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Stephen

A Martyr for God

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As anyone who has been around a small child can attest, the example of others can be a powerful teaching tool for a young person. Whether the example is positive or negative, children, like dry sponges dropped in water, readily soak in the habits and attitudes of those around them. God knows the vital role examples can play in teaching His children today. Various accounts in the Bible show how God preserved the lives of many people. While some of the stories portray the events of wicked individuals, many characters highlighted in the Bible were devout, obedient followers of God. Their stories have been maintained to provide Christians with examples to study. One of the most vivid and important examples God included is that of the deacon Stephen—the first martyr for God mentioned by name in the book of Acts. Stephen, counted among those who were “of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom,” possessed certain qualities that God Himself desires to see in all His children (Acts 6:3 Acts 6:3Why, brothers, look you out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.
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). A Student of the Word One of the most important aspects of Stephen’s character was the fact that he knew God’s Word. At his trial Stephen, from memory, traced the history of God’s chosen people from the time of Abraham down through the age of Solomon. In fact, several times Stephen was able to quote directly from the Old Testament (Acts 7:32 Acts 7:32Saying, I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Then Moses trembled, and dared not behold.
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, 40, etc.). This close familiarity with God’s instructions is an expectation for all Christians. Christians should follow Paul’s urging to Timothy, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15 2 Timothy 2:15Study to show yourself approved to God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
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). Today, we have the added benefit of the New Testament that shows us the example of Jesus and His disciples living the new teachings Jesus gave. Stephen’s example should stir us to delve into the Bible. Not only was Stephen well-versed in Scripture, but he had also learned to heed the examples and guidance found in the Sacred Text. The Pharisees and Sadducees who surrounded Stephen had continually quoted from the Old Testament trying to confuse or trap Christ and the early apostles. They, too, studied the Old Testament as well as their own traditions; however, they were blinded and their pride and hypocrisy kept them from being corrected and instructed by the Word of God (Matthew 23:2-7 Matthew 23:2-7 2 Saying The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: 3 All therefore whatever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not you after their works: for they say, and do not. 4 For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. 5 But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, 6 And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, 7 And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi.
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, 13; Romans 11:8 Romans 11:8(According as it is written, God has given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear;) to this day.
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). The apostle Paul would later point out, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 2 Timothy 3:16-17 16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 17 That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished to all good works.
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). Stephen had learned this critical lesson. Our Father corrects and instructs His children (Hebrews 12:5-7 Hebrews 12:5-7 5 And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to children, My son, despise not you the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when you are rebuked of him: 6 For whom the Lord loves he chastens, and whips every son whom he receives. 7 If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chastens not?
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). God often uses the examples He provides in His Word to help Christians learn important lessons. It is often the examples found in Scripture that serve as the greatest teaching tools (1 Corinthians 10:1-6 1 Corinthians 10:1-6 1 Moreover, brothers, I would not that you should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; 2 And were all baptized to Moses in the cloud and in the sea; 3 And did all eat the same spiritual meat; 4 And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ. 5 But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness. 6 Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted.
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). Stephen, as a servant of God, had learned this valuable lesson. In his defense, he recounted the many times God had intervened to help Israel, and yet, the children of Israel repeatedly turned from God. Stephen sternly rebuked the leaders, “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers, who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it” (Acts 7:51-53 Acts 7:51-53 51 You stiff necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, you do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do you. 52 Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which showed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom you have been now the betrayers and murderers: 53 Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it.
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). They refused to learn and be corrected by God’s Word. On the contrary, Stephen set a powerful example of willingly submitting to God’s direction. Learning from those who had deserted God in the past, Stephen never turned from his devotion to God and His truth. When tested, Stephen, led by the Spirit, readily responded with wisdom, leaving those arguing with him with only false accusations (Acts 6:10-14 Acts 6:10-14 10 And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spoke. 11 Then they suborned men, which said, We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses, and against God. 12 And they stirred up the people, and the elders, and the scribes, and came on him, and caught him, and brought him to the council, 13 And set up false witnesses, which said, This man ceases not to speak blasphemous words against this holy place, and the law: 14 For we have heard him say, that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered us.
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). A Man of Faith In addition to his love of God’s Word, Stephen was also a man of great faith. He was described as “a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5 Acts 6:5And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch:
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). So great was his faith, it is revealed that Stephen, “full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people” (verse 8). The brief passages about Stephen’s life reveal a man of tremendous, courageous faith. As the fledgling Church was growing rapidly and the apostles’ preaching grew ever bolder, Stephen was falsely accused of blaspheming God. He was brought before the Sanhedrin to answer these charges. It could easily have been both humiliating and frightening. Undoubtedly, this turn of events stretched and tested Stephen’s faith. He knew well what happened to Christ—the beatings and horrible death that awaited those drawing the ire of the mob. Those thoughts could easily have been on his mind. Yet Stephen’s faith was unwavering. Recognizing his own mortality, the faithful deacon recounted how Abraham had died without having received the promised inheritance, knowing that God would resurrect him later (Acts 7:5 Acts 7:5And he gave him none inheritance in it, no, not so much as to set his foot on: yet he promised that he would give it to him for a possession, and to his seed after him, when as yet he had no child.
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). Stephen’s faith in God’s promises of redemption, resurrection and eternal life never wavered despite the severity of his trial. As a student of the Bible, Stephen knew how Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego had answered King Nebuchadnezzar when asked to compromise with God’s law (Daniel 3:16-18 Daniel 3:16-18 16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer you in this matter. 17 If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18 But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods, nor worship the golden image which you have set up.
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). Stephen knew God could protect him. He never questioned God’s power; instead, he lived by faith. Stephen’s example of faith should rouse all Christians to draw near to God through faith. Our Creator desires that His people live by faith as Stephen did. Stephen’s power did not rest in himself. Rather, by living in complete faith Stephen was able to access God’s power through the Holy Spirit. As Christ taught, it is through believing prayer—by faith—that all things may be accomplished (Matthew 21:22 Matthew 21:22And all things, whatever you shall ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive.
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). Stephen learned and applied this wonderful truth in his life, leaving a tangible example for all peoples. A Servant at Heart Perhaps the most important aspect of Stephen’s character was his willingness to submit to God and serve His people. Stephen understood the fundamental principle of a service. Following Christ’s instruction to have a servant’s heart, Stephen developed an intense willingness to be humble and to serve his brethren (Matthew 20:27-28 Matthew 20:27-28 27 And whoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: 28 Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered to, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.
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). As the Church grew, there arose a need for men and women to fulfill the physical needs of the work (Acts 6:1-2 Acts 6:1-2 1 And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. 2 Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples to them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables.
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). Stephen was among the seven original deacons chosen to serve in this capacity. He did not react by saying, “Me, wait on tables? You’ve got to be joking.” Instead, Stephen joyfully served the brethren. He expressed a willingness to attend to the widows’ daily needs. These were not glamorous duties in the eyes of men. However, God saw in Stephen the serving, obedient attitude He desires to see in all His children. Stephen fulfilled all the requirements of a deacon (1 Timothy 3:8-12 1 Timothy 3:8-12 8 Likewise must the deacons be grave, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; 9 Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. 10 And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless. 11 Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things. 12 Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.
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). As a result of his faithful obedience and service to the Church, Stephen will undoubtedly receive a great reward in the Kingdom. “For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a good standing and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus” (verse 13). This example of a faithful saint willing to serve God and the Church provides a benchmark for Christians today. A Martyr for God The conclusion of Stephen’s story recapitulates these three vital characteristics. “Then they”—Stephen’s accusers and would-be murderers—”cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; and they cast him out of the city…And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not charge them with this sin.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep” (Acts 7:57-60 Acts 7:57-60 57 Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran on him with one accord, 58 And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul. 59 And they stoned Stephen, calling on God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. 60 And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
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). Even as death approached, Stephen recalled the familiar promises listed in God’s Word. Having complete faith in God, Stephen willingly submitted to God’s will and died. Even in death, he served the brethren by providing a riveting example of how to learn from God’s Word, live by faith and serve the Creator. UN

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