Today’s Bible reading
Long version Acts of the Apostles 6:1 – 8:1
Short version Acts of the Apostles 6:8-15 and 7:51-7:60
More thoughts for meditation
This week’s series is on seven martyrs. Jesus as the author and perfecter of our faith (Heb 12:2) is our model and the first martyr. But we start with the first of Jesus’ followers to perish for their faith – Stephen.
There is A LOT we could learn from the two chapters of Acts that deal with Stephen (6:1 – 8:1) – how the Church dealt with its very first internal ethnic conflict, how the Church from the beginning had much more than just a spiritual role, the wisdom of the apostles in keeping their focus on spreading the Gospel of Jesus, and how those in the Church that God has gifted for modest “hands and feet” roles can be used in surprising ways as the “mouth and ears”. But we’ll leave that for another time. Today we focus on Stephen as the first martyr in the Church after Jesus.
Stephen came as an outsider in the early Church- a convert to Judaism and a Greek. But he is given an important job in the early Church – feeding poor widows. But it is his witness of the gospel to his fellow Grecian Jews that really gets him in trouble. Some of them aren’t having this new Gospel, so they twist his words and get him arrested. Undeterred, he confronts the religious authorities with an uncomfortable truth – in the history of God’s people, the religious leaders are not following in the lineage of those proclaiming the Word of God. They are in the lineage of those who persecute the prophets and in the end reject Jesus. In return for laying on the truth, the leaders kill Stephen.
Stephen might have had a hard word for religious leaders, but his final words show that he was on their side. Stephen followed the teachings of Jesus and loved his enemies. The NIV translates it thus:
While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 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.
Suggestions for action
Lord Jesus – receive our spirit, both today and at the end of our pilgrimage. Help us learn from our brother Stephen so that we can love and be kind to those who harm us. May we be encouraged by his story.