Thursday, December 15, 2016

What is a Martyr?

Acts 7
The Stoning of Stephen
54 When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.

In chapter 7 of Acts, we read the story of the first Christian martyr in the early church. The word "martyr" means "witness". In this case, Stephen was martyred for witnessing about his faith in Jesus Christ. Stephen had been preaching Jesus and validating his message through many signs and wonders, but was confronted by the Jewish leaders. When they could not match his wisdom in arguing against him, they set up false witnesses to turn the members of the Sanhedrin against him. They said he was teaching against the law or Moses, and saying Jesus was going to tear down the temple. This brings us to the scene in Acts 7.

As they were beginning the proceedings against him, Stephen looked up and saw the heavens split open and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. This was similar to when the heavens opened up when Jesus was baptized and the Holy Spirit came down upon him like a dove. So they rushed him, dragged him out of the city, and began to stone him. All the witnesses laid their coats at a young man named Saul (later to be named the apostle Paul). Reminiscent of his Lord and Master Jesus Stephen said, " Lord Jesus, receive my spirit," And after his last gasp for breath he uttered, "Lord do not hold this sin against them." Indeed Stephen had become like his master in every way, including how his wrongful death.

Stephen is a fine model of someone who counted the cost of following Jesus even to his own death. Today there are people as we speak dying for their testimony for their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Jesus had told his disciples in Matthew 10:19 to expect this when he said, "When you are arrested, don't worry about how to respond or what to say. God will give you the right words at the right time."

While we may not be in the same circumstance as Stephen, how will we respond when we are called on to testify for Jesus. Will we back down? Will we deny him? Will we water it down? Or, will we stand firm and confess our faith in Jesus? It is hard to imagine having the kind of faith that Stephen had, but maybe we can start to defend our faith in small matters. Oftentimes in conversation, to give a Christian point of view may bring scorn or derision. While this is not the same as being "stoned", there could be a social price to pay, possibly embarrassment.

We are all tested in different ways at different times in our lives to back down from witnessing for Jesus. I pray for the faith and courage of Stephen to be faithful no matter what the cost. Stephen was such a close follower of Jesus that he literally responded in virtually the same way Jesus did. Isn't this the definition of what a disciple should be?

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