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Stephen the First Christian Martyr

Stephen's first appearance in the Bible is in chapter 6 of the book of Acts. We see that he is an active member of the church. Due to the growth of the early church, the disciples began to experience problems in the distribution of food to the needy. After complaints began to surface that some of the widows were being overlooked, the apostles asked the church body to select seven men, who were known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom, to take the responsibility for this ministry. Stephen was one of the seven men chosen by all the disciples.

Stephen was also an effective preacher of the gospel and did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people. In response, this drew strenuous opposition from the members of the Synagogue. They argued with Stephen but couldn't stand up against his wisdom for he was led by the Spirit. When debates failed his antagonists resorted to spreading lies about his preaching.

Stephen was taken in front of the Sanhedrin where he was accused of speaking against the law of Moses and the temple. There he gave the longest speech recorded in the book of Acts, thoroughly defending himself and mapping out God's plan of salvation.

Beginning with Abraham, he spoke of God's involvement with the patriarchs and prophets, throughout history until the coming of Jesus. He explained that God does not reside in a man-made temple, nor is He limited to a particular place. God calls His people out, accompanying and directing them as they go. God resides with His people and the holy place is wherever God may be. Jesus came to replace the temple and fulfill the law. Stephen then accused the Jews of being stiff-necked people with uncircumcised hearts and ears. He said that they resisted the Holy Spirit, persecuted and killed the prophets and betrayed and murdered the Righteous one of whom the prophets spoke. They had received the law of Moses but did not obey it.

The Bible says that as he spoke, and the Sanhedrin looked intently at him, they saw that his face became like that of an angel. This may be the same radiance that appeared on Moses' face when he came down from Mount Sinai after meeting with God.

After Stephen's speech, the men of the Synagogue were furious and intent of stoning him to death. Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and said that he saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. His persecutors covered the ears, yelled louder, and began to stone him. They laid their clothes at the feet of a young Pharisee named Saul. (This was the Saul, also called Paul, who was to become a great evangelist for Christ.) As Stephen was being stoned, just before he died, he prayed two prayers. The first was, "Lord Jesus receive my spirit." and the second, "Lord do not hold their sin against them."

Stephen is known as the first Christian martyr.
    There are several similarities between Stephen's trial and death and that of Jesus.
  • He was accused by false witnesses.
  • He told the truth.
  • He prayed for God to receive his spirit and forgave his attackers.
    Stephen is described as a man "full of faith and of the Holy Spirit," and "a man full of God's grace and power."
  • By faith in Jesus' sacrifice, we are saved.
  • The Holy Spirit takes residence within us when we become part of God's family.
  • God's grace is the sweetest thing we can ever know.
  • God's power takes my breath away. It is both wonderful and frightening.

In Hebrew, the name Stephen means wealth or crown.

Read about Stephen in Acts 6:3-8:2, Acts 11:19, and Acts 22:20

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