Downtown Cornerstone Media
Jan 9

The Unlikely Gospel

Acts, Media, Sermons | by Pastor Adam Sinnett


Audio | Acts 6:8-7:60


In Acts 6:8-7:60 we have witness the first martyr of the newly-forming early Christian church and the longest recorded sermon in the entire book. What we see demonstrated here is simple, but profound: God uses unlikely people, in unlikely ways, to achieve his unlikely purposes. He does that through His unlikely Gospel.


Today we are back in the book of Acts after a short hiatus for the holidays. This book is the earliest record of the earliest days of the Christian church. You are likely well aware there are many differing, and at times conflicting, ideas and opinions about what Christianity is. Some of you have experienced this first hand. Fortunately, here in Acts, we have an accurate, reliable and authoritative account to take our queues from. This is important. As a newly-forming church it is vital that we understand the essence of Christianity and allow the truths of the Scriptures to shape and inform our understanding of who we are and what we are to do here in this city that we love. Therefore, we’re taking our time going verse-by-verse through this great book.

If you’re new to Christianity, you need to know that Christians do not study the Bible because we have an innate love for ancient documents. Few of us have time for such a hobby. Rather, we study the Bible because, though ancient, it is incredibly relevant for us today. Most of our lives, and the lives of those around us, are filled with some measure of confusion, guilt, problems, and trouble. And the one message that can best deal with our lives, and this world, is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Gospel

The Bible refers to the Gospel as a treasure, referencing it 97 times in the New Testament. The term “Gospel” comes from the Greek word euangelion which literally means “good news”. Appropriately, it is also the term used to summarize the recordings of Jesus’ life and ministry in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. It is not an overstatement to say that the news offered in the Gospel is the most amazing news that the human race has ever heard. It is the news that apart from God, we are lost. Yet, it is the good news that God loves lost people and that Jesus came to seek and save them. It is the news that by faith in him, our sin is forgiven and we are given the gift of eternal life.

Therefore, one of the primary roles of the church – that is, Jesus’ redeemed people – is to preach and spread this great Gospel. The tragedy, as we’ll see today, is that wherever and whenever the gospel is preached, there is always resistance. This is an important message for us as Jesus continues to establish us as a newly forming church in the heart of the city in 2012. Why are we doing what we’re doing? What should we expect? The primary burden of this lengthy passage today is that God uses unlikely people, in unlikely ways, to accomplish his unlikely purposes. The power behind all of this is His unlikely Gospel. It’s a beautiful, paradoxical truth. Let’s unpack it together.

Here, in Acts 6:8-7:60, the church again faces resistance. This time the resistance is aimed at Stephen, a lead servant, tasked with ensuring the Christian widows were well provided for during the daily distribution (see 6:1-7). Amidst this, Stephen was teaching and working miracles. Resistance and opposition arose. He quickly found himself facing false charges before the highest court and council, the Sanhedrin, just as the apostles had previously. The high priest, likely Caiaphas, asks him a simple question, “Are these things so?” and Stephen embarks on the longest recorded sermon in the book of Acts (52 verses!).

But, before we look at his response, we have to first ask, “Why were they so angry and opposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ?” Answering this will help us see why Stephen responded as he does and give us insight into the resistance to the gospel in Seattle.

Q: Why were the religious leaders so angry? (And, why do we experience the same in Seattle?)

First, they believed they were good people.

The religious leaders did not think there was anything wrong with them. They thought that they were living good lives and that there was no need for additional insight, wisdom or help. In essence they were saying, “I’m fine, I’m good enough, it’s not for me…others might need help, but not us!” They were completely self-satisfied. In other words, they were very Seattle-esque in their thinking. So, what made them so angry? The gospel confronted their way of life and said that there was something deeply wrong with them (and us!) that they can’t fix on own – BUT Jesus can. You would think this would be exciting to hear!  This was a message of freedom! But, they were furious. MAD! They hated idea anything was wrong with them and that Jesus alone could give them what they lacked.
Jesus warned them against this thinking during his earthly ministry by saying things like, “Tax collectors and prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.” Mt 21:31

Second, they believed they understood things correctly.

They misunderstood their tradition. The religious leaders had a tradition – a set of answers – and they thought that was all they needed and were very proud of it. After all, they were Jews, descendants of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob. For them, it was all about the lineage and that was the problem. They believed that what put you right with God was being from the right family line. That alone, made you a superior person and nation. John Baptist, leading up to Jesus, warned them against this thinking, “Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’For I tell you, God is able to from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.” Luk 3:7-8 The gospel confronted them here because it said that forgiveness of sin and relationship with God was freely and readily available forALL. This infuriated them.

They also misunderstood the temple. The temple was the place of worship. The leaders, of course, loved this. They gloried in being God’s people and the only true worshipers of God and ended up despising other nations for it. This eventually degenerated into mechanical worship. As long as you went to temple, gave offerings, made sacrifices, then all was well. Their focus shifted to external worship, buildings, forms, ceremonies, ritual and religious habits. We do this too, making our faith about building, budgets and Sunday churchgoing. Jesus warned them against this during his ministry when he said, “This people honors me w/ their lips, but their heart is far from me.” Mt 15:8 The temple was meant to point to Jesus, the true place where sin is forgiven, the true dwelling place of God. The leaders completely missed it.

They also misunderstood Moses and the law (torah – instruction; Genesis-Deuteronomy). They believed they were God’s special people because expressly spoke to them. They thought that this alone made them right with God, but no one else, not unless they joined their team. In fact, the called non-Jews “dogs”. Therefore they were saying, “Who is Jesus? Why do we need him? We have kept the commandments.” But the purpose of the law was never to enable us to say ““I have never done this, that or the other thing?” Bible is very clear that NO man or woman can save him or herself by being moral, good person. No, the purpose of the law is to show us that we can’t save ourselves.

Gal 3:24 “the law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ.”
Rom 3:20 “by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since thru the law comes knowledge of sin
Eph 2:8 “by grace you have been saved thru faith..this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works…”
Ex. 28:36-38 “You shall make a plate of pure gold and engrave on it…’’Holy to the Lord’…it shall be on Aaron’s forehead, and Aaron shall bear any guilt from the holy things that the people of Israel consecrate as their holy gifts.”

God’s instruction was given to show us our sinfulness – to condemn us – and then drive us to christ for refuge and salvation. In other words, they had turned own religion into the exact opposite of what it was when it was given to them.

Third, as a result, Jesus didn’t make any sense.

They were so blinded, that they could NOT see the person they hated was the fulfillment of what they claimed to believe. If you believe you are a good person and insist that you have an accurate understanding of things, you will never understand the person and work of Jesus. You may say that he was a prophet or a moral man or a teacher, but you will never truly understand who He was (is!), why He came and what he offers.

Jesus, again, pointed this out to them during his earthly ministry, “You search the Scriptures b/c you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” John 5:39

For the same reasons, our city also misunderstands Jesus.

Most common misunderstandings of Christianity in Seattle, include:

  • “For good people w/ predisposition toward that kind of thing” > False. No one is good, but Jesus alone.
  • “For those who like that sort of thing” > True. Especially for those who like being forgiven, loved by God forever.
  • “For Right-wing Republicans” > False. Surprisingly, Jesus does little political work during his ministry.
  • “For those that think they’re better than everyone else” > False. Only Jesus is better than everyone else.
  • “For those that read the Bible literally” > True. Just like every other piece of literature, literally.
  • “For the weak that need a crutch” > True. The Christian crutch is the Creator, the non-Christian crutch is something created.
  • “For the mindless and emotional” > True. AND the intellectual and academic.

The leaders were not just wrong in detail, but their entire outlook. The problem is same today. The last people to become Christians are those who think they are good people.We reject Christ because we think we are alright, saying “I’ve always been a good person…other people do terrible things, but not me…I’m alright.” But, if we’re honest, deep down we know we should be perfect, but we’re not. So, we just content ourselves with comparing ourselves to others.

Stephen knows where they’re coming from. So, he starts his response (which is the longest sermon in Acts) from the top. In essence, he says “If you listen to the story this way, you’ll see what I’m saying about Jesus and how it relates to everything else…”

Six Points of Application.

First, you must let the Gospel offend you before you let if forgive you.Christianity has highest and lowest standards of any religion. The highest because it says that God demands perfection and we can never achieve that. The lowest because it says that Jesus has done it for you. Others say, try your best and maybe God will let you in. Christianity responds by saying, “What? Best? Noone gets in like that. God is perfectly just, holy, can’t behold evil…But, there is a Righteous One who has fulfilled the law for us…and we can go in on Him.”

Second, God continues to rescue his people in fulfillment of his ancient promises. Your story won’t make sense until you let God’s story highjack your story. The ultimate plot twist within the most beautiful story ever told. He entered our story, in order to make us a part of His. Do you know what a relief it is to know your story is not the main story?

Third, if you stand for Jesus, Jesus will stand for you. When you share gospel of Jesus, you are speaking for God. When you speak for God, he will stand beside you. In Christ, the judge is also your ultimate defender. The verdict up there is more important than the verdict down here. So, don’t give up. Don’t quit. Press into Him and you will press through. He will stand for you. The beauty of the Gospel is that even when we fail to stand, he continues to stand for us. That should get us out of our seats.

Fourth, if you resist Jesus, you will not win. God is God and we are not. He always wins and His purposes endure – forever. This is not to mock anyone, but to warn everyone.If you stubbornly resist, ignore, and reject. You will lose now and in eternity. Fly to Jesus.

Fifth, don’t underestimate the power of prayer. Many people in your life may resist God, but you can still take them to Him in prayer. They’re remain in their blindness until the Spirit of God opens their eyes to see the beauty of the Son of God in all His fulness. Don’t neglect to pray for your friends, family, neighbors and co-workers that have yet to meet and embrace Him by faith.

Sixth, God uses unlikely people, in unlikely ways, to fulfill his unlikely purposes. Look closely at those God uses in here: Stephen. Abraham. Joseph. Moses. He uses unlikely people, in unlikely ways to achieve his unlikely purposes. That ensure the glory is all His. He is not restricted by time, place, buildings. No matter who you are, what you’ve done, where you’ve been, what you’re facing…it is not a mystery to him. Trust Him and ask Him to show you what He is already at work doing all around you.


We are not here to practice dead, empty ritual, or earn God’s favor by pretending to be good people. We are here to spread the knowledge of God through the gospel of Jesus Christ in this city. I do not care how low you have fallen into sin or how vile you are…OR how good, mature, and perfected you may think you are…the GOD OF GLORY is concerned for you and KNOWS you. Listen to him. Be ready for him. He is calling you this morning to deeper trust and faith in Him. Together, let’s repent of any mechanical formalism, self-rigteous, self-saving moralism. Together let’s be a people that honor him with our lips AND our hand and  our hearts. By faith alone in Jesus Christ, we are God’s people. We are not defined by a place, but the person and work of JESUS. He is still moving, saving, transforming…and he invites us to be a part of that.


“Change is painful to us all, especially when it affects our cherished buildings and customs, and we should not seek change merely for the sake of change. Yet true Christian radicalism is open to change. It knows that God has bound himself to his church and to his Word. But God’s church means people not buildings and God’s Word means Scripture not traditions….we must not allow them to imprison the living God or to impede his mission in the world.”
John Stott, Acts, 143

“Reformed theology holds to what is called irresistible grace, which is something of a misnomer. Irresistible grace does not mean that we are incapable of resisting the grace of God; we do that every day. What is meant by irresistible grace is that despite our resistance, the power of the Holy Spirit vanquishes our sinful rejection of Christ and gives us ears to hear and hearts to embrace Him. However, that was not the response of those present, which is why Stephen said, “You always resist the Holy Spirit.” RC Sproul, Acts, 132-133

“It isn’t just that they rejected God’s Messiah, the Righteous One, and handed him over to be killed by the pagans. In doing so, they were simply acting out, at long range, the pattern of rebellious behavior set by their ancestors. Instead of the recounting of Israel’s history becoming a ‘story of salvation’, as so often, it turns out to be a ‘story of rebellion’. Stephen is claiming the high moral ground. He stands with Abraham, with Moses, with David and Solomon, and with the prophets, while the present Jewish leadership are standing with Joseph’s brothers, with the Israelites who rejected Moses, and with those who helped Aaron build and worship the golden calf.” NT Wright, Acts for Everyone, 119

Recommended Reading
God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible, Vaughan Roberts
According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible, Graeme Goldsworthy