Stephen: The First Martyr
Until I was around ten, I did not know about Stephen, the first Christian martyr in all of history. From what I have seen and heard, many people have not really studied Stephen’s story or even read about it. Although it is part of the book of Acts, his full story is only about two chapters long. Whereas, the narratives on the lives of Abraham, Moses, and Paul last for chapters on end. The holiday season is approaching and we begin to focus on the hustle and bustle of Christmas. However, we should remember that people have died for the Gospel and the true story of Christmas.
As the early Christian church began to form a new type of community, the apostles needed more people to help them to minister to this community. In Acts 6, the Hellenists began to complain about “their widows being neglected in the daily distribution.” (ESV 2016). The apostles’ main job was to preach the Gospel, not to take care of people’s basic material needs. So “the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples” and asked the members of the church to choose some men “of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint” to the duty of caring for the community. Seven men were chosen, one whose name was Stephen. Stephen fulfilled the requirements that the apostles had set for their candidate. Written through Luke, God’s description of Stephen in Acts is “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit…full of grace and power” (Acts 6:5-8 ESV). Through Stephen, many miracles were performed among the people. But it is a universal fact that with the performance of great feats comes jealousy. Because of jealousy, plots against the one performing the great feats begin to form. In fact, this was exactly what happened to Stephen.
Some members of the synagogue of the Freedmen rose up against Stephen because “they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking” (Acts 6:10 ESV 2016). This faithful disciple was seized by the Jewish council where people gave false witness testimonies to get money. We can see how the Bible backs itself, as this scene proves 1 Timothy 6:10, which says “ For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” (ESV). However, even when the people continued to bring false witness against Stephen, they “saw that his face was like the face of an angel”. Despite these lies against him, Stephen remained calm and peaceful with joy in his heart.
‘And the high priest said, “Are these things so?” And Stephen said: “Brothers and fathers, hear me.”(Acts 7:1-2 ESV 2016). Stephen proceeds with a speech where he talks about the patriarchs of the Jewish faith. He states how some of the patriarchs were saved despite being uncircumcised. On the other hand, there were also those, like Joseph’s brothers, that were not saved despite being a Jew and being circumcised. He describes them as a “stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit.”. His words also hit home to the council as he proclaims that “they [their patriarchs/fathers] killed those [the prophets] who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One,” and the Jews of his time “have now betrayed and murdered” Jesus, the Messiah (Acts 7:51-52 ESV).
These words enraged the Jewish council. “But he [Stephen], full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” Stephen knew that he was about to ascend to Heaven. He was brought out of the city where a man named Saul initiated his stoning. As he fell to his knees, ‘He cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”’ Then he went to be with his Master.
The testimony of God’s strength and power was shown through Stephen. Stephen’s job was the job of what the church now calls a deacon. At my church, we base our requirements for selecting a deacon upon how the apostles chose Stephen and others to serve the community around them. However, these requirements do not only apply to a deacon. They apply to every single one of us – every single one of God’s disciples. We are also called to serve others with willingness that we might share the Gospel through our kindness. Like every Christian martyr, Stephen remained faithful amidst trial and tribulation. When faced with obstacles in life, go in with the mindset of I will stand firm even if it will bring ________(fill in the blank). The Lord gives everyone who truly believes in Him the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit provides Christians with the ability to see the truth in situations, such as with Stephen. Stephen was able to see the truth of his death bringing light and catalyzing other people’s trust in his Lord and Savior. And last, but not least, in the midst of facing death, he asked God to forgive the people who were stoning him. He imitated Jesus forgiving the people that sinned against him while he was on the cross. Luke 23:34 ‘And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”’. Imagine doing that to the person that you do not get along with the best or have held a grudge against for the past 10 years. Maybe they did something to hurt you deeply, but look at Stephen. Stephen forgave the people who were taking his life. Taking something that seems so precious to us. Yet he chose the path that seems so difficult. He chose the path of forgiveness. If someone in his shoes can, so can we for something that only took away a small part of our lives. If our Lord Jesus could be so good towards us to forgive our sins, we can forgive each other.