It was a Sunday like any other Sunday. Friends arrived early to find a seat in the crowded sanctuary. Visitors wandered in with a look of uncertainty on their faces not really sure about where they were to go or what they were to do. The service began and everyone settled in for an hour or more of praising God and praying for someone to have their eyes opened to the glories of Jesus for the very first time, for someone who had fallen away to fall into the loving, forgiving arms of the Savior, and for everyone to experience the presence of Almighty God.

After the service concluded a man and his wife hung around to visit with the pastor who later introduced the man to me. Dr. Jim had lived in Plano for some time. He practiced his craft of anesthesiology at the local hospital. He had heard that Dr. Darnell was a great Bible teacher, a man who knew the biblical languages of Greek and Hebrew better than most people knew English. Dr. Jim was curious about Dr. Darnell and wanted to hear him preach. After the service he was visiting with Dr. Darnell and inquiring as to whether or not he taught any Bible classes outside of Sunday morning. He learned of a Sunday night Bible study taught by Dr. Darnell that was just beginning and immediately signed-up.

It was one of those rare, but longed for, first encounters that preachers dream of most every night. Someone comes in off the street and expresses a thirst for the Word of God that appears to be unquenchable.

Sunday night, Dr. Jim arrived at the Bible study early, took a seat, and with Bible, notebook, and pen prepared for what was about to take place. It was a great study, as were all of Dr. Darnell’s studies, but Dr. Jim couldn’t get enough. He stayed late to ask questions, asked if Dr. Darnell could meet him for lunch during the week, and left wanting more.

As time went on Dr. Jim began to reference another book during his conversations with Dr. Darnell. Dr. Jim had a good grip on the Word of God it seemed, but more and more he talked of this book called The Urantia Book. His seeming hunger for the Word of God began to be revealed for what it truly was, an opportunity to enlighten Dr. Darnell as to the wisdom and truth of this “other” gospel.

Months passed, Dr. Jim tried more and more, but Dr. Darnell, because of his endless studies and prayer applied to understanding God’s Word would not yield. As a result, Dr. Jim left the church and went on to the next church to try and influence some pastor of lesser understanding and conviction. I will never forget Dr. Jim. He was a man of conviction. A man who was convinced that he had received some truth which was life-changing and which merited his time and money so that others could come to know the same truth. I learned much from Dr. Jim about zeal, conviction, and commitment. He was a man who was willing to put his money and his time where his heart was, in sharing with others what he thought was true. Dr. Jim was willing to commit his money to the ministries of First Christian Church. He was the first and biggest contributor to the needs of the church – always. He was willing to commit his time to the ministries, the Bible studies, and the projects. He was committed, but he was wrong. He was deceived. He was led astray even though he had some knowledge of the Word of God. I learned a great lesson from Dr. Jim and it was this – it is not enough to know a few verses of the Bible, attend church on a regular basis, and go to Sunday night Bible study. We must know God in an intimate and real way to know His Word in a real and life-changing way.

The tragedy of Dr. Jim’s life is the tragedy of the story of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day which we will study today. They had a knowledge of God’s Word. Oh, did they know God’s Word! They knew it from cover to cover, backwards and forwards, inside and out, but they lacked the missing ingredient – a knowledge of God. Without a deep, abiding, intimate knowledge of God, God’s Word is meaningless – a mere book to be used to accomplish whatever it is that we desire to accomplish.

This is a huge concern for me today, as I’m sure you are aware of by now as we talk often about how the Word of God is used to accomplish the desires of men and women, rather than to accomplish what God has purposed for His Word – to give us a window into His heart and will for our lives as we live in relationship with Him.

There is an abundance of “spiritual” material available to us today which is purported to lead us into a more enlightened existence, a state of nirvana, and at harmony with the Universe. Just to illustrate what I am saying, let’s take a moment to look at the group Dr. Jim belonged to back in Plano.

During the 1920’s and 1930’s, a Chicago psychiatrist, Dr. W.S. Sadler (1875-1969) became very interested in an unusual case. Sadler had been asked to examine a patient after the patient’s wife noticed he was talking in his sleep, and seemed to be speaking for various extraterrestrial personalities, called revelators. The material that eventually became the Urantia Book was received during the years 1934-35 from these extraterrestrial beings. Sadler organized a group of interested persons, called the Forum, to review and discuss this material. The Urantia Foundation, administered by a five member board, was formed as a non-profit educational group in 1950.

The Urantia book was originally published in English, during 1955; it has since been translated into Finnish, French and Spanish. Its copyright was recently invalidated by a Federal judge, because the US government limits protection to works that have human authorship. Since the Urantia Book has been given to us from extraterrestrials there is no way for the government to protect the copyright. Hummm.

Although the Urantia Book utilizes Scripture, it uses it only when it is convenient and how it desires to use it. The Urantia Book teaches:

==> That Jesus was the 7th incarnation of Michael the archangel.

==> They deny the virgin birth of Jesus. And, Jesus was not God in the flesh, He was Michael an angel! There is no such thing as original sin nor the substitutionary death of Christ for our sins. They teach that these are primitive ideas we’ve outgrown!

==> Urantia claims Jesus’ death was accidental. The book focuses upon the “silent years” of Jesus’ life from age 12-30, the years that are not dealt with in the Bible.

==> The world is viewed as one of 10 million inhabited worlds in our local universe called Nebadon.

==> The Universal Father can act in concert with other deity personalities in a complex association of three trinities, The Trinity of Trinities.

==> Just as lower animals evolved into humans, we are destined to become spirit beings, called finaliters. The book details our long progression of spiritual experiences on other, more advanced, worlds.

==> The book teaches that a fragment of God’s spirit dwells within each person; this is called a Thought Adjuster. Its role is to guide the individual towards greater spiritual understanding through many lives on this and other planets.

==> The book contradicts the Genesis account of Adam and Eve and the concept of atonement. Adam and Eve did not “fall,” although they fell short of their mandate to uplift humankind. People today do not suffer from original sin, and thus do not need to be redeemed by the blood of Christ. They are inherently children of God.

==> The book attributes the following teachings to Jesus: “Prayer is self-reminding; worship is self-forgetting.” “Worship must alternate with service, work should alternate with play, religion should be balanced by humor, profound philosophy should be relieved by rhythmic poetry, the strain of living should be relaxed by the restfulness of worship.” Problem is, Jesus never taught any such thing. Prayer is communication with the True and Living God.

==> The world’s religions are all beneficial, “to the extent that they bring man to God and bring the realization of the Father to man… all contain truth.” “The Hebrews based their religion on goodness; the Greeks on beauty; both religions sought truth. Jesus revealed a God of love, and love is all-embracing of truth, beauty, and goodness.”

==> True religion “is to know God as your Father and man as your brother. Religion is not a slavish belief in threats of punishment or magical promises of future mystical rewards.”

Do you see how easy it would be for people to buy into such teachings as these? Hey, who wouldn’t want to be liberated from their responsibility for sin? Their teaching that Jesus said, “True religion is to know God as your Father and man as your brother” is mostly right. When asked to identify the most important Commandment, Jesus said,

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ {38} This is the first and greatest commandment. {39} And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ {40} All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40 NIV)

When you snip out that one little teaching of the group it appears that all is well, but when you include it with all of the other teachings of the Urantia Book you can smell smoke.

It is so important for us not to be caught up in popular, self-gratifying religion which “seems” right – we need the whole counsel of God. This problem that we see happening among us today is nothing new. In Jesus’ day there were those who used the Word of God to prove a point, but their lives and their relationship with God were pointless. After Jesus had been raised from the dead and had taken His place at the right hand of the Father, the agitators continued to try and silence those who held to the teachings of Jesus.

In our study for today we are going to take a look at the very first martyr of the Christian faith. The first person to ever be killed because he wouldn’t deviate from his allegiance to Jesus was Stephen. It’s interesting to point out that the people who killed him were the most religious people in the land. Let’s take a look at our Scripture for today.

The high priest said to Stephen, “Are these things true?” {2} Stephen answered, “Brothers and fathers, listen to me. Our glorious God appeared to Abraham, our ancestor, in Mesopotamia before he lived in Haran. {3} God said to Abraham, ‘Leave your country and your relatives, and go to the land I will show you.’ {4} So Abraham left the country of Chaldea and went to live in Haran. After Abraham’s father died, God sent him to this place where you now live. {5} God did not give Abraham any of this land, not even a foot of it. But God promised that he would give this land to him and his descendants, even before Abraham had a child. {6} This is what God said to him: ‘Your descendants will be strangers in a land they don’t own. The people there will make them slaves and will mistreat them for four hundred years. {7} But I will punish the nation where they are slaves. Then your descendants will leave that land and will worship me in this place.’ {8} God made an agreement with Abraham, the sign of which was circumcision. And so when Abraham had his son Isaac, Abraham circumcised him when he was eight days old. Isaac also circumcised his son Jacob, and Jacob did the same for his sons, the twelve ancestors of our people. {9} “Jacob’s sons became jealous of Joseph and sold him to be a slave in Egypt. But God was with him {10} and saved him from all his troubles. The king of Egypt liked Joseph and respected him because of the wisdom God gave him. The king made him governor of Egypt and put him in charge of all the people in his palace. {11} “Then all the land of Egypt and Canaan became so dry that nothing would grow, and the people suffered very much. Jacob’s sons, our ancestors, could not find anything to eat. {12} But when Jacob heard there was grain in Egypt, he sent his sons there. This was their first trip to Egypt. {13} When they went there a second time, Joseph told his brothers who he was, and the king learned about Joseph’s family. {14} Then Joseph sent messengers to invite Jacob, his father, to come to Egypt along with all his relatives (seventy-five persons altogether). {15} So Jacob went down to Egypt, where he and his sons died. {16} Later their bodies were moved to Shechem and put in a grave there. (It was the same grave Abraham had bought for a sum of money from the sons of Hamor in Shechem.) {17} “The promise God made to Abraham was soon to come true, and the number of people in Egypt grew large. {18} Then a new king, who did not know who Joseph was, began to rule Egypt. {19} This king tricked our people and was cruel to our ancestors, forcing them to leave their babies outside to die. {20} At this time Moses was born, and he was very beautiful. For three months Moses was cared for in his father’s house. {21} When they put Moses outside, the king’s daughter adopted him and raised him as if he were her own son. {22} The Egyptians taught Moses everything they knew, and he was a powerful man in what he said and did. {23} “When Moses was about forty years old, he thought it would be good to visit his own people, the people of Israel. {24} Moses saw an Egyptian mistreating an Israelite, so he defended the Israelite and punished the Egyptian by killing him. {25} Moses thought his own people would understand that God was using him to save them, but they did not. {26} The next day when Moses saw two men of Israel fighting, he tried to make peace between them. He said, ‘Men, you are brothers. Why are you hurting each other?’ {27} The man who was hurting the other pushed Moses away and said, ‘Who made you our ruler and judge? {28} Are you going to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?’ {29} When Moses heard him say this, he left Egypt and went to live in the land of Midian where he was a stranger. While Moses lived in Midian, he had two sons. {30} “Forty years later an angel appeared to Moses in the flames of a burning bush as he was in the desert near Mount Sinai. {31} When Moses saw this, he was amazed and went near to look closer. Moses heard the Lord’s voice say, {32} ‘I am the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.’ Moses began to shake with fear and was afraid to look. {33} The Lord said to him, ‘Take off your sandals, because you are standing on holy ground. {34} I have seen the troubles my people have suffered in Egypt. I have heard their cries and have come down to save them. And now, Moses, I am sending you back to Egypt.’ {35} “This Moses was the same man the two men of Israel rejected, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and judge?’ Moses is the same man God sent to be a ruler and savior, with the help of the angel that Moses saw in the burning bush. {36} So Moses led the people out of Egypt. He worked miracles and signs in Egypt, at the Red Sea, and then in the desert for forty years. {37} This is the same Moses that said to the people of Israel, ‘God will give you a prophet like me, who is one of your own people.’ {38} This is the Moses who was with the gathering of the Israelites in the desert. He was with the angel that spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and he was with our ancestors. He received commands from God that give life, and he gave those commands to us. {39} “But our ancestors did not want to obey Moses. They rejected him and wanted to go back to Egypt. {40} They said to Aaron, ‘Make us gods who will lead us. Moses led us out of Egypt, but we don’t know what has happened to him’ {41} So the people made an idol that looked like a calf. Then they brought sacrifices to it and were proud of what they had made with their own hands. {42} But God turned against them and did not try to stop them from worshipping the sun, moon, and stars. This is what is written in the book of the prophets: God says, ‘People of Israel, you did not bring me sacrifices and offerings while you traveled in the desert for forty years. {43} You have carried with you the tent to worship Molech and the idols of the star god Rephan that you made to worship. So I will send you away beyond Babylon.’ {44} “The Holy Tent where God spoke to our ancestors was with them in the desert. God told Moses how to make this Tent, and he made it like the plan God showed him. {45} Later, Joshua led our ancestors to capture the lands of the other nations. Our people went in, and God forced the other people out. When our people went into this new land, they took with them this same Tent they had received from their ancestors. They kept it until the time of David, {46} who pleased God and asked God to let him build a house for him, the God of Jacob. {47} But Solomon was the one who built the Temple. {48} “But the Most High does not live in houses that people build with their hands. As the prophet says: {49} ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. So do you think you can build a house for me? says the Lord. Do I need a place to rest? {50} Remember, my hand made all these things!'” {51} Stephen continued speaking: “You stubborn people! You have not given your hearts to God, nor will you listen to him! You are always against what the Holy Spirit is trying to tell you, just as your ancestors were. {52} Your ancestors tried to hurt every prophet who ever lived. Those prophets said long ago that the One who is good would come, but your ancestors killed them. And now you have turned against and killed the One who is good. {53} You received the law of Moses, which God gave you through his angels, but you haven’t obeyed it.” {54} When the leaders heard this, they became furious. They were so mad they were grinding their teeth at Stephen. {55} But Stephen was full of the Holy Spirit. He looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at God’s right side. {56} He said, “Look! I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at God’s right side.” {57} Then they shouted loudly and covered their ears and all ran at Stephen. {58} They took him out of the city and began to throw stones at him to kill him. And those who told lies against Stephen left their coats with a young man named Saul. {59} While they were throwing stones, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” {60} He fell on his knees and cried in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” After Stephen said this, he died. (Acts 7 NCV)

This is an incredible chapter of God’s Word in that in these 60 verses we have a synopsis of God’s dealing with the Israelites from Abraham to Jesus. Stephen begins with God’s call of Abraham to leave his people and trust in God, the fulfilled promise of Isaac, the son of Abraham and Sarah’s old age, Jacob and his twelve sons, Joseph, the rejected deliverer, Moses, raised in Pharaoh’s house and raised up to deliver the Hebrew slaves, David, the greatest King in Israel’s history, Solomon, the builder of the Temple of God, and Jesus, the long-awaited Messiah, killed by the very people who were ready to silence Stephen. That’s a long history in a short amount of time. A good Cliff Notes version of God’s relationship with His people.

There are so many lessons to be gained from this chapter of Acts: Lessons in trusting in God even when the exact future is unknown as Abraham did, the fulfillment of God’s promises, in waiting patiently on the Lord, and lessons on the power, majesty, and reliability of Almighty God. I would love for us to have all day to talk about all of these things, but since our time is limited I want to focus on what I believe is a great lesson for us today. I want us to focus on the ones hearing the history lesson of faithfulness rather than those who had walked with God in faith.

Denial, Deception, or Devotion?
Acts 7:1-60