RCL Year A: Season of Easter

Revised Common Lectionary, Year A

Fifth Sunday after Easter

May 7, 2023


Highlighted Text: Acts 7:55-60

Summary of the text:

Preaching Angle: Jesus’ Crucifixion, Stephen’s Martyrdom: When Stephen saw “the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God,” the surrounding crowd of God’s people should have begged him to explain the matter to them. They should have humbly asked St. Stephen to teach them about faith, the Scriptures, and what he was seeing. Instead, people who thought themselves to be aligned with God hated the truth, hated hearing Stephen’s message, ground their teeth, yelled, stopped their ears, rushed at him, and stoned him.

Even as the Holy Spirit indwelled Stephen, he was empowered and enabled to look up and see into Heaven. Heaven’s King dwelled in his heart, and Stephen was able to see into the Heavens where he would soon dwell with his risen King. 

I. Howard Marshall writes,

The point must be that Stephen sees Jesus in his role as the Son of man; he sees him as the One who suffered and was vindicated by God (Luke 9:22), i.e. as a pattern to be followed by Christian martyrs, but also as the One who will vindicate in God’s presence those who are not ashamed of Jesus and acknowledge their allegiance to him before men (Luke 12:8). This probably explains why the Son of man was seen to be standing, rather than sitting at God’s right hand (2:34). He is standing as advocate to plead Stephen’s cause before God and to welcome him into God’s presence. (Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale New Testament Commentary, p. 158)

Stephen, as he knelt in prayer in the middle of being stoned, was walking in the way of his savior. As Christ taught God’s people about the kingdom of God (Mark 1:14-15), He was met with opposition, betrayal, a false trial, and His torturous murder on the cross. And Christ’s posture was forgiveness; He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Not only did Christ teach His disciples to pray, He also teaches us, and particularly Stephen, how to forgive, such that Stephen could say during his murder, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60).

Much of the apologetic value of the early church is displayed in acts of martyrdom like Stephen’s. These saints endured great acts of torture for the sake of the name of Christ. “How,” we might ask, “did they do something like this?” Record after record, testimony after testimony suggest that it had little to do with the strength and resolve of the martyr himself or herself, but with the faithfulness, glory, and strength of their Savior who was so fixed in their hearts and minds that they could never think of betraying or diminishing the name of Christ their King. May God be so kind to us that we are so enthralled with Him that we would follow Him wherever He leads.

Preaching Angle: Opposing God: Have you ever been on the opposing side of God? I’m not suggesting that you have played a part in martyring one of God’s children (although Christ has been known to save those who persecuted His Church, namely Saul; Acts 8:1; 9:1ff). But there are times when we get too focused on something other than God’s Kingdom, and we end up advocating for something that doesn’t please the Lord. I have had lots of ideas for how I thought my church needed to reach out to the community, or how we needed to make our worship service look a certain way, or who should be in leadership, and I was so focused on getting the result I wanted that I ended up opposing God. Sure, I had my convictions, I had my strategies, and I had my reasons, but there were things I was missing. I didn’t have my community of leadership alongside me, I didn’t surround myself with those who were praying, and I didn’t have the good of the congregation on my mind. In fact, they often stood in my way, or so I thought.

I often want to read myself into the events in the Bible, and I don’t often like to have my character read the lines of those opposing God, but sometimes that’s an accurate way of seeing my situation. I sometimes see those around me as standing in the way of me getting what I want, what I’m after, what’s best for the ministry, rather than as those whom God has counted as on His side (Mark 9:40).

Thankfully, we serve a God who is so good that He glorifies Himself by showing grace to His enemies (Rom 5:6-11). In fact, we who are Christ’s adopted brothers and sisters will thank God for all eternity that He loved us while we were yet sinners, and we’ll do so while standing alongside St. Stephen and the thousands and thousands of other martyrs who bore the name of Christ to their death. In what great company we will be as we glorify our risen Savior-King!

Dustin grew up in Springfield, MO later graduating from Evangel University and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, studying Biblical Hebrew and Greek, Theology, and ancient history. He and his wife, Debbie, married in 2009 and have three children: Abigail, Judah, and Ezra. Dustin still rides BMX bikes, listens to hardcore music, loves research and writing, and enjoys helping his family seek and savor King Jesus.

Sermon Resources


Key Quotes

There is no sin, and there can be no sin on all the earth, which the Lord will not forgive to the truly repentant! Man cannot commit a sin so great as to exhaust the infinite love of God. Can there be a sin which could exceed the love of God?

Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.

C.S. Lewis


Key Sermon Illustration


“What happens here may be expressed by the quite simple and yet unfathomable word, ‘forgive.’ What occurs when I forgive another person?  It does not mean . . .  that I can ‘forget’ what he did to me.  It just can’t do that.  No, when I forgive another, I myself step into the breach and say to myself, ‘The same thing that made the other person mean, hateful, and guilty toward me is in my heart as well.  Ultimately we are two of a kind.’

If I tell my neighbor, ‘I forgive you,’ and I say it from the bottom of my heart, then, in a manner of speaking, I take over the burden of his guilt and place it on my own heart just as though it were mine. . . .  I say, ‘Yes, what you did to me was very wrong; it was even shocking.  But I know from looking at myself how fickle and wicked the human heart is.  Therefore I could do exactly what you did.  It’s coiled up in me too.  So I’ll suffer through it with you.  I’ll put myself in your place.  I’ll share your burden.’  When I forgive another person, I share the burden of his guilt.  I become his brother and his sister, a burden-bearer at his side.”

Helmut Thielicke. I Believe: The Christian’s Creed, trans. by John W. Doberstein and H. George Anderson. (Phil.:  Fortress Press, 1968, p. 116). 

Not Until After My Death

Frederick William I was a king of Prussia in the early 18th century. Personality-wise, he was described as exacting, frugal and austere. He was known to beat his children when they disappointed him. His eldest son, the future king Frederick William II, along with two friends, attempted to run away to escape his father’s ire. One escaped, but the other was imprisoned, and after a season, executed in front of the son in an attempt to reform the child’s wayward path.

As he lay on his deathbed, the pastor attending him told him he must forgive all his enemies. Immediately he thought of his brother-in-law, George II of England. “In that case,” he told his wife reluctantly, “write to your brother and tell him I forgive him, but be sure not to do it until after my death.”

Stuart Strachan Jr.

Additional Sermon Resources

Liturgical Elements

Call to Worship

Adapted from Psalm 103:1-5

Leader: Praise the Lord, my soul; 

People: All my inmost being, praise his holy name. 

Leader: Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits

People: Who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases,

Leader: Who redeems your life from the pit,

People: And crowns you with love and compassion, 

Leader: Who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

Submitted by Austin D. Hill

Adapted from Psalm 130

Leader: Out of the depths we cry to you, Lord;

People: Lord, hear our voices, let your ears be attentive to our cries for mercy. If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,

Leader: Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you.

People: we will wait for the Lord, with our whole being we will wait, and in his word we put our hope.

Leader: We wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.

People: For with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.

Submitted by Stuart Strachan Jr.


Prayers of Adoration

Based on Ephesians 1:3-18

All glorious God, we give you thanks:

in your Son, Jesus Christ,

you have given us every spiritual blessing

in the heavenly realms.

You chose us, before the world was made,

to be your holy people, without fault in your sight.

You adopted us as your children in Christ.

You have set us free by his blood;

you have forgiven our sins.

You have made known to us your secret purpose,

to bring heaven and earth into unity in Christ.

You have given us your Holy Spirit,

the seal and pledge of our inheritance.

All praise and glory be yours, O God,

for the richness of your grace,

for the splendor of your gifts,

for the wonder of your love.

The Worship Sourcebook, 2013

Gracious and faithful God 

– our Creator, Redeemer and Comforter:

When we don’t know the way – You show us the way; and

When we can’t find a way – You make a way.

Thank you! 

Thank you for Your gift of a Savior –

not a savior who stays distant and aloof, 

but one who enters the warp and woof of our existence

as Emmanuel – God with us; and

who then sanctifies every place and time in which we live.

Richard Herman

Prayers of Confession

Adapted from 2 Kings 17:7-23

All: O God, You have loved us so well. You have been kind to us. You have given us all that we need. You have kept us from danger. You have given us new life and forgiveness in Your Son, Jesus, but we have sinned against you, doing what You told us not to do. We think and live like You don’t love us, like You don’t see our struggles, like You don’t see our needs. We think that other gods of money, more stuff, looking good, seeming smart, and feeling accepted will make us whole and happy. But really, only you can make us whole and joyful. Help us trust You when You say, “I will be with you.”

Submitted by Dustin Ray

All: Almighty and most merciful Father, we have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws.  We have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done; and there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou those who confess their faults. Restore those who are penitent; according to thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake, that we may hereafter live a godly, righteous and sober life, to the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.

Thomas Cranmer, The Book of Common Prayer, Great Confession for Morning and Evening Prayer.

Assurance of Pardon

1 Peter 2:9-10 (taken from the day’s New Testament Reading; ESV)

Leader: But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Hear the good news! Who is in a position to condemn? Only Christ, and Christ died for us, Christ rose for us, Christ reigns in power for us, Christ prays for us. (Romans 8:34)

Leader: Friends, believe the good news of the gospel.

People: In Jesus Christ we are forgiven!

The good news in Christ is that when we face ourselves and God with the awareness of our need, we are given grace to grow, and courage to continue the journey.

Leader: Friends, believe the good news of the gospel.

People: In Jesus Christ we are forgiven!

The mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting. May the God of mercy, who forgives us all our sins, strengthen us in all goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep us in eternal life.

People: Amen.

As Jesus healed the afflicted and restored those who have died, he also forgives our sins and gives us new life.

Leader: Friends, believe the good news of the gospel.

People: In Jesus Christ we are forgiven!


Inspired by Hebrews 10:21-25

Since we have a great priest over the house of God,  

let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings,

having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds,

not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing,

but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Submitted by Allen Thompson

John 14:1-3 (ESV)

Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.  In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.