Stephen, Christian Martyr
February 2nd 2008 07:30
Of course, after hearing complaints from him and from some of the Greek women for several days, the apostles decided to call for a meeting of disciples to try to come up with an answer to the discontent.
“Although we are Christians and although the Greek women are Christians, it is inevitable that problems arise,” suggested Matthew, a leader of the apostles. “We know that problems are elements of any life, even a Christian’s life. We must not pretend that these situations will simply go away. It’s our duty to decide how to handle the inequities that seem to persist.”
One of the disciples voiced an opinion. “Some of us are not well educated and did not really know Jesus when He was walking among us. Those who knew Him and are educated should spend as much time as possible studying God’s Word. They should not be waiting tables for the needy widows among our number.”
“But someone needs to take care of our widows,” another voice added. “These women love Jesus as much as any of the rest of the disciples. They simply have run into hard situations in their lives.”
John entered the conversation. “You know that I have been watching over Mary, the mother of Jesus since His death. She’s a Jew, not a Greek. However, even she spoke to me about seeing the Greek women being served after she was served, after nearly all of the Jewish women.”
He looked over toward Mary, who was sitting with some other Jewish women. She looked somewhat embarrassed that her name had come up during this meeting. She did not enter the conversation, however. She humbly listened as her foster son spoke.
“Mary talked to me lately, saying that the scholarly among our group should be studying and evangelizing. She even offered to help with the ministry to the widows if our leaders would want her assistance,” John continued.
“I doubt that this would be a good idea,” Peter spoke up. As always, he spoke quickly without giving much thought to his words before speaking them. “She needs to keep a low profile, especially since a few people seem to think that she has some special powers among mankind.” A murmuring in the crowd suggested that Peter had again voiced words which caused debate. Peter obviously began to notice that his message should have been thought through before being delivered.
A well-educated man, whom many in the crowd recognized as a newer Christian, lifted a hand, a signal that he would like to be heard.
One of the apostles recognized him with a salutatory smile, “Sir Theophilus, you had something to suggest to us?”
“Let me make a recommendation, please,” said Theophilus cordially. “As I listen to the debate, it seems to me that we have many new converts lately, even some who were converted to the Jesus Christ movement after my own conversion.” Looking at the crowd of Christian believers around him, he nodded to a few whom he recognized and smiled warmly.
“Not that I am overly proud of the fact, I am a student of people.” Theophilus said. “We have some very highly qualified men here, as well as talented and devoted women. Some of these men are clearly filled with God’s Holy Spirit and live exemplary lives. Many of them were of good report even before they confessed their dedication to the teachings of Jesus, and their good reputations have continued after their conversion. Some of them have some free time to give to the service of our Savior. Some of them have natural talents that we would be amiss to not use.”
Another murmuring was heard in the crowd, but it seemed more positive than that which followed Peter’s words a few minutes earlier. Clearly, Theophilus was greatly respected among this group.
He went on to explain his recommendation. “May I suggest that we consider appointing perhaps seven of these good men to a new post? Perhaps we could call them deacons or some such title. Their duties would be to care for the needy folk among our number.”
Some applause followed, indicating that some of those in attendance were in accord with this wise man’s ideas. A glance at the table where the apostles were huddled, Theophilus sensed that most of them were considering this idea to be worthwhile.
“One last word on the subject,” said Theophilus. “If you like this suggestion and feel it is worth trying, I would like to suggest two names that I would consider good choices for the job of deacon. I have great confidence in and respect for two particular men, Philip and Stephen. Thank you for allowing me to say what is on my mind, Friends.”
The apostles discussed this idea privately at their table and finally announced that the latest suggestion appeared to be from God although spoken by one of God’s newer disciples. They appointed seven men, including Philip and Stephen to be the first deacons of the fledgling church.
In the next weeks, the seven deacons managed to diminish any feelings of favoritism toward Jewish widows. They helped the ladies’ groups to begin mingling with each other, Greeks with Jews, Jews with Greeks, and with newer groups of women from other cultures as well.
Philip and Stephen, along with the other five deacons, gave more than required by their new appointments. They were concerned with the spiritual condition of men and women whom they met. They witnessed to God’s power and His love for mankind. Many new conversions resulted from their deep concern for the souls of men whom they met.
Stephen, in particular, was gifted as a speaker and a great man when it came to debate. His logic confounded many of his critics’ arguments. Some of the critics decided to eliminate him. Men were hired to declare that Stephen was inciting blasphemy against the Jewish teachings of long standing. Since the teachings of Moses were highly revered, suggestions of blasphemy against Moses were their most vicious and most successful tactics against this new deacon of the Christian movement.
Stephen was eventually brought before the elders and scribes of the Jewish synagogue for the purpose of answering to the accusations about Jesus’ teachings about changing the customs of Moses. Whether he was fearful or nervous is not clear, but Stephen’s countenance showed that God was pleased with his service. His face took on a new glow. Some said that he seemed to resemble an angel or other messenger of God.
After a rather long discourse about the history of the Jewish people and what God intended to accomplish through the Jews, Stephen accused those who were now trying to hurt him and the Christian movement of being just as their ancestors were, ungodly and stubborn. This was not the usual demeanor for Stephen. Normally, he would have been patiently teaching and trying to lead people to Christianity. This time, he seemed to realize that he was not going to escape the wrath of his accusers. Thus, he had to bluntly tell them the truth.
After his long speech, many of the Jewish leaders piled their outer clothing at the feet of another of their radical cohorts, a younger man named Saul of Tarsus. Why Saul did not contribute to the throwing of stones is not clear. As a Roman Jew, Saul had few fears of getting into trouble with either the Romans or the Jewish synagogue leaders. It was quite clear from the look on his face that Saul was very much in sympathy with the extreme measures being taken against Stephen.
As some of the radical Jews bit him and hit him and began throwing stones at him, Stephen spoke of the One he loved so much, saying “Look, I see Heaven opened and the Son of Man standing at God’s right hand.”
The antagonists tried to not hear what Stephen was saying by yelling loudly and putting their hands over their ears. Still, many of them heard. Even Saul of Tarsus, who was eagerly anticipating a victory by his cohorts, heard Stephen’s testimony.
As Stephen was forced off his feet, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Though feeling the pain of being stoned to death, his face glowed with the realization that he was going to be with his beloved Jesus quite soon.
As he tried to get to his knees, he spoke as loudly as he could. What he said is reminiscent of what Jesus said while dying. Stephen’s last words as a mortal man were, “Lord, lay not this sing to their charge.” His love for Jesus mirrored the love that Jesus has for all humans. While dying at the hands of enemies, he asked that their offense be forgiven and never be held against them.
The love that Stephen had for his Savior was stronger than the love he had for his own body.
As a great missionary said nearly two thousand years after the death of Stephen, “No man is a fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
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