I am continuing to preach today from the book of Acts. Today’s message is about Stephen, one of the first deacon-ministers selected by the early church. He was also the first martyr of the church, a distinction not shared by the other six leaders selected to serve alongside him. Stephen was not selected by the church to be a martyr. He was killed by an angry mob that was incited by jealous religious leaders, angry people who didn’t like his preaching, and false witnesses paid to lie about what they heard him say. Stephen was martyred by the Jews because of his CONVICTION about Jesus.
Sometimes we think about conviction as that feeling you get when you realize you are wrong, or that you have done something bad. King David knew about this kind of conviction, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me” (Psalm 51:3).
Usually, we refer to this kind of conviction as being “UNDER CONVICTION”. That means you feel the weight of your wrong doing, or the burden of your sin.
The story is told of the great Methodist evangelist, Peter Cartwright who preached once to President Andrew Jackson. The leaders in the church asked Cartwright to be careful so as not to offend the President, whose nickname at that time was “Old Rough and Ready”. With a warning these elders retired to the back of the church having confidence their pastor would not say anything that would discredit them or the congregation.
When Cartwright got up to speak, the first words out of his mouth were, “I understand that President Andrew Jackson is here this morning. I have been requested to be very guarded in my remarks. Let me say this: Andrew Jackson will go to hell if he doesn’t repent of his sin.” The whole congregation gasped with shock at Cartwright’s boldness. They wondered how this young preacher would dare offend the tough old general in public.
After the service, everyone hung around and wondered what the president would say. At the door, Jackson took the preacher’s hand, looked him in the eye and said, “Sir, if I had a regiment of men like you, I could conquer the world.”
Conviction is not just the feelings of guilt and sorrow you carry because of your sins. Conviction is the boldness you need to do something about it. Stephen felt the weight of Israel’s sin burden that put Jesus on the cross. He also stood up in boldness to preach a convicting message that would cause people to repent. Rather than repent, the angry mob stoned him.
We need today both kinds of CONVICTION. All of us need to feel the guilt and sorrow that comes because of sin present in our lives and in the world. We also need the boldness and determination to do something about it. In a world that has grown too COMFORTABLE with sin, we need more CONVICTION.