The Humble Dying for the Hostile
The first martyr I have read about and will focus on today is Stephen. His martyrdom is recorded in Acts 6-8. We are certain of the validity of this account. Stephen took the gospel to the Jews, who at the time would have been the most hostile to the gospel. When we consider going to the nations, do not eliminate from your thinking those places where mentioning Christ will face opposition. Jesus was worthy of Stephen’s bold proclamation. He was worth risking his life and even losing his life. When you pray today, pray for those who are serving and living in hostile unreached people groups. Where persecution is the greatest, often times, the church will spread and multiply more rapidly. May the martyrdom of Stephen spur you to at least share the gospel where you live and work and seek to go to those who are without Christ—no matter how hostile they are. I pray that we learn from the great boldness, courage, and love Stephen demonstrated for the sake of Christ and his glorious gospel of grace. Truly, like his Master, Stephen was led to die for these hostile Jews by his humility and desire for God to be glorified in him.
The blood Stephen shed was oh, so sweet,
As it demonstrated his submission at his Master’s feet!
The second person [Foxe considered Jesus to be the first although he was not to be considered a “martyr” but rather he was the “inspiration and source of all martyrdom”] to suffer and die for the Church was Stephen, whose name means ‘crown’ (Acts 6-8). He was martyred because of the faithful way in which he proclaimed the Gospel to those who had killed Jesus. They became so enraged at what he said to them that they drove him out of the city and stoned him to death. Stephen’s martyrdom came about eight years after His Lord’s crucifixion, which would place his death in the year A.D. 35, since it is supposed that Jesus was actually born in 6 B.C., about two years before Herod the Great died in 4 B.C. (see Matthew 2:16).
The same hate generated against Stephen apparently brought great persecution to all who professed faith in Christ as the Messiah. Luke writes, ‘At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.’ (Acts 8:1). During that time, about two thousand Christians were martyred, including Nicanor, who was one of the seven deacons appointed by the Church (Acts 6:5).
– John Foxe, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, p. 2