Devotional Thought of the Day:
54 The Jewish leaders were infuriated by Stephen’s accusation, and they shook their fists at him in rage. 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 56 And he told them, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand!” 57 Then they put their hands over their ears and began shouting. They rushed at him 58 and dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. His accusers took off their coats and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 As they stoned him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 He fell to his knees, shouting, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!” And with that, he died. Acts 7:54-60 (NLT)
11 And they have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb and by their testimony. And they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die. Revelation 12:11 (NLT)
1 Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 2 Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. 3 For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory. Colossians 3:1-4 (NLT)
This post is based on one of the Bible Study discussions among my people at church. We’ve been going through the book of Acts of the Apostles, and came to the martyrdom of Stephen.
It brought out a discussion of the fears we have because of the terrorism in Lebanon, the Sudan and Paris, the incredibly painful trauma people experience. A trauma that is spreading through anxiety and fear, which is being maniuplated by those who would have us stop out from reaching in love, because of that fear.
As we discussed these things, someone mentioned the incredible level of faith that someone who willing embraced martyrdom must have. The faith that would testify of God’s love, that would know the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians, even as the boulders were thrown down upon him, or as the blade slice through the air.
Such heroism seems beyond us, such an ability to set aside one’s automatic nature to preserve one’s self. Yet the angel in the passage from the Revelation states that the people there have defeated the accuser by the blood of the Lamb, the witness (in greek – the word we get martyr from!) and by the fact that they didn’t love life so uch they were afrasid to die.
That describes you, if your faith is in Christ. It describes me as well, and every other person who puts their hope in Christ Jesus. The more we comprehend, not just now, but understand at the gut level, the love of Christ, the guaranty of His promise that we will share in His glory eternally, the more we don’t need to cling to life, the more we don’t need to defend ourselves against persecution. The more we can embrance suffering like Jesus did. The more we trust, the more we look to the promise, the more we understand God’s love, the more we can accept martyrdom.
I want you to compare what Stephen goes through in the first reading to what Paul urges believers to do.
Stephen looked into heaven, and saw the glory of God.
Paul tells us to set our sights on the reality of heaven.
Stephen sees Jesus at the right hand of the Father, in the place of honor.
We are to see the same thing – the same Jesus, the same right hand, the same place of honor.
Stephen is killed. Physically.
We are to realize that we have died to this life. Yes spiritually, (as had Stephen) but also in our need to cling to it, for we realize we aren’t just here, we are hidden in Christ in God, waiting to be revealed with Jesus in our fullness.
That’s where the strength comes from to allow a witness to Christ result in our martyrdom, whether that martyrdom is physical, or whether it is setting aside our dream life, our desires, our need to preserve our identity, in order to bear witness to the love of Christ. This is exactly what Paul is talking about in Philippians 2:1-10. urging us on to unity in Christ. It is what Paul talks of when he urges ust o imitate him as He imitates Christ.
Ultimately, Martyrdom is never about the death, it is never about the sacrifice, it is about knowing the love of Jesus, about trusting in His promises, that is the martyrdom, the very witness we bear. Is this heroic then? It would be, except that the strength doesn’t come from us, it coems from the Holy Spirit. It is the very thing we are urged as believers to do. To bear witness with our very lives, to give the reason we have hope. To set aside our fears, to set aside our need for self preservation, to set aside all, to love God, and to love man.
It is who we are, because of what Jesus does for us in baptism…..what He does to us.
This is what it means to know the Lord is with you, that He answered your plea for emrcy.
It is abiding, secure in Christ’s peace. It is, His gift, His grace.
Devotional and Discussion Thought of the day:
A post on Facebook this morning brought memories of our trip (dare I say our pilgrimage) to Rome last year.
We were walking down a street – just trying to get a feeling for the city. An amazing city, and dare I say it had a sense of both home and holiness. It is hard to explain – but it was there, not just in the churches, but among the very streets. We came across this building from the back, obviously a place that was old and needing more restoration. As we rounded the front – it was the Pantheon – the incredible temple built for sacrifices to be offered to the pantheon of Roman Gods – its oculus – the hole in the center of the dome – even on an overcast day lit this ancient magnificent structure incredibly. The huge iron doors, amazing.
Yet what astounded me the most, this incredible building, built to worship false gods, built as a place to appease them, was transformed, sanctified, set apart centuries later to be a place of like transformation, a place to celebrate the Light pouring into lives.
What I never read of, what I never realized – is that this building is now a church – an active place where people are baptized, and transformed by the Love of God. A place where the Body and Blood of Christ is the only sacrifice that matters, the only one that could be used to redeem and revive and restore.
A place that was redeemed, that was set apart (sanctified) to be a place where redemption and sanctification of man occurs, because of the love of the One, True God, who does that which we cannot. He buys us back, He redeems us, He cleanses us, He sets us apart….for Him.
As I walked into the Pantheon, as I saw the altars, the paintings, the incredible dome, the oculus, a sense of awe overtook me – much different than the awe at the forum, or at Triumphant Arches, or looking at the wall, or even as we walked through the ruins of Pompeii. It wasn’t just a historical reminder of our past, of the culture we’ve lost.
It’s a place where faith is strengthened, where life in Christ begins, where redemption is seen and known.
A place where God has come.
A place where I have hope – for if God can transform such a place – I realize that I too can be transformed – and that I too can be a place where God dwells, where He abides, where with other believers, we form a temple not made with hands… and our sacrifice is not to die, but to live. Where as this building gains the identity of being a place of God, such is my vocation and life. Yours as well.
Such is the wonder of walking with Christ.
He makes all things – whether ancient temples dedicated to man’s glory, or men themselves…new.
May our lives praise Him, and may people glorify Him more as they see His work in and through us. AMEN