Stephen faces persecution in the Early Church
Adorned and honored. His name means “crown” or “wreath.”
The first martyr Stephen is one of the honored and crowned leaders facing persecution in the early church.
He served “full of God’s grace and power” and accomplished “great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8).
In addition, he also served as one of the first deacons. Met the needs of widows (Acts 6:3-6). Contended as an advocate in the public sphere for spiritual wisdom and truth (Acts 6:10).
Opponents rose up and forced him into the Counsel and falsely accused him of speaking against Moses and the Law (Acts 6:13). Stephen responded by sharing an overview of Israel’s history and challenging them to repent of killing Jesus and for murdering the prophets (Acts 7).
As his enemies gnashed their teeth and prepared to end his life, Stephen shared three statements that reveal his deep faith and steadfast character.
First, as he was filled with the Holy Spirit, “he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God” and he said,
“Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55-56).
Even in the midst of this awful assault, based upon deception and hatred, he ultimately encountered God’s glory, peace and grace. God to calm his soul.
At this, his enemies rushed him and dragged him out of the city, where they began to stone him violently.
Even so, he gave his second-last statement, “Lord Jesus, receive my Spirit” (Acts 7:59).
Stephen knew his time was coming to a rapid close and knew Jesus was ready to receive him. What a comfort to know that Jesus rises to wait for this martyr’s arrival.
Finally, at the very end, Stephen uttered his last words, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” (Acts 7:60).
Moreover, what’s on his heart while facing extreme aggression and bitterness?
Forgiveness, love, and grace, his heart is filled. He cares about the very ones attacking him, including a young man named Saul.
In a world that goes dark with overwhelming oppression, the eyes of Jesus pierce through to the believer’s soul and in the hearts of living martyrs, to reign high over unbelief and treachery.
Jesus’ love overcomes the fears of the subdued.