Monday, March 3, 2008

Acts: Martyrdom (7:54-8:3)

Stephen is known as the “Protomartyr,” or the first Christian martyr. He was the first Christian to be killed for his faith, a number that has grown to an estimated 70 million in the subsequent 2000 years.
The interesting thing is that the word martyr is a borrowed word from the Greek and, in its original form simply means witness. In secular terms a martyr was simply a court witness. How did the idea come to mean someone killed for his or her testimony? It seems in Roman times, torture was a regular aspect of getting the truth from witnesses.
Jesus called His follower to be his witnesses and, in time, being a martyr for Christ has attained an important place in Christian history. Stephen’s martyrdom triggered the advancement of Christianity beyond Jerusalem when many fled the persecution there, but it also strengthened the Christian witness in Jerusalem. Throughout history strong persecution against the church, when it does not crush the church in an area, strengthens it and causes it to grow faster.
Persecution is far from a mere historic part of Christian history. It carries on today and in some way gets stronger all the time. The 20th Century saw more Christian martyrs than all the previous 19 leading up to it. There are places in the world today where baptism services include the teaching of what to say when the new believers are eventually killed for their faith.
At the moment of Stephen’s death, we are introduced to the man who, aside from Christ himself, will have more of an impact on Christianity than anyone else in history. Surprisingly, Saul is one of the people who kill Stephen, and in the next few verses we see that he sets out to end the church imprisoning and killing its members.

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