This text comes at the end of a New Testament preaching service. But it was not a typical service – it was not a church service. We don’t know for sure, but it was unlikely that Stephen had ever preached like this before. He was not one of the Apostles; he was not a pastor or a full-time preacher in the Jerusalem church. It could have been that he had a secular job; owning his own business or working for someone else. He WAS a deacon in the church – a servant of the Lord in another way than regularly preaching. But that didn’t force him into silence when it came to his Saviour. There was no caste system, where everyone was confined to their own particular field of service. Every member should have been, and most of them were – martyrs for Christ – witnesses. Then too, when Stephen spoke that day the service was very different because his face bore a semblance to that of an angel. At least he looked like what people perceived angels to be. That probably meant that his face some how radiated the glory of Holy of Holies. Perhaps he had some of the same characteristics as the face of Moses as he came down Sinai after a long period of fellowship with the Lord. This was not typical preaching service because the auditorium and his auditors were unusual. The place was the council chamber of the Sanhedrin. Where we sit in rows of pews, one behind another, and another, and another, those hearers sat in a circle or semi-circle, surrounding the speaker. Then, unlike most church services, Stephen had been charged with blasphemy. It appears that Saul of Tarsus, who was a leader in the synagogue of Libertines, laid the charge of spiritual treason against this Christian man. This was not a typical preaching service, because the message was just a bit unusual. This sermon was in fact an “apologia” – an answer to Saul’s charges. The theme was a common one – Moses and many others had preached the history of Israel. As Stephen went from Abraham to Isaac, to Joseph, to Moses and so on, he kept pointing out the fact that Israel always seemed to reject the true witness of God. As the theme developed, he got closer and closer to the generation of his hearers. Then all of a sudden, he brought his message to a quick conclusion. “Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye.” At that point one of two things must have happened: Either Stephen thought he had won the acceptance of his hearers so it was time to plunge in the knife of Holy Spirit conviction when their defenses were down. Or more likely, he could see in their eyes and gestures that their hearts were beginning to seeth. Whichever it was, the message ended very abruptly. Those priests and leaders were clearly in resisting the conviction of God.
What is it to resist the Holy Spirit?
It is obviously a bad and dangerous thing to do. But we have to ask ourselves if it is still possible to do it today. Was this resistance a sin which could be committed only in the days of the New Testament? Or was it a Jewish sin and not committable by Gentiles? Is it sin that Christians could commit as easily as the unbeliever? To put it another way, is a study of this scripture pertinent, or is it a waste of time?
This word “resist” is “antipipto” (an-tee-pip’-to) and it is found only once in the Greek Bible. But its root “pipto” is used 89 times, and it means to “to fall” or “to come down.” And then there is that well-known suffix which we still use today in English. “Anti” basically means “against.” So “antipipto” literally means – “to fall against something,” and it implies doing so with force. “The fireman fell against the door, knocking it from its hinges to save the baby from the fire.” Or as it is used in classical literature – “The army fell upon the enemy, routing them completely.” In Joshua 11, following the instructions of the Lord, “Joshua came, and all the people of war with him, against them by the waters of Merom suddenly; and they fell upon (the Amorites), and the Lord delivered them into the hand of Israel.” So what is it to resist the Holy Spirit? It is to deliberately fall upon Him with the intention of opposing and defeating His ministry. And in this case the reference is to the Spirit’s ministry of convicting and convincing men of sin – rebellion.
To resist the Spirit is not the same as to GRIEVE Him. In my opinion, grieving the Spirit is a sin only committable by the child of God. The Holy Spirit indwells every believer without exception, and He can be hurt by His hosts – grieved. This is an anthropomorphism, because God doesn’t experience the same emotions as His creatures do. But “grief” comes upon the Spirit when Christians commit other sins –intentional or unintentional. Applying I Thessalonians 5 – the Spirit is grieved when we do not rejoice evermore, pray without ceasing. When we quench the spirit, despise prophesying, and refuse to abstain from all appearance of evil. These unbelieving Sadducees could not grieve the Holy Spirit, because they were not acquainted with Him.
And even though QUENCHING the Spirit will grieve Him, those two things are not the same thing. Just as someone might quench his thirst with a big glass of water, he might also quench a thirst which the Spirit might put in him by gulping down some of the entertainment or distractions of the world. Quenching the Spirit is similar to resisting Him – but it may in fact be more often successful. Just because someone RESISTS the Lord, that doesn’t mean they will succeed. QUENCHING sounds like it actually puts the fire out. Even though the only time the Bible speaks of this sin, it is in the context of a Christian, it might be possible for a lost man to do it as well. No true Christian can even be completely free of the Holy Spirit, but any of us can quench His ministry.
Another sin against the Holy Spirit is described as BLASPHEMY against Him. This RESISTENCE is not necessarily that sin either, but it can be. In my understanding blasphemy of the Spirit is to apply the work of Christ and the Spirit of Christ to the Devil and his spirits. The end result of these two sins may be the same, but not all resistence is blasphemous.
Coming back to RESISTING the Spirit – it is a deliberate, personal step to oppose the effect of His ministry. It is most usually found in the hearts and lives of God’s clear-cut enemies. But, sadly, it can also be found among the Lord’s professed friends. And it for both these reasons that I am preaching this message here this morning.
Notice the way this particular resistence was expressed.
There are four things mentioned by Stephen which help us to understand it. There is, first of all, a refusal to submit to the yoke of the Lord – stiffneckedness. “Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye.” This is a refusal to recognize the authority of the Sovereign God. It is a refusal to recognize the right of the Creator over His creation. I have seen pets who, when they see the collar or the harness, they puffed themselves up in such a way that they could later shrink themselves and walk out their restraints. I understand that larger animals can refuse the yoke or harness – making their bodies ridged and their necks stiff – or they might turn away. They say, “I refuse to let you apply this restrain to me. You will not put this yoke on my neck.” The Lord says to that prodigal – “Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die.” The proud agnostic, or the self-righteous supporter of the arts, tries to throw off that yoke. “That may apply to a hundred other men, but it does not apply to me.” But it does apply to thee, as well as me. Later after Paul heard that verse from Ezekiel a hundred times, Jehovah knocked him to his knees. “And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.” He was resisting the prodding of the Lord. Not only can outright rebels and unbelievers resist the Spirit, so can professing Christians. Anyone who refuses to recognize the Lord’s authority over him resists the Holy Spirit.
“Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost.” The men of Israel possessed in their physical bodies, a sign of the covenant made between their forefathers and God. But that outward sign didn’t keep them from their rebellion and wayward lives. Stephen didn’t mention the name of Jeremiah in his sermon, but he did refer to prophets in general. So many of God’s prophets had been rejected by Israel and Judah. And the lives of Jeremiah and Stephen somewhat paralleled each other. In Jeremiah 32, Israel had thrown God’s man into prison for preaching the truth, as Stephen was doing. While in that horrible place, the Lord spoke to Jeremiah – “Because of all the evil of the children of Israel … to provoke me to anger… and they have turned unto me the back and not the face; though I taught them….” Because of their sin and despite their resistance, I shall send them into judgment and captivity. Later in Jeremiah 44:16 the people spat in the prophet’s face – “As for the word that thou hast spoke unto us in the name of the Lord, we will not harken unto thee.” Their bodies had been dutifully circumcised but their hearts had not. They were resisting the Holy Ghost by their deliberate rejection of the Lord’s will and word. How many times have you seen it in someone sitting close to you in a church service of the Lord? How many times have you been guilty of it yourself? How much of a struggle was there in the heart of the rich young ruler of Luke 18. He came asking, “Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” When the Lord answered his question, he was upset because he wasn’t willing to go that far. “And when he heard this, he was very sorrowful.” He fought with the conviction of the Spirit – he resisted the Lord, probably all the way to his grave.
After Stephen said “so do ye,” his last remarks were – Your forefathers, “received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it.” The Bible was given to man by the direct influence and inspiration of this same Holy Spirit who was being resisted. He used men; He used angels; He even used donkeys, doves and dogs. Yet, despite the spectacular ways in which the Word has been put into human hands and planted in human hearts, as a race we seem to relish resisting.
There was a statement in Acts 6 which falls within the context of Stephen’s sermon. Acts 6:10 says, “And they not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which (Stephen) spake.” What does that mean? It means they had no real answer to what he told them. They couldn’t fault his wisdom, nor the authority of the scriptures which he preached. They couldn’t fault the loving way in which Stephen gave the truth to them. But they had their own opinions and traditions to which they tenaciously clung. They couldn’t resist Stephen’s word, but they still resisted the Holy Spirit.
And then, as their fathers had been doing for thousands of years, they killed this godly man. As an Ambassador for Christ, the Spirit filled him; he represented an arm of the Lord. “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” The persecution of the man of God was another form of resistance toward the Spirit.
And what does this resistance do?
Let’s lay aside for a moment what it specifically did to these wicked Sadducees. Generally speaking, resistance renders the rebel pilotless. What was the yoke or harness supposed to do for the ox and the mule? With it those animals were linked to their labor and given opportunity for guidance. By stubbornly refusing the yoke – through their stiff necks, they thought they had freedom. But it was freedom to do what? To get lost; to become useless. Life is filled with hundreds of potential disasters – temptations, sins, missteps, miscalculations. This is what Solomon is trying to tell us in the first chapters of Proverbs. We all need – especially inexperienced young people –we need the blessing of wisdom’s guidance. “How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity? and the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge? Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you” Isn’t this what Stephen was trying to express before the wicked leaders of his country? “As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?” Resist not the Spirit.
After rendering ourselves guideless, the resister renders himself HOPELESS. Christ Jesus said, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of Heaven.” Outside the kingdom of Heaven is darkness and eternal destruction. What is it to be born again? It is to be brought out of spiritual death to be made spiritually alive. It is to be given an eternal hope. That is a ministry of the Holy Spirit.
To resist the Spirit as these Jews did might have forever barred the doors Heaven to them. To act the fool, saying “No, God” may be the last opportunity to ever speak to the Lord. “How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?” There will never be any escape from our sin; never be any salvation, without the blessing of the Holy Spirit.
And with that we come into one of the most marvelous miracles found anywhere in the pages of God’s Word. One of the leaders of this resistance was a man named “Saul.” He was a leader of the synagogue which laid the initial charges against Stephen. He was as wicked and incorrigible as any of the men involved in this story. But only a few months after this chapter, Saul was crushed by the Spirit whom he had earlier resisted. His wicked heart was subdued and then filled with repentance and faith in the Christ whom he denied. Saul was born again by the Spirit of God.
This proves that no man is beyond hope in the Lord. Do not give up on that wicked Christ-denying, Spirit-resisting sinner. Don’t give up on yourself, thinking that you past unbelief condemns you.
But even in the light of Saul of Tarsus, don’t continue in your resistance, thinking that moments before your death you will have a change of heart. Rather receive the Lord’s gift of grace this morning. Look over the shoulder of Saul, whom the Lord saved, there were likely a hundred others who were not delivered from their resistance. “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” Repent of this thy wickedness and put your faith in the Christ you’ve rejected for all these years. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and though shalt be saved.”