Day 10

Stephen Martyred

from the reading plan

Acts 7:1-60, Genesis 15:13-14, Deuteronomy 18:15

All little boys want to be heroes, right? I know I did. The superhuman achievements I imagined as a child came in many forms: I made the championship-winning basket at the buzzer; I saved a beautiful girl from the clutches of dangerous bad guys; I hit a grand slam in the bottom of the ninth; I was the king of the forest in the forts I built in the woods behind my neighborhood. No matter the scenario I envisioned, I was the guy who defied the odds, did the unimaginable, or who exerted incomparable strength as I ruled the landscape of my imagination.

Something I never envisioned, however, was choosing to die for what I believed. In all the fantasies of my boyhood, I lived to enjoy the praise of an adoring crowd; I pretended to bask in the glow of my own awesomeness. If I had known the story of Stephen’s martyrdom, I’m confident I wouldn’t have recognized anything heroic about it. A hero, I believed, survived well into the happily ever after. 

When we encounter Stephen in the book of Acts, he is busy performing great deeds and speaking with wisdom imparted to him by God’s Spirit. This draws the ire of the religious leaders, and Stephen is put on trial for blasphemy. When asked to answer these charges, he could have avoided further enraging his accusers by recanting on all his talk about Jesus; he could have kept his convictions to himself; he could have saved himself and lived. Instead, Stephen takes us on a greatest hits tour of Israelite history, from Abraham to Solomon, arguing that God’s own people have time and time again rejected the prophets He has sent. Their tendency of “resisting the Holy Spirit” (Acts 7:51) is never more evident than when they betrayed and murdered the One sent by God: Jesus. 

Naturally, the crowd is incensed, and Stephen may yet have spared himself the worst by simply keeping his lips sealed. But God sent him a vision, and Stephen could not resist sharing the beauty of what he saw: “He said, ‘Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’” (vv.55–56).

In my life of relative comfort and prosperity, I may never have to choose between Jesus and death; my life may never be on the line as a result of my faith in Christ. But my understanding of real heroism is directly challenged when I think of Stephen and the countless others who have chosen to die rather than forsake the name of Jesus. In fact, I pray I can keep this story close to my heart as long as I live so that, even in the most mundane circumstances, I will be ready to confess the truth about who Jesus is and what He has done in my life. 

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