When discussing the early days of Christianity, one figure that often comes up is the first martyr among Jesus’ disciples. This individual was none other than Stephen, a man who rose to prominence in the early church but ultimately met a tragic end.
Who Was Stephen?
Stephen is first introduced in the book of Acts, which chronicles the spread of Christianity after Jesus’ death and resurrection. According to Acts 6:5, he was one of seven men chosen by the apostles to serve as “deacons” – individuals who would oversee practical matters like distributing food and caring for the needy.
Despite his humble role, Stephen quickly gained a reputation as a powerful preacher and evangelist. Acts 6 tells us that he performed “great wonders and signs” among the people, and that his words were so persuasive that some of his opponents began to plot against him.
The Stoning of Stephen
These opponents eventually got their wish when they accused Stephen of blasphemy – specifically, speaking against Moses and God (Acts 6:11). In a trial before Jewish authorities, Stephen defended himself by recounting the history of Israel and showing how God had been with them throughout it all.
However, this defense only angered his accusers further. Acts 7:54 tells us that they were “cut to the heart” by Stephen’s words and began to stone him.
Despite being in incredible pain, Stephen did not waver in his faith. In fact, his dying words were a prayer asking God to forgive those who were killing him.
The Significance of Stephen’s Death
Stephen’s death marked an important turning point in early Christian history. Not only was he the first disciple to be martyred for his faith, but his death also triggered a wave of persecution against believers throughout Jerusalem (Acts 8:1-3).
At the same time, however, Stephen’s death also served as a powerful example of faith and forgiveness. By asking God to forgive his killers even as he was dying, Stephen demonstrated the kind of love and grace that Jesus had taught his disciples.
In conclusion, Stephen was an important figure in early Christian history. While he may not be as well-known as some of Jesus’ other disciples, his faithfulness and courage in the face of persecution continue to inspire believers today. As we seek to follow in his footsteps, may we also remember the words that Jesus spoke in Matthew 5:10: “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”