A Case Of Sklerotrachelos

Series: Fruit Of The Spirit


Sermon By Terry Siverd / Cortland Church of Christ / April 02, 2023


This morning I want to introduce you to a hapax legomenon.

A “hapax” is a word that occurs only once in a select body of literature.

This 15-letter Greek word, sk lero trach elos, occurs only one time in the entire New Testament.


It is found in a defense speech delivered by Stephen before the Jewish high priest just prior to his stoning.

Acts 7:51 / 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.


Stephen was actually referencing statements from Moses and the prophets, in particular, Isaiah and Jeremiah.

The Hebrew Old Testament employs different words, often translated OBSTINATE or STUBBORN.

Sk lero trach elos is translated in our New Testament as “STIFF-NECKED”.

It refers to someone who is INTRACTABLE - - one who refuses to be led or governed.

Specifically, this SIN speaks of one who will not hear and heed the Word of God.

It may not necessarily be sinful to be stubborn and hard-headed in refusing to heed the words of your wife,

but this disposition called stubbornness or obstinacy becomes sinful when it is God that we are bucking.


This metaphor of being stiff-necked comes from the world of farming.

In ancient times (actually not that long ago) a team of oxen were often used to pull plows.

The plowman would use one hand to hold to reins attached to the oxen.

In the other hand he would carry an ox-goad - - a light pole with a sharp spike fixed on one end.

This ox-goad be used to prick the oxen on their hind legs to increase their speed.  It would also be

employed in poking their necks to turn one way of another or to keep a straight course when deviating.

If an ox proved especially stubborn, it was said to be “HARD OF NAPE” or “STIFF-NECKED”.


We're in the midst of a pandemic - - a rapidly spreading disease called coronavirus.

Sklerotrachelos is not a disease per se, it is a state of mind and heart.

In other words, when we behave in an obstinate and stiff-necked fashion with God,

it will not work to appeal to Him by saying, “I have this disease and can't help myself.”


In Ex.24:12 God called Moses saying, Come up to Me on the mountain are remain there, and I will

 give you the stone tablets, with the law and the commandment which I have written for their instruction.


When Moses and Joshua lingered on the mountain top, the nation of Israel got antsy, wondering what

had become of them.  The multitude said to Aaron, Come, make us a god who will go before us.

With utter astonishment we read in vs.2ff, that Aaron cooperated with their demand.


In Ex.32:7-10, God revealed to Moses the disgraceful events unfolding at the base of the mountain.

The Lord spoke to Moses, 'Go down at once, for your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt,

have corrupted themselves.  They have quickly turned aside from the way which I commanded them.

They have made for themselves a molten calf, and have worshiped it, and have sacrificed to it', and said,

'This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!'  And the Lord said to Moses,

'I have seen this people, and behold, THEY ARE AN OBSTINATE PEOPLE.  Now then let Me alone,

that My anger may burn against them, and the I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation.


When Moses descended the mountain and saw with his own eyes what had transpired,

he became so angry he threw down the tablets and shattered them at the foot of the mountain (Ex.32:19).


Later on Moses returned to the mountain top to get new tablets of stone.  When Moses descended a

second time he warned the people:  Circumcise then your heart, and stiffen your neck no more! (Deut.10:16).


This stiff-neck problem continued to plague the ancient nation of Israel all of it days.


Hundreds of years after the golden-calf event God again vented His frustration.

To His faithful prophet, Jeremiah, he spoke these words (Jer.7:25-26) - -

Since the day your fathers came out of the land of Egypt until this day, I have sent you all My

servants the prophets, daily rising early and sending them.  Yet THEY DID NOT LISTEN TO ME

OR INCLINE THEIR EAR, BUT STIFFENED THEIR NECK; they did evil more than their father.


In the New Testament we see this stiff-neckeness exemplified in the life of Saul of Tarsus.

Saul was born to a Pharisee and he himself became a Pharisee (one zealous for the Law of God).

He says of himself, that he was a Hebrew of Hebrews (Philp.3:5).

In Gal.2:14, he notes that (he) was advancing in Judaism beyond many of (his) contemporaries...

Saul was a very likely member of the Sanhedrin

(the Jewish Supreme Court made up of 70 leading Pharisees plus the high priest).

Regarding the execution of many first-century Christians, the apostle Paul testified

as to his former life as Saul of Tarsus, saying, I cast my vote against them (Acts 26:10).


One day, on his way to Damascus to capture Christians and bring them back to Jerusalem to stand trial,

Jesus appeared to Saul of Tarsus from heaven , saying to him (Acts 26:14):

Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?  It is hard for you to kick against the goads.


The second part of these heavenly words implies that Saul was behaving like an ox - -

that Saul of Tarsus was hard-headed in refusing to listen to His heavenly Master.


For the most part, the Pharisees tended to be a very proud bunch - - they were high-minded know-it-alls.


Yet we do read in Scripture about a few Pharisees who were actually humble.

Saul of Tarsus was schooled at the feet of a Pharisee named Gamaliel.

In Acts 5:33f we read of the wise counsel he offered when his peers wanted to kill the apostles.  He cautioned them saying, if this plan is of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow it (vs.38-39).

I have often wondered, why couldn't Saul see what his beloved teacher and mentor Gamaliel saw?

The answer is that Saul was stiff-necked (he had sklerotrachelos)


There was another Pharisee named Nicodemus.

In Jn.3:1ff we read of how he came to Jesus by night.  He declared to Jesus, Rabbi, we know that You

have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.

On another occasion when his fellow Pharisees seemed bent on killing Jesus, Nicodemus intervened (Jn.7:50f) - -

saying to his peers, Our Law does not judge a man, unless it first hear from him and knows what his is doing, does it.

 With anger they retorted, You are not also from Galilee, are you?

Here again, once can't help but wonder:  what prevented Saul from seeing Jesus the way Nicodemus saw Him?

The answer is that Saul was stiff-necked - - like a stubborn ox resisting His master (he had sk lero trach elos) .


There was yet another Pharisee named Joseph of Arimathea.

Like Gamaliel and Nicodemus and Saul of Tarsus, he was a prominent member of the Sanhedrin (Mk.15:43).

He had not voted to crucify Jesus (Lk.23:50f).  In fact, Jn.19:38 states that

Joseph of Arimathea was a disciple of Jesus, although a secret one, for fear of the Jews.

Again, we wonder:  why did Joseph of Arimathea believe in Jesus but Saul of Tarsus didn't?

The answer is that Saul was stiff-necked, like an ox kicking against the goads (he had sk lero trach elos).


Now I want to close by sharing with you the gospel of Jesus Christ.


Had Saul continued to reject the goading of God, he would have died in his sins.

That's how serious sklerotrachelos was and is. 

Stiff-neckedness is a sin of spiritual stubbornness and obstinacy that can cost a man his soul.


In all likelihood Saul of Tarsus had spurned many opportunities to come to know Jesus.

The odds seem probable that Saul himself might have seen and/or heard Jesus speak.

At the very least he would surely have heard of the many miracles that Jesus performed.

He might have even stood at the cross and watched Jesus die.

Mark's gospel tells of a centurion who watched Jesus die who proclaimed (Mk.15:39) - -

Truly this man was the Son of God.


Saul of Tarsus was present in hearing Stephen's defense.

Acts 6:8 states that Stephen was performing great wonders and signs among the people.

Acts 6:15 notes that all who were sitting in the counsel saw his face like the face of an angel.

Saul of Tarsus watched Stephen die - - he fell to his knees and cried out with a loud voice,

Lord, do not hold this sin against them (Acts 7:60).


A few years after the Damsacus road, the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy in one of his many letters (1Tim.1:15-16):

It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Jesus Christ came into the world

to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.  And yet for this reason, I found mercy,

in order that in me as the foremost (of sinners), Jesus Christ might demonstrate His

perfect patience, as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.


Do you suffer from sklerotrachelos?


With obstinacy, are you putting off putting off what you know to be sinful?

Some things about the Bible are hard to understand, but fortunately SINS tend to be spelled out quite clearly.

To keep sinning when we know what we're doing is sinful is to be stiff-necked.


Is it because of your stubbornness that you are putting off putting on Jesus?

God's plan of salvation is not that complicated.

Some of you have never been baptized, but you know the Bible says you must be.

To refuse to believe … to confess … to repent … and to be baptized is to be stiff-necked.


Are you failing to cultivate the fruit of the spirit?

Are you failing to develop the mind of Christ?

1Jn.2:6 declares, the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.

To fail in these important arenas so is to be stiff-necked.


I cannot make you be obedient.  Neither will God make you be obedient.

That is something that each of us must do for ourselves.


I can only tell you what God's word reveals.  This I know, to be stiff-necked, obstinate and stubborn

about hearing and receiving the gospel of Christ is not just a minor character flaw, it is a serious SIN.


The story of Saul of Tarsus can be our Damascus Road turning point as well.

Paul tells us plainly, by virtue of his story being recorded for history, that his stubbornness

continues to serve a demonstration of God's perfect patience for all who would believe.

How foolish it would be for us to fail to learn that which Paul learned the hard way.

If ever someone tells you, I'm too stubborn to become a Christian, take them at once to the story of Saul of Tarsus.

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