Summary: What is God saying to our church through the first Christian Martyr, Stephen?
Boxing day – the day after Christmas, the day you recover, sit on the couch and sip something that goes plop, plop, fizz, fizz.
Boxing day – the day that, just incase you haven’t had enough of the malls, and you credit cards aren’t quite topped up, you go to the stores to buy what you didn’t get for Christmas at ½ price.
Why is it called Boxing Day? Is boxing one of the skills you need to get the bargains from the bargain bins? Is it because you bring even more boxes home from the store?
It is actually called boxing day because it is supposed to be the day that you box up food and presents and take them to those in need!
We know it as Boxing Day, but it was known as St. Stephen’s day before that, and it still is St. Stephen’s day if you follow a liturgical calendar.
“Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about,
deep and crisp and even.”
It’s one of my favorite carols, and I told the story of Wenceslas last year, and preached sermon on his life.
As I was singing the song this year, it occurred to me that the Stephen in the song is the Stephen in the Bible! I know – Du-uh!
As we passed St. Stephen’s day this year, I wondered what the old saint had to say to Runnymede Baptist Church. My mind quickly went to the care of the poor since St. Stephen was one of the seven in the book of Acts who was appointed to be sure that the widows of the church were cared for, and as the carol ends:
“Therefore, Christian men be sure
wealth or rank possessing,
ye who now will bless the poor
shall yourself find blessing.”
This is a hugely important message to remember at this time of year, and throughout the year as the song says “It’s not the things you do at Christmas time, but the Christmas things you do all the time that matter.
But, this is not the only message that Stephen has for us, as I think you will find as we look at the Scripture.
Read Acts 6:1-15
The problem – there were two groups of Jews living in Jerusalem – Grecian Jews who may have been born outside of Palestine, spoke Greek, and had adopted many of the Greek customs that were not opposed to their faith, And the Hebraic Jews who were most likely born in Palestine, spoke mainly Aramaic, and were culturally Hebrews. There were always tensions between the groups. People from both these groups had become Christians, and as the church grew quickly, it was discovered that the widows who were Grecian Jews were not being looked after like the widows who were Hebraic Jews were. There was discrimination going on. When it brought to the attention of the Apostles, they realized two things –one that the situation was not right, and two, that they were being pulled two ways in their ministry – toward their calling to prayer and the teaching of the word, and toward the very important ministry of caring for the poor in their midst. To deal with both these issues they invited the church to select seven men from among them who had good reputations, were full of the Spirit, and of wisdom. These men would look after the administration of the care of the poor, and the Apostles would devote themselves to prayer and the teaching of the Word.
So they chose Stephen, who is singled out as “a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit.” Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Paramenas, and Nicolas. It is interesting to note that all of these names are Greek. The church solved the problem of discrimination by placing the ones who were being discriminated against in charge of the offending area!
Verse seven tells us that, because of this structural change in the way the infant church was run, “the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.”
Those who have a heart for the ministry of the Word might say that the church grew because the Apostles were free to pray and teach, those who have a heart for ministries to the poor might say that the church grew because the people saw how well the church cared for the poor. – the answer is likely both.
Stephen does not limit himself to waiting on tables to feed the poor – in verse 8 he is described as a man full of God’s grace and power, who did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people. He was also preaching publicly, or in synagogues as well, because other Grecian Jews who had not converted had taken issue with him. They tried to argue with him, “but they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke.” So since they couldn’t argue with him, they conspired against him, and had some men accuse Stephen of blasphemy – against God and the Law. Specifically against the temple, and Moses by teaching that “this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy the Temple and change the customs Moses handed down to us."