I was seventeen and I went through a period of coldness, in my faith, for almost a year. I noticed it but did not know what to do about it. One day I was bored and I picked up my dad’s book, Martyr’s Mirror. It is a book telling the story of martyrs, people who died because of their faith. It started with the story in our reading today, and kept going throughout the deaths of all the apostles and then those who followed them. It did not take me long to fall on my knees and ask for forgiveness. These people knew the power of the Gospel and died for it. That was the man I wanted to be.
The story of the first martyr recorded is found in Acts 7:35–60.
It is another example of honour challenge and response with a lot of people trying to acquire honour and assign shame.
Challenge and response is a sort of social pattern, a social game, if you will, in which persons hassle each other according to socially-defined rules in order to gain the honor of another … because honor is a pivotal value (much like wealth in our society), nearly every interaction with nonfamily members has undertones of a challenge to honor. – Malina
I watch Stephen’s speech pattern change from storytelling to honour challenging the Sanhedrin. I am amazed at his courage for he surely could have blended in the background at some point but knew if he was going to have the opportunity to share the gospel, even though it guaranteed his death, he did. He wanted to make sure that the Gospel had nothing to do with the religious leaders.
As the rocks rained down, Stephen prayed, “Master Jesus, take my life.” Then he knelt down, praying loud enough for everyone to hear, “Master, don’t blame them for this sin”—his last words. Then he died. – Acts 7:59-60 MSG
The comparison is too much – Stephen has become my role model and many other Christians around the world when it comes to what serving, loving, forgiving and laying down ones life looks like. The religious leaders looked very religious compared to Stephen. They professed to be like prophets without realising they were exactly like those who killed the prophets. In fact, were they not the ones who killed their Messiah? There is a warning here for me too – stop pretending that I care about the law, love or the Gospel. Let me see my zeal for honour be one that does not honour me, but rather honours God and I do that by obeying Him.
While my persecutors have never threatened me with death, I can still see the eyes full of pride and anger as they are blinded to their own prejudice. They cannot or are incapable of seeing the evil of their own hateful disposition. Their fake zeal is a pretense, a cover, a sign of their own sickness.
Father, the word of the martyr’s testimony helps me overcome the evil one. May my testimony do the same for others who follow me.