The First Martyr

After the death of Jesus, His apostles continued to preach the gospel in the temple and in the homes of the people. They found that there was too much for them to do. So to help them take care of the money and the poor, they asked all those who had accepted the teachings of Jesus to choose seven wise men who were filled with the Holy Spirit.

These seven faithful men were called deacons, and the apostles laid their hands on the head of each and blessed him. They helped take care of the money and the poor.

The first man chosen was named Stephen. Many people who had not believed in the teachings of Jesus were touched by the faith and the power of Stephen, and throughout Jerusalem there was talk of his spirit and of his miracles.

This caused certain men of the synagogue to argue with Stephen, but they were not able to find fault with the wisdom and the spirit by which he spoke. Since they could find no way to stop him, these leaders persuaded wicked men to spread lies about Stephen. They claimed that he spoke against God and against Moses, and they insisted that he should be punished.

The rulers and the scribes heard these lies and seized Stephen and brought him before the council. Those who had lied also went to the council meeting and said, “This man ceaseth not to speak words against this holy place and the law, for we have heard him say that Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place and shall change the customs which Moses delivered to us.”

As those in the council meeting looked at Stephen, a great light shone about him and his face was as the face of an angel. But those who had lied about Stephen still accused him, so the high priest turned to Stephen and asked, “Are these things so?”

Even though Stephen knew his life was in danger, he stood and bravely answered all the questions that were asked of him. He told the people the stories of Abraham, Joseph, Moses, and other prophets of the Bible. And he reminded them of the disobedience and destruction of their forefathers. He also accused them of having killed Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and said that they would be punished.

The rulers were angry that this young man would dare to talk against what they had done, and they began to make threats against his life. But Stephen looked up steadfastly into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God. This gave him courage to face the charges for those things that he had been inspired to say.

The rulers were so upset that they held their hands over their ears so they wouldn’t have to listen to Stephen. In their fear and anger, they dragged him outside of the city and began to throw stones at him. This was the custom for punishing men at the time. To make it easier for them to throw stones, they took off their outer clothes and left them with a young man named Saul.

As the stones struck his body, Stephen knelt down, lifted his eyes to heaven, and prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And before he died, he called upon God and asked Him to forgive those who cast the stones and were sinning against Him.

Stephen was the first man to be killed for preaching the gospel after the crucifixion of Jesus.

When Stephen’s friends heard about his death, they took his bruised body and sadly buried it. And they mourned for this brave young man who had given his life for the truth. ( Acts 6 and Acts 7.)

[illustration] Illustration courtesy of Providence Lithograph Company