Dying for Christ

Frontline Devotion for May 21, 2018 (Season of 'Easter')

By: Pastor Fritz Foltz

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Acts 7: 54-8:3

When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 'Look,' he said, 'I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!' But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. 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. And Saul approved of their killing him. That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria. Devout men buried Stephen and made loud lamentation over him.

The first followers of Jesus realized that continuing Jesus' ministry might mean giving their lives for the Gospel. The establishment attacked them just as it attacked Jesus. Acts reports many in Jerusalem covered their ears, so they did not have to hear what Stephen, one of the first deacons, had to say. It describes them raising their voices against his teachings, rushing at him, seizing him, and dragging him outside of the city walls where they proceeded to stone him. If Jesus' execution was rigged with false witnesses and contrived charges in the dark of the night, Stephen's sounds even more like a lynching.

But the similarities do not stop there. Stephen's words literally repeat what Jesus said as he died. He also asks God to forgive his killers. The author of Acts obviously believed the Holy Spirit was given so Christians could continue Jesus' ministry and that included imitating what he said and did. Clearly that might mean standing for truth to the very end, no matter what it took.

In a time when lying constantly to get what you want is accepted practice, Christians have to take their hands off their ears and listen carefully to witnesses like Stephen. One of Act's most frequent descriptions of being filled with the Holy Spirit is to speak boldly the truth of the Gospel. None of us should be afraid to speak up for Christ.

Stephen reminds us that includes speaking up for the poor and needy. Remember he was a deacon, an officer who supervised the care of the widows and orphans. Again in our time badmouthing and neglecting the poor and needy has become common place. Stephen's witness remind us we are not only to speak but also to act for those in need.

The opposition thought they could stop this kind of Christian witness by killing some believers. To their frustration, this persecution had the opposite effect. The more they killed, the more the Church grew.

Realizing that this kind of complete unconditional commitment laid the foundation for the Church we enjoy today, we should all be inspired to offer a strong witness for the Gospel. One of my beloved Christian friends says that involves asking ourselves for what we are willing to die.

Let us pray: We give thanks for the martyrs, Father, for those who gave their lives that we might hear the Gospel. Grant us the Spirit that we too might offer our witness in our time. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.