Friday, March 4, 2011

Stephen the Martyr

The first person to die for Christ was Stephen, whose name means “crown”. Chapters 6 and 7 in the book of Acts record this man’s story of persecution, around A.D. 35. This was not too long after the Apostle Peter gave his famous sermon on the day of Pentecost, the day the church officially started. One day Stephen, the great evangelist, was performing incredible wonders and signs in view of many people. Men from the synagogue were unable to cope with the great wisdom coming from Stephen’s words, so they exclaimed that Stephen spoke blasphemous words against God and the words of Moses. The men dragged Stephen away and brought him before the Council to testify for his actions and words.

He spoke about the privileges of the nation of Israel, as well as their rejection of God’s messengers. Then, in his boldness, he blamed the listeners for the crucifixion of Jesus. 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 what your fathers did.” The next verses described the fury of the people who were listening. Suddenly, Stephen, being full of grace, gazed in Heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus at God’s right hand. Stephen described with such joy what he was seeing. This crossed the line for the hard-hearted listeners, and in a loud voice, they cried out and rushed at him.

As was the custom in their day when it came to stoning, one person pushed the victim off a 9 foot scaffold, and then another person dropped a large stone on the victim. Usually others would pelt the victim with small stones at the same time as well. Stephen, being filled with the unlimited love of Christ, cried out “Lord, receive my Spirit! Do not hold this sin against them!” Having said this, he died a martyr, and his act of sincere love toward Christ is still being shown today.

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