Acts 7:59-60, “59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.”
The death of Stephen, the church’s first martyr, is inspiring because his life of courage challenges every disciple to give his or her all for Jesus. His story can be found in Acts 6:8-7:60 and it’s pivotal to understanding the environment in which Christianity was established. Stephen was one of the first deacons to be chosen to serve the apostles in the work of feeding the needing. The standard of being a deacon (which in the Greek means, “servant or waiter”) was to be “full of the Spirit and wisdom” (Acts 6:3).
Before being appointed as a deacon not much of Stephen’s life is not known, but it can be safely assumed that for him to have been chosen at such an early stage of the church he probably was also part of the hundred and twenty in the upper room that received the initial outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:1-4. As a result, to have been one of the original hundred and twenty he also most likely had either personally followed Jesus or was close to those who did. In other words, Luke recorded in his gospel that Jesus had at times, seventy-two disciples following Him that He could send out two-by-two to preach like in Luke 10:1. Therefore, it’s possible that Jesus might have personally trained Stephen as a preacher.
We may not know for sure how Stephen was trained; but we do know without a doubt that he was highly regarded by the disciples and was a gifted preacher. His street preaching was powerful, full of miracles and was irrefutable to Jewish opposition. Luke recorded in Acts 6:8-10, “8 Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. 9 Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen… 10 But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke.”
Stephen chose to live a courageous life instead of a long life.
There are three lessons we can learn from Stephen’s short, but inspiring life; first, be a servant in the church who is full of wisdom and the Holy Spirit. God will always anoint those disciples who serve His people. Second, be bold in preaching the gospel of Jesus even if it offends. Stephen boldly chose to be loved by God and hated by man (Acts 7:54). Third, be forgiving towards those who persecute you. Stephen prayed like Jesus and asked for the forgiveness of all his enemies right before they stoned him. He said in Acts 7:60, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Saul of Tarsus, one of the witnesses, eventually became Paul the great leader of the church.
May we all have the faith and courage of Stephen to never stop speaking God’s Word even if it costs us our friends, jobs or even our very lives. Because of courageous disciples like Stephen, the Christian faith grew mightily in ancient times and is still growing in persecuted countries around the world. Tertullian said, “The blood of the martyrs, is the seed of the gospel!”
Are you willing to give your life for Jesus and the gospel?
- Ask God to remove any fear of persecution.
- Study the Word of God and prepare yourself to be a witness for Jesus wherever you go (2 Timothy 2:15).
- By faith, preach boldly in the face of persecution!
One Year Reading Plan
Ezekiel 47:1-48:35, 1 Peter 2:11-3:7, Psalm 119:49-64, & Proverbs 28:12-13. Click here to read online.