For N.T. Character Study 27, Stephen (21 minutes), click on the play button below:
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- The word stephanos (crown) appears first in Homer--it's a good Greek name going back 8 centuries before Stephen's time.
- There seems to be no relation to the Stephanas of 1 Corinthians 1:16, 16:15,17.
- Stephen was the first martyr for Christ (after Jesus). Every week, a number of men and women are martyred for their faith in Christ.
- Scripture: Acts 6:1-8:3
Character: Stephen the man of God
- Wisdom. Specifically, he was someone who understood those who felt misunderstood and underrepresented (fellow Greek [Hellenistic] believers).
- Service. As one of the 7 deacons, Stephen administered relief to the needy.
- Faith. This disciple believed to the point of death.
- Grace. Even in death, he was gracious towards his enemies.
- Power. Stephen was a conduit for God's power through his speaking, miracles, and strength of character.
Witness: Stephen as bold proclaimer of Christ
- Like all convinced Christ-followers, Stephen bore witness to his Lord.
- He had the "big picture":
- O.T. history (the history of God's often-stubborn people)
- An understanding of a Christianity larger than Judaism (universal salvation).
- Stephen, like those who evangelized the Gentiles during the great persecution (Acts 11:19), may have been ahead of his time.
- The Antioch church strategically planted churches (Acts 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 18), and the missionaries they sent took the word to Gentiles (non-Jews).
- On the island of Cyprus, Paul would later begin a more Gentile evangelistic strategy (Acts 13).
Death: Stephen dying a death worthy of his Lord
- Parallels to the death of Christ.
- Both challenged the ruling high priestly family of Caiaphas. Seeing Jesus as mediator implied that Caiaphas was not the legitimate mediator between God and man. No wonder he and his cronies were so angry!
- Trumped-up charges.
- Executed outside the city of Jerusalem.
- "Son of Man" saying (see Luke 22:69). This is a unique reference outside the gospels.
- Forgiveness of enemies (see Luke 23:43).
- Committing his spirit to God at death (Luke 23:46).
- Blasphemers were stoned under Jewish law. Read about the execution of the blasphemer (Leviticus 24:11,16). Even the apostle Paul would later be hauled outside the city of Lystra and stoned (Acts 14:19).
- Stephen's faith illustrates Revelation 12:11 beautifully.
- He was the first martyr of the Christian churc.
- The original meaning of martyr (martus) = witness.
- Many would fellow in his wake, especially by the time Christianity was illegal -- in the 2nd to early 4th centuries.
Conclusion & Application
- Stephen bore witness to Christ in 32 AD, yet by faith he continues to speak today.
- It is with good reason that people have been naming their children after Stephen ever since (Stephanie, Steve, Etienne, Stefan, Esteban...) Further, 26/27 December is celebrated as the Feast of Stephen in the Western Catholic / Eastern Orthodox churches.
- How do you think the apostle Paul felt once he realized that Jesus was Lord -- and that he had presided over the execution of an innocent man? Interestingly, Paul stayed in the home of Stephen's fellow evangelist Philip (Acts 21:8). What do you imagine they talked about?
- Let's walk in the steps of Stephen:
- We too should be able to tell the the old, old story.
- Like Stephen, we have the "big picture"--not just of biblical history, but of God's desire to see all peoples reached.
- Be prepared to take a stand. Let's keep our eyes on the Lord of glory.
- Read Alexander Strauch's excellent book on the biblical role of deacon. It is The New Testament Deacon.
- Sign up for weekly emails from Voice of the Martyrs.
- Learn something about martyrology. Not all martyrs were killed in the pre-Constantinian Roman Empire. For example. during a recent visit to Uganda, I learned about "Martyrs Day" (3 June) which honors 150 persons who chose to be burnt at the stake rather than renounce Christianity. This took place only a century ago!
- Pray for the persecuted and those being martyred in our world today!
- If you don't have a broad grasp of the story of the Old Testament, pray to be like Stephen, who was able to recite and interpret the scriptures with passion and accuracy -- and without notes.