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.