Friday, December 4, 2009

Stephen, the First Martyr

The two groups of Christian-Jews were experiencing some difficulties in their communal living arrangements. The Hebrews, those born in Israel, were taking better care of the Hebraic widows, while the Hellenistic (Greek-foriegn born) widows were being "neglected in the daily distribution of food."

The Apostles realized that something had to be done, but they had too much on their plate already. So they ordained seven others to see that the apportionments would be equal for all. One of the men they chose was Stephen, "a man filled with the Holy Spirit," who was "full of grace and power, did wonders and great signs among the people."

Stephen was on fire for the Lord and preached to all who would listen. He spoke of the good news that Christ was the Savior to such an extent that one Jewish group was offended by his words and accused him of blasphemy against God and Moses. They had Stephen arrested and brought to the ruling Sanhedron to have him judged. They had many "false witnesses" who swore that Stephen spoke against the "holy place and the law; for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazereth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses handed on to us."

The book of Acts then says that as they looked upon him, his face was "like the face of an angel." What does this mean? Perhaps it means he was quiet and serene. Some think the Holy Spirit was with him, and it was obvious for all who looked upon him that day.

Then they asked him to reply to these charges. Stephen took the opportunity to preach! He boldly spoke of the history of Israel and of how time and again they turned their backs on God and his prophets. His harangue started with Abraham then went to Joseph, to Moses, to Jacob, then he attacks the idea that God lives in a temple, "Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made with human hand." He's really rolling in his attack on them now and ends with, "You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in the heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers. You are the ones that recieved the law as ordained by the angels, and yet you have not kept it."

Okay. This made them furious! He had just told the most "religious" men of Israel that they did not hear, nor head the Holy Spirit, that they persecuted the prophets, and had murdered Christ! I wonder if the "Angelic face" made them realize that he spoke for the Lord, as they lost all control and took him out to kill him. They "dragged him out and began to stone him" to death. God was with Stephen through this. He was "filled with the Holy Spirit," and "gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jsus standing at the right hand of God!" As they were killing him, Stephen prayed for them, "Lord Jesus, recieve my spirit." He knelt down and cried, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them."

You can imagine the anger and venom with which each stone was hurtled at Stephen's head. One of the men there that day with the Council was Saul. He held the coats of those that killed Stephen and he "approved of their killing him." Saul hated the Christians and led much of the persecution against them that began following Stephen's martyrdom.

The Book of Acts states that the Church of Jerusalem was scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria. Saul led many righteous Jews and Romans against the Christians and was "ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women," and placing them into prison.

Where did the Christians go and what did they do? They went forth and spread the Good News "from place to place." Samaria became the next place where the Good News would take hold and many were converted to Christianity, thanks to the work of Philip and the testamonies of Peter and John.

This would only be the first of many times of persecution, but the Church would grow with each organized attack on it.

Remember, the early Christians "boldly" spoke the Good News.

Go Boldly into the World and proclaim the Good News, "Jesus died, Jesus is Risen, Jesus will come again."

No comments:

Post a Comment

All comments will be approved by me, due to spammanaters, but even if you disagree with me, I'll post your comment.

Thanks and God Bless