Today’s Reading: Acts 7:51-8:13 (additional reading: Psalm 129:1-8 & Proverbs 17:1)
Chapters 6 and 7 of the Book of Acts tell the story of Stephen. Stephen has the distinction of being the first Christian martyr—the first follower of Jesus to be killed for his faith.
This is a story of a good death. Not because Stephen was a martyr—the cause of death isn’t the issue. This is the story of a good death. Not because Stephen was a martyr, but because Stephen was prepared.
We don’t know a lot of detail about Stephen’s life. We know that he was a Helenistic Jew—that is, he spoke Greek better than he spoke Aramaic; he was comfortable in the predominant culture of the Romans and Greeks; and he was nevertheless Jewish (like all the earliest Christians). We know that he was one of the seven men chosen to assist the twelve with leadership responsibilities, specifically the daily distribution of food to the widows in the growing Christian community in Jerusalem. We know he had a powerful ministry in Jerusalem, and that he did “great signs and miraculous wonders among the people.”
We don’t know exactly when Stephen became a Christian. Since Jesus’ ministry was mostly in the countryside of Judea among Aramaic-speaking Jews, Stephen probably came to faith in the risen Jesus sometime after Pentecost. He might have been one of the 3000 who were baptised on the day of Pentecost. In any case, Stephen wasn’t a follower of Jesus for very long, at least not on this earth.
In Acts 6:5, Stephen is described as “full of faith and the Holy Spirit.” In verse 8, this is emphasized again: “Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power…” Every indication is that Stephen’s life, as a follower of Jesus, though not long, was very full.
As a follower of Jesus, Stephen faced death without fear. Not without conflict. Not without persecution. Not without suffering. Not without grief. Not without trouble. Not without pain. Not without a lot of things that most of us would just as soon do without. But without fear.