Summary: On the day after Christmas, on St. Stephen’s Day, we learn that though getting to heaven is easy through Jesus, carrying his cross on earth often times isn’t. But if being a Christian is difficult, it is even more so for the unbeliever.
Festival of St. Stephen
I have always had a healthy respect for all branches of the military, and not to take anything away from the other divisions of our armed forces, but one branch particularly stands out in my mind: the Marine Corps. What is their slogan that you see on commercials: “The Few, the Proud, the Marines.” The Marines are an elite branch of fighters. They always seem to be the first into ground combat and the last ones to leave. Perhaps you recall not long ago, during the fighting for Fallujah, we sure heard a lot about the Marine forces. This small branch of the military sure has a great deal of honor and pride attached to it.
But how does one become a Marine? It’s not easy, is it? I saw on eBay that you can buy a replica Marine Sword for $30-$40, but just owning a sword doesn’t make you a Marine. You can’t take a 3-hour crash course and be certified as a Marine. There’s a very tough Boot Camp, that some are unable to complete. Then there is on-going training throughout their service career. I mean, have you ever seen an out-of-shape Marine? Finally, Marines seem to be put in the area of the world where the fighting is the fiercest. There’s nothing easy about being a Marine, and it was never designed to be an easy bit of service.
We are all members of an elite fighting unit: the Church of Jesus Christ. And just like being a Marine, as a Christian, we shouldn’t expect an easy go of it. So this morning, on the Festival of St. Stephen, we are going to consider the theme, “No One Said This Would be Easy.” I. It’s difficult being a follower of Christ. II. It’s even harder being God’s enemy.
You probably noticed something interesting right away about our text as far as whom Jesus is addressing. He’s not a general giving a speech to the forces under his command, instead he is speaking to the enemy, the Jewish leaders, who for the most part rejected him. And Christ tells the Jews exactly what his strategy is going to be, “Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers.” Christ tells his enemy all the different kinds of people he his going to send to them. It reminds of the passage in the epistles that speaks of the many different branches of service in the church, “it was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, some to be pastors and teachers.”
Unlike every other general, Christ sends out his units not to destroy his enemy, but to save them. All these groups of forces were deployed to turn the Jews from their sins. But it wasn’t an easy task for Christ’s soldiers, and it wasn’t meant to be. Jesus predicts how his units would be treated, “Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town.”
Being a follower of Jesus wasn’t going to be easy, and a young man named Stephen knew that. As with many Bible characters, we don’t know as much about this man as we might like, but as we learn in Acts, Stephen had what we would call a more minor position in the Church. He wasn’t an apostle, like Peter or John; instead he took care of distributing food evenly to the widows of the church. That probably wasn’t the easiest job in the world, but Stephen also knew that being a Christian involved even more work. Stephen took seriously his duty to have a good knowledge of the Bible. As we see from his speech to the Sanhedrin, Stephen also realized that it was his job as an ordinary Christian to be able to articulate his beliefs, even in hostile situations. Stephen wasn’t looking to do just the easy tasks when he became a follower of Jesus Christ.
But so often, we want to do just the bare minimum for God. Our sinful natures want to make Christianity as easy and comfortable to us as possible. Perhaps willing to do the simple tasks, like distributing food, a part of us feels that the “hard work” and “difficult fighting” of being a Christian is best left to others. When we are talking to a fellow church member over coffee or something, and they display attitudes that are clearly selfish and not very Christian, the easy thing to do is to let it go, pretend like we didn’t hear it, or maybe tell someone else to deal with it. The hard thing is going and showing that person their sin, as Jesus asks us to do in Matthew 18. When the time for devotions at home rolls around, it’s so easy to convince ourselves that we are too busy that day to go through a Meditations with out family. The hard thing is to be willing to be late for something if it means that we take a few moments to study the Word. When someone you know is clearly hurting with a some great trouble in their life, the easy thing to do is to tell them, “I’m sorry about that, I’ll be there for you.” The hard thing is to really take the time and be there for them. To take time to talk to them about the Savior who has taken away their biggest problem of sin. That’s hard for us to do! These tasks are all hard because there is always a good chance that our words will have a negative effect, and we will be rejected and laughed at. No one said this would be easy. Being a Christian is all about hard and laborious work. Just ask Stephen. As he was on trial, he could have thought, "I know that if I tell them what I really believe about Jesus, these people are going to get all angry at me. Maybe I’ll even be in some danger; so I’ll take the easy way out and just clam up about Jesus." Perhaps you noticed the red on the altar and pulpit this morning. Colors in the church have meaning. Red is the color of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost: it reminds us of the fire that appeared of the heads of the disciples. But red is also the color of blood. It reminds us of those who lost their life for the Gospel. No one said this would be easy. Red reminds us that it’s difficult being a follower of Christ. We are asked to do dangerous work.