men who said, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” 12 And they stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council, 13 and they set up false witnesses who said, “This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, 14 for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.” 15 And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel.
Acts 7:51-60 (ESV)
51 “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. 52 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, 53 you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”
The Stoning of Stephen
54 Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. 55 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. 56 And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together[a] at him. 58 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
Footnotes: a. Acts 7:57 Or rushed with one mind
Our verses, form Acts 6:8-15 and Acts 7:51-60 describe how Stephen was falsely accused of speaking against before the council accused by several groups of speaking blasphemous words against the Law of Moses, God and the temple, any consideration of these violations carried the death penalty of being stoned.
Stephen was arrested and instead of defending refuting the false charges, pointed out how his accusers were guilty of bearing false witness and rebelling against the authority of God. In Acts 7, Verses 1-50, Stephen gives a concise, condensed accounting of how previously, Joseph, Moses, John the Baptist, and Jesus were victims of those who challenged God’s authority, with Solomon having the audacity of attempting to house God in the temple.
Chapter 7 of Acts gives a wonderful synopsis of the challenges the people of Israel gave to God’s Prophets and His Son. While the Speech or Sermon of Stephen covers centuries of time, we see a repeated pattern of disobedience to God, which resulted in the children of Israel repeatedly being punished by God, who allowed them to be enslaved or subjugated by the Egyptians, Babylonians, and the Romans. We see how God repeatedly demonstrated His love and compassion for His children by providing leaders to deliver them from death and enslavement, with His Son, Jesus, providing a way from the judgment for sin.
Stephen’s truthful account of how God’s love was spurred; His rules disobeyed; and His Son rejected, angered his accusers, who killed the Apostle by stoning him. Before his death, Stephen, being described as being full of the Holy Spirit, looked towards Heaven and saw Jesus standing at the right-hand side of the Father. Stephen’s last words were to commend his spirit to God and to ask Him to forgive those who persecuted him.
Our third set of Scriptures describes the faith transformation of Saul of Tarsus by an encounter with Jesus on the Road to Damascus in Acts 22:6-21.
Acts 22:6-21 (ESV)
6 “As I was on my way and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me. 7 And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ 8 And I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’ 9 Now those who were with me saw the light but did not understand[a] the voice of the one who was speaking to me. 10 And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Rise, and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.’ 11 And since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus.
12 “And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, 13 came to me, and standing by me said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And at that very hour I received my sight and saw him. 14 And he said, ‘The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; 15 for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard. 16 And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’
17 “When I had returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, I fell into a trance 18 and saw him saying to me, ‘Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about me.’ 19 And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves know that in one synagogue after another I imprisoned and beat those who believed in you. 20 And when the blood of Stephen your witness was being shed, I myself was standing by and approving and watching over the garments of those who killed him.’ 21 And he said to me, ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’”
Footnotes: a. Acts 22:9 Or hear with understanding
This is the same Saul described in Acts 7:58, who watched the garments of those who stoned the Apostle Stephen, as Saul acknowledged in Acts 22:20.
We see that instead of having Saul being punished for his crimes of murder, our Lord showed compassion to Saul, who now identified himself as Paul, now an apostle of the Gospel and way of the Lord. Such is the degree of love and compassion demonstrated by our Lord and the transformative power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ sacrifice had removed the judgment of sin from those who confess by faith, including Saul of Tarsus.
The Lord will come and knock at our door, asking us to allow him to come into our hearts. If we answer his call by accepting his gift of salvation, confessing to him our sins, and allowing him to be our Lord in our lives; we are born again in the Holy Spirit. We are given the choice to cast a stone of sin or drop that stone and answer the knock at the door and be sanctified from sin through Christ. The decision is ours’. The decision, that is just a stones-throw away.
Let us pray…
Closing Hymn #263: Somebody’s Knocking at Your Door
Benediction – (2 Corinthians 13:14): The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.