The spread of Christianity in the first century is an unprecedented movement as God’s mission and message spread through ordinary people. One these followers of Jesus became the first martyr in the Christian Church.
Stephen, who appointed to a servant-leadership role had a ‘priestly spirit,’ for he cared for the poor, embodied bold courage, prayed for people, and loved and forgave his enemies until the good end. May God raise up more servant leaders like Stephen, who trust in Jesus as their High Priest, and become like Him.
They were like a Kingdom of Priests sent by Jesus their High Priest. Because He made our cause His own, we make His cause our own.
Stephen, whose face shined like the face of an angel (Acts 6:15), stood up and preached boldly about the access we now have freely to God. His final words:
7:51 “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. 52 Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, 53 you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”
54 Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. 55 But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. 58 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:51-60)
How can this man forgive his enemies? In becoming the first Christian martyr, Stephen was generous and courageous to the very end. It cost him everything!
Stephen had a ‘priestly spirit,’ taking the problems of others to God.
God intends that every follower of His Son would become like our High Priest, embracing and embodying the grace and truth of Jesus. Only in that way will we have the confidence and the courage to face our enemies … and the grace to forgive them. (Listen to the rest.)
We closed the worship time reading a poem written by John Newton on the occasion of Stephen’s death:
So faithful Stephen, undismayed,
The malice of the Jews surveyed;
The holy joy which filled his breast
A lustre on his face impressed.
Behold! he said, the world of light
Is opened to my strengthened sight;
My glorious Lord appears in view,
That Jesus whom ye lately slew.
With such a friend and witness near,
No form of death could make him fear;
Calm, amidst show’rs of stones, he kneels,
And only for his murd’rers feels.
May we, by faith, perceive thee thus,
Dear Savior, ever near to us!
This fight our peace, through life, shall keep,
And death be feared no more than sleep.
Thus they, who in the Lord confide,
Though foes assault on every side;
Cannot he moved or overthrown,
For Jesus makes their cause His own.
He made our cause His own!