Reflections: St. Stephen, Martyr

Today’s Reading: Acts 6:8-7:2, 51-60

Daily Lectionary: Isaiah 49:22-26; 50:4-51:8, 12-16; Matthew 1:18-25

But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. (Acts 7:55)

In the Name + of Jesus. Amen. You can’t get one day into the season of Christmas without rocks flying. Yesterday was a day of joy, of glory for God, peace on earth, goodwill toward men. Today men grind their teeth in a rage at the message of Jesus. It’s perhaps the second starkest contrast in the Church’s entire year of grace. Jesus is born and then Stephen is martyred.

The Greek word “martyr” means “witness.” A martyr is anyone who bears witness about anything and the content of their testimony is their “martyria.” Eventually the term martyr took on a more specific meaning to denote anyone who bore witness to the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus unto their own death. Their blood was the witness that they bore. Martyrdom was common in the early years of the Christian Church.

Stephen’s martyria is one of the longest in Scripture. You should read the verses in between Acts 7:2 and 7:51. Stephen rehearses the history of Israel, then demonstrates that it all was a prelude to Jesus. Yet God’s work is met with resistance every step of the way. Stiff-necked people always resist the Holy Spirit. 

Stephen preached the Law and it enraged his opponents. But what got him killed is the essence of his martyria. “And he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God'” (Acts 7:56). It’s interesting to note that every week in the creed we confess that Jesus sits at God’s right hand, but Stephen specifically says that Jesus is standing. 

This should remind us of the starkest contrast in the Church’s entire year of grace. One Friday Jesus hangs on a tree until He is dead. And then on the Third Day after that, He stands again. That’s what resurrection means–the dead man stands up again. And so Stephen’s martyria is not a witness unto death, but a witness unto life–the life that we have in Christ. Stephen will stand again. And so will you. In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.

Heavenly Father, in the midst of our sufferings for the sake of Christ grant us grace to follow the example of the first martyr, Stephen, that we also may look to the One who suffered and was crucified on our behalf and pray for those who do us wrong; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. (Collect for St. Stephen, Martyr)

Rev. Jacob Ehrhard is pastor of St. John’s Lutheran Church and School in Chicago, IL.

Audio Reflections Speaker: Pastor Duane Bamsch