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(Part 154)


April 12, 2016
Today’s reading: Acts 7:51-8:1

The people of God today, as they often have been from the time of the Israelites, are a stiff-necked people. They are stubborn and haughty. They insist on their own ways, think they know best (yes, better than God), have their own agenda and priorities, and build their own kingdoms, after their own image and likeness and not God’s. This is especially true of leaders.

In today’s reading, Stephen cites elements of such stiff-neckedness. He boldly told the Sanhedrin, the ruling religious authorities at that time: “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears” (v.51a). Their hearts were hard and their ears were closed to the authentic teaching and ways of God. Though they were circumcised as a sign of God’s covenant with them, they actually were not living out that reality. On the contrary, they were rebellious and even idolatrous.

That was then. That is how it still is now. How were they stiff-necked?

First, they did not live out God’s commands. “You received the law as transmitted by angels, but you did not observe it.” (v.53). Most Christians today openly violate the laws of God. Their lives are sinful. Who are the murderers, thieves, rapists, liars, gossips, etc, etc, of these times? Many of them are Catholics. Even in our Church, there are those liberals who would accommodate sin and accept such things as live-in relationships or same-sex unions. Most Christians today openly do not live out or even reject the Ten Commandments. They are unmindful of the call to discipleship and holiness. I could go on and on. But this is the tragic reality for so-called Christians: they received God’s divine law but have ignored it.

Second, they opposed and persecuted those sent by God--the godly teachers, the prophets, the authentic servant leaders. “Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute?” (v.52a). Because people are sinful and stiff-necked, they resent and reject those who try to tell them and teach them about God’s ways. They reject prophetic words that expose their darkened lives to the light. They do not want to follow leaders who tell them about the authentic gospel, that of the cross. They prefer the prosperity gospel, and just having a nice and happy community life, and trying to make it to heaven in first-class comfort.

In the Western world today, secular governments have gone a step further. They are trying to stamp out religion and especially the Church that speaks prophetically about their wrongs. They call authentic Christian preaching as hateful and as bigotry. They have passed unjust laws that allow them to fine and/or imprison Christians who are trying to live out their convictions, such as not accommodating same-sex couples for a wedding cake or a B&B. Such persecution will only get worse. The early prophets and Christians were martyred. “They put to death those who foretold the coming of the righteous one, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become.” (v.52b). And the tragic reality today is that we are not talking about what is happening in the Middle East or India where radical Islamists or Hindus are killing Christians, but we are talking about supposedly Christian nations, such as the USA, Canada, Ireland, and many other countries.

Third, they were not docile to the Holy Spirit and did not humbly allow themselves to become His instruments. “You always oppose the holy Spirit” (v.51b). Jesus already did everything to win for us our salvation. But the work continues. So he sent his disciples, which today includes us, and supposedly all Christians. God chooses, calls, equips and empowers through His Holy Spirit. But many Christians today do not know the Holy Spirit, do not understand what is the role of the Spirit, and for those who do, they do not allow themselves to be used by the Spirit. They do not live lives in the Spirit, but rather, they live in the flesh, which is totally opposed to the Spirit. Even the call to the New Evangelization is falling on deaf ears, on uncircumcised ears, and we today still lack the laborers for the harvest that God has already prepared.

My dear brethren, in varying degrees, such a still-necked people are you, and the many so-called Christians you see around. If Christians were not stiff-necked, then the gospel would be effectively proclaimed to the ends of the earth, the Kingdom of God would truly be built, there would be countless saints and martyrs raised, and the Church and the world would experience the peace and unity that God intends for His people.

What then must you do? One, know and obey and live out God’s commands. Two, seek out and listen to and obey those human instruments that God sends to tell you and teach you about God’s commands and the way you are to go. Three, always be docile to the Holy Spirit, being humble and totally open to how God wants to use you.

If not, whether you admit it or not, you are among those are stiff-necked. “You are just like your ancestors.” (v.51c).

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