26 December 2011

Acts 7:51-60 (Stephen, Martyr)

"While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.' Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, 'Lord, do not hold this sin against them.' When he had said this, he died." (vv. 59-60)


Today is the feast of St Stephen. Stephen is known as the first martyr for Christ - the first person to lose his life through being faithful to Jesus. He was a man 'full of grace and power' who did 'great wonders and signs among the people' (Acts 6:8). He was accused of blasphemy and brought before the authorities to explain himself.

A rather lengthy speech follows, summarising the history of Israel and culminating in a clear denunciation of those in his audience. Enraged, the members of the council seized him, dragged him out of the city and stoned him to death. Displaying extraordinary grace and courage, reminiscent in some ways of Christ himself, Stephen makes the ultimate sacrifice for his faith.

Following Jesus is unlikely to require of us quite such heroic behaviour, though certainly there are those in parts of the world today who are being persecuted and even killed for their beliefs. Maybe for us the pertinent question is when and how we should speak unpalatable truths. The Church and individuals within it have a calling to be 'prophetic', to 'speak truth to power' and that can be in the most mundane of contexts or on issues of national and global significance.

The calling is also to 'speaking the truth in love' so the grace and wisdom of Stephen, as well as his courage, are also required. The qualities of the messenger as well as the message will be noted, as is suggested by the fact that Stephen's death was witnessed and approved by Saul, who subsequently became Paul, the great Christian missionary.

To Ponder

Where in the world are people being persecuted for their faith? What situation could you identify and become familiar with, and about which you could pray?

What issues of national or global significance do you think the Church should be speaking out about? What issue could you be better informed so as to be able to contribute to the debate?

How are you at 'speaking the truth in love' in those local, mundane or even domestic contexts?

Bible notes author

The Revd Graham Jones

Graham Jones is a Methodist presbyter serving as a member of the Discipleship and Ministries Learning Network in the Yorkshire Plus region of the Methodist Church, with particular responsibility for ministry development. Graham is committed to developing ministry in its broadest sense, enabling both lay and ordained to live out their vocations, and to share in God's mission in the most fulfilling and effective ways.