“You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did. Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it” (Acts 7:51-53).
Stephen dropped the gavel of God’s judgment against his hearers – and the rest of us – saying, in essence, “Like father, like son.” He accurately assessed the condition of the human heart outside the grace of God. To appreciate the necessity and agency of God’s overcoming grace, we have to recognize the depth of our depravity. We’ll always opt for sin. We’ll always choose the pleasures of the flesh. It’s what we do.
Spanish fighting bulls have a distinct athletic profile with a massive neck that enhances their prowess in the fight. When a bull first enters the arena, he thrashes about wildly, displaying his power and agility. He’s a fierce animal. In a well-choreographed series of events, banderilleros pierce the bull’s neck with a pair of short sticks with iron barbs. The picadors enter on horseback with long lances they use to cut the animal’s spine at a precise point. The purpose is to bleed out the animal and limit his mobility. By the time the matador (literally, the “killer”) enters the ring, the bull is half-dead. Always color-blind, he’s now unable to see anything but movement a few feet directly in front of him, nor can he move his head side to side. It’s now (comparatively) safer for the matador to approach the bull, drop his cape and thrust his estoque (a slender rapier) through the bull’s neck, into its chest, with the intent to kill the animal. In essence, the bull is blind and stiff-necked.
Scripture is replete with censorious descriptions of the human condition as having a heart of stone (Eze. 36:26), flint (Zec. 7:12), or a forehead like emery (Eze. 3:9). Paul called the unregenerate heart darkened (Rom. 1:21) and given over to impurity, degrading passions, and a depraved mind (Rom. 1:24, 26, 28). The idea is a portrait of obstinance and rebellion, really a kind of insanity. More than a childish temper tantrum, it conveys a resolute hardness that refuses to listen, learn, or yield, even to pure love.
Once we see how desperate our natural condition is – that we are wholly and willingly given over to our sins – only then can we begin to appreciate the wondrous majesty of God’s redeeming grace in Christ Jesus.
We really do deserve all that hell holds for us. We really have no claim on God for mercy. Yet, God, in purest mercy makes hell-deserving enemies alive in Christ Jesus. In a marvelous display of utter grace, Christ bore the just wrath of holy God in the place of those who deserved His wrath and imputes to them His perfect righteousness.
The very news of Jesus Christ, broken and risen again, redeeming hell-bound children of wrath divides humanity in the starkest terms imaginable. Those who love the Lord Jesus delight in absolute ecstasy to know the joy of the Lord and to sing His praises for His redeeming grace. Meanwhile, those who love their sins, mock and scoff at the name of Jesus, “always resisting the Holy Spirit.”
They are the ones who openly despise the name of Jesus, using it as a cussword. They bear no tolerance for those who dare to love the Name above every name. They long to eradicate the world of the pestilence they believe the church to be. They may even pretend to be religious simply because the appearance is good for business or serves a social function, but they unashamedly oppose the name of Jesus.
They will never, of their own accord, bow the knee to Jesus and proclaim Him Lord. Only by the redeeming work of God’s grace will any of us every acknowledge Christ as Lord in humble submission and worship.
Understanding that reality drives the believer’s worship to an even greater depth. In 1758, Robert Robinson penned the words:
O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for They courts above.
May we join in the chorus of praise to our great Redeemer.