Jul. 2. Stephen, First Christian Martyr

Acts 6:8-7:60

Stephen, one of the seven began to preach and do many wonders and signs among the people. Some of those who had heard him vigorously opposed his teaching and started plotting to destroy him.

Blasphemy, under the Law of Moses was an offence punishable by death. These Jews accused Stephen of blasphemy and after having him arrested, they set up false witnesses to testify to the Sanhedrin in court that they had heard him speak blasphemous words about Moses, God and the law.

After hearing these charges, the high priest asked Stephen if these things were so. In presenting his defense, he told the story of Christ, the Son of God, beginning at the calling of Abraham.

Stephen proceeded to detail the history of the Jewish people. He started with their father, Abraham who was promised a great nation and was promised that all nations of the earth would be blessed in him.

God renewed this promise to Abraham’s son, Isaac and to Isaac’s son, Jacob.

Stephen recounted the events that led to the four hundred year slavery of the Israelites in Egypt and how Moses was called to lead them to freedom. It was after this release from Egypt that God instituted a law, which became known as the Law of Moses.

Even though the Israelites had seen the miracles God had performed through Moses, they were a complaining group of people. At times, they had refused the leadership of Moses and turned their backs on God and worshipped idols.

Stephen reminded the people that this was the same Moses who had prophesied that, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear.”

The temple had been the house of God, but Stephen pointed out that now God does not dwell in temples made with hands.

Stephen charged the Jews with the same behavior that their fathers had committed, but in addition, they had murdered the Just One.

The Sanhedrin was so outraged by the things that Stephen had said that they lost control of themselves. They cast him out of the city and contrary to Roman law, stoned him to death. Under the Roman law, Jews were not permitted to execute capital punishment.

Stephen had a forgiving heart. As he was dying, he prayed, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.”

One of the people present was a young man named Saul. He looked after the clothes of the ones who killed Stephen.