Christian · Persecution · Prayer

Stephen

It’s Monday, so that means it’s time for our “Weekly Saint”.

This week I choose Stephen.

1024px-rembrandt-lapidation-saint-etienne-mba-lyon
Rembrandt’s painting titled “The Stoning of St. Stephen” dated 1624, now in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts of Lyon, France. Picture of painting in the public domain.

I’ve always admired Stephen even though there’s relatively little that we know about him from scripture.

Acts 6:

By this time in the early church, the apostles had their hands full and were feeling a bit overwhelmed.  They wanted to devote more time to spreading the gospel, but they also saw a need to take care of those in the church that had physical needs, such as widows.  There just was not enough time in the day to do all that they had to do.

I’m sure you can relate!

The apostles then decided to appoint seven men, deacons if you will, who would take care of tending to the physical needs of the people of the church, as well as collecting funds for widows, orphans and the persecuted members of the church.

Stephen was one of those men.

From scripture we know that Stephen was

  • full of God’s grace and power (Acts 6:8a)
  • was able to perform miracles (Acts 6: 8b)
  • spoke eloquently and with the authority of God (Acts 6:10-14)
  • had a face like an angel (Acts 6: 15)
  • knew his facts and history, as well as the Jewish traditions (Acts 7:1-50)
  • spoke in the same way as the early prophets (Acts 7:51-53), even quoting the prophets (Acts 7: 42-43; 49-50)
  • was stoned to death for his declarations against the Jews who did not accept Christ as the Messiah that was prophesied about (Acts 7:58a)
  • was used as a tool for Saul’s conversion
  • became the first official recorded martyr of the early church

We have so many biblical examples of how we, as Christians, deal with persecution.  The first is always a good place to start.

The things that have always impressed me about Stephen is that he was respected among his peers, and that he gracefully accepted the fate that was before him.

Did he know when he gave his speech to the high priests at the Greek speaking Synagogue of the Freedmen in Jerusalem that they would kill him?

I believe he did, for at the end of his speech in Acts 7, he asks the priests

“Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers” Acts 7:52

If Stephen was the first martyr of the Christian church and community, and he is declaring that the priests are “betrayers and murderers”, he must have known that his martyrdom was imminent.

Yet, he did not allow his impending doom to make him afraid to speak the truth.  He stood up to his persecutors and allowed the Holy Spirit to work through him, just as Jesus commanded

“When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time” Matthew 10:19

Stephen also drew upon Jesus’ own words in a symbolic tribute to his personal savior.

In the end, just as Jesus commended his spirit to God (Luke 23:46), so did Stephen. Just as Jesus asked God to forgive his persecutors and murderers (Luke 23:34), so did Stephen.

“While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he died.” -Acts 7: 60

Stephen, the first Christian martyr, is a wonderful example for us to follow.

He:

  • remembered what Christ said, as told by the apostles, about allowing the Holy Spirit to give him the words to say when he was unjustly arrested.
  • knew that God had chosen him to be the first martyr and accepted this without showing despair.
  • he had shows us how important it is to remember scripture so that we can use it as a source of strength when trouble comes our way.
  • remembered that even though man can kill the body, they cannot kill the soul (Matt. 10:28)

 

 

My prayer today is that each one of us remembers Stephen’s example when we are faced with persecution.

Amen.

 

 

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