Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Testimony of Stephen

Today is known by some as Boxing Day, but it is also called St Stephen's Day by some. It got me thinking about Stephen, the first Christian martyr, so I had a look at Acts 6-7.

You may or may not know that Stephen comes from the Greek for 'crown' or 'garland', and the testimony of Acts is that Stephen was indeed crowned with splendour. Just pause for a moment and consider these words describing him:

'Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit' (6:5) ... 'a man full of God's grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people' (6:8) ... 'they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke' (6:10) ... 'his face was like the face of an angel' (6:15) ... Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God (7:56).

What a testimony! Not only was he crowned, he was 'full' - of faith, of God's grace, of God's power, and of the Holy Spirit. When opposed in the Sanhedrin, he boldly preached Scripture and testified to the wisdom and glory of God.

Tertullian once said that the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the church. Had we been leaders of the church in Jerusalem at the time, would we have encouraged Stephen to holy boldness, or urged him to be restrained, not wanting to lose one of our best men? The testimony of Stephen against the Jews (Acts 7:2-53) is a compelling outline of the history of God's dealings with his people and their constant turning away. It led to fury among the Jews.

But more than that, the resulting persecution spread the gospel farther out from Jerusalem, sending 'all except the apostles ... throughout Judea and Samaria' (8:1).

God grant that we would share in the fullness of Christ, and that we would also know the holy boldness of Stephen, as we seek to share our faith and tell of the good news of Jesus.

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