The second day of Christmas – My true love gave to me a crown of martyrdom

The second day of Christmas – My true love gave to me a crown of martyrdom

Right off the bat, let me wish you all a Happy feast my dear parishioners here at St Stephen’s Church, Cumballa Hill and also to you, our well-wishers. Today, we step into the 75th year of this faith community being raised to the status of a parish.

We have been reflecting on the joy of Christmastide. Don’t let the commercial world dictate terms to you. They may take down their décor from their stores but you continue with the joy of Christmas. Their business has cease, our ministry never ends. To that effect we continue to embrace the message of the incarnation and continue to receive the gifts that Jesus gives us at Christmastime. Yesterday he gave us the gift of his light, today he gives us a shining example of Christian life in the martyrdom of St Stephen.

The English word martyr is derived from a Greek word which literally means “witness.” St Stephen is presented to us as the first witness who is soaked in blood. Ironically, the Christmas story is soaked in blood; Stephen is stoned and then the innocents are massacred.

The name Stephen is Greek and translates as ‘crown.’ It was to him that the crown of martyrdom was given. According to Acts 6, Stephen is a foreign-born Jew or a Hellenist who spoke Greek. The Hellenists were a minority in the Christian community and they complained that their elderly widows were been neglected. Stephen was one of the seven men chosen by the apostles to be a deacon or steward to help with this task of distribution of food so that the apostles might be able to carry on with their ministry of prayer.

St. Stephen, following on the heels of his Master, died for the sake of the Gospel. He died for the sake of being true to Christ. Stephen is correctly accused of following the Christ, but he is falsely accused of preaching that Jesus would destroy the Temple and taught against the law of Moses. His accusers twist the teachings of Christ for their own benefit.

St Stephen was full of the spirit. St Luke explicitly mentions this fact four times in the two chapters in which he appears in the Acts of the Apostles.

We might wonder how short the ministerial life of Stephen was. Even though he was filled with the Holy Spirit and had abundance of wisdom, he was still stoned to death by the angry mob of the city who were unwilling to soften their hearts and let his words reach their hearts. We might wonder at our own circumstances when we try to convince people of the truth of the gospel. We need to understand that logic, wisdom and even miracles are not enough to convert a sinner. Only God’s mighty power can do that, as He later proved with through the life and work of a bystander who consented to Stephen’s death; Saul later became St Paul.

Stephen died in imitation of the Lord. The account of the accusation against St. Stephen, his trial, and his death in Acts of the Apostles closely mirrors the death of Christ from the Gospel of St. Luke. In Luke’s Gospel Christ’s last words are, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Stephen’s last words are actually to pray for his persecutors, but just before that he says, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” He recognized Jesus as Lord and surrenders himself into the merciful hands of God.

Stephen called a spade a spade. Yet this man of God knew how to speak the truth with love. One minute he’s pointing his finger at the religious leaders and calling them heartless murderers (truth), and the next—as they’re stoning him—he prays for their forgiveness (grace). It’s not usual to find somebody switch gears like that. Our society has no category for someone speaking prophetic truth with tender grace. So when Christians embody both, the world scratches its head.

The Apostle Paul taught that God’s grace is sufficient for every type of suffering (2 Corinthians 12:19). The grace that Stephen needed came the moment he needed it, not before. The Holy Spirit promises to equip and empower us for every situation. We might not be brave by nature; however, the Holy Spirit promises to embolden us with the grace necessary to face all that God calls us to experience. It does no good to worry about how you will respond to suffering beforehand

Perhaps we might feel compelled to ask, If Stephen did everything right why did he end up dead? We don’t know always why God allows his people to suffer. But we do know that the sermons we preach in our pain are louder than the ones we preach in our prosperity. Stephen’s most effective contribution to the kingdom of God came through his martyrdom. Whether the godly die young by violent deaths, and the wicked live long and prosper, is God’s sovereign business. Our business is to be faithful to His Great Commission and leave the results to Him.

Tradition tells us that Christians buried St. Stephen but the location of his tomb was not specified. It was only in 415 AD that a priest named Lucian had a dream that revealed the site of St. Stephen’s remains. A name inside the tomb confirmed that the gravesite was indeed St. Stephen’s. The relics of the first martyr were then brought to the church of Hagia Sion on December 26, 415 which made the date his feast day.

If you have not read the first article in this series then just click on the link

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