Thursday 07 May 2020

Bible Book:

‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he died. (v. 60b)

Acts 7:54-60 Thursday 7 May 2020

Psalm: Psalm 34:11-22


Yesterday we celebrated Stephen as the key worker who surprised everyone (apart from God!) by his power, his grace and his eloquent theological argument that is so relevant to us as we face the COVID-19 pandemic challenges.

Today we see him as the first Christian martyr, who not only stayed faithful to the end, but in his death as in his life was able to follow the example of Christ, here asking for forgiveness for those who were killing him. The lesson I take from that is not that God is calling all Christians to die for our faith. Indeed, I see it as a tragedy when it happens and such a sadness for Jesus, who after all in John 10:10 (as we saw in Sunday's reading) said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” Instead, in Stephen, we see this beautiful, authentic discipleship, this modelling of the ways of Jesus and we see it maintained right to the end of his life (which was so tragically cut short). Martyrdom has two sides. The faithful discipleship by the one who dies. But also the failure to listen to the call of God, to the teaching of Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit by those who kill.

It seems to me, that here again we see Stephen being so relevant to the challenges we face today. In his world, turned upside down by the might of empire and the power of injustice, where God’s  response in Jesus is to right-side up things, we see Stephen’s constancy and his determination not to give up on the teaching, example and life of Jesus. That seems very relevant to our world turned upside down and needing rebuilding in a new way, a Christlike way, with justice, peace, compassion, equity, love, faith and hope.

Note how in this passage we also see what Paul later writes about at the end of Romans 8:28: “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose”, as we see Saul there from whom Paul will be born as God worked for good through the tragedy of the killing of Stephen.


To Ponder:

  • As you consider the two sides of martyrdom, how do you apply this to the deaths of health and social care workers, of transport drivers? Would you consider them martyrs, giving their lives for others, or are they the victims of empire and misuse of power? Why?
  • How do you see the call to faithful discipleship being worked out in the aftermath of COVID-19? In what ways will it be similar and how will it differ from what has come before?
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