Summary: Stephen had rights - he could have walked away from the confrontation with the Jews - but as a Christian he had responsibilities. The challenge is how to balance these
Acts 7:51-60: Stephen
Story: 26 Christians were executed at Nizhizaka Hill in Nagasaki, Japan on 15 February 1597.
Amongst them was a young seventeen year old boy, Thomas Kosaki, who was to die for his Christian witness along with his father.
He wrote a letter to his mother the evening before his crucifixion.
Let me read a translation of it to you
"Mother, we are supposed to be crucified tomorrow in Nagaski. Please do not worry about anything because we will be waiting for you to come to heaven.
Everything in the world vanishes like a dream. Be sure that you never lose the happiness of heaven. Be patient and show love to many people.
Most of all, about my little brothers Mansho and Philipo, please see to it that they are not delivered into the hands of the Gentiles.
Mother, I commit you to the Lord"
These weren’t the words of some ivory towered professor at Oxford or Cambridge. This was a young man condemned to death – and a horrible death at that for his faith.
I wonder how I would have reacted in that situation, when the local shogun decided that if you did not renounce Christianity and spit on the Cross – you would die a slow and painful death.
St Stephen’s Day stands in stark contast to the gentle scene at Christmas – at least in many of our Crib scenes.
It is particularly relevant that we should remember what it costs to be a Christian on the day after Christmas.
For many Christinas throughout the world – it isn’t some fine point of doctrine.
Many of them are dying for the crime of being a Christian.
If you want a good read over the Christmas break can I commend to you “The Heavenly Man” by Brother Yung – of the persecutions that he has gone through in China for his faith.
Jesus himself tells us that being a Christian in this world will not be easy
He said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his Cross and follow me” (Mk 8:34)
They are hard words to follow.
Yet sometimes Jesus calls us to come out of our comfort zone to take the Gospel to a dying world.
Three things really impress themselves on me fom today’s Gospel reading:
1. Stephen knew his Scriptures well
and was able to base what he wanted to say on Scripture. If we are going to share our faith with those around us – we must spend time getting well cquianted with God’s word
2. Stephen was prepared to be bold
when speaking of the Gospel. He wasn’t frightened into silence by the insults of those around us
I was impressed with how hard Stephen’s words concerning the Gospel were. He said:
“You stiffnecked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit!”
He didn’t beat about the bush. He told those Pharisees who thought they were doing God’s will how wrong they were.
3. Stephen could have been bitter towards those who opposed him.
But he wasn’t. Indeed quite the opposite – he followed the way of the Master and forgave them.
In contrast to the hard words he spoke against the Pharisees – look at how forgiving Stephen was of their sin in killing him.
60Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
Stephen had rights - he could have walked away from the confrontation with the Jews - but as a Christian he had responsibilities.
He gave up his rights to live to fulfill his responsibity to preach the Gospel.
And we read in Acts 8:1 “And Saul (later to become the apostle Paul) was there giving approval to his death”
I wonder how much an impact Stephen’s death had on Paul during the three days he was blind following his Damascus Road experience.
I wonder how much Paul thought about Stephen’s words of compassion as he was being stoned and dying.
We don’t know who will be touched by what we say and what we do.
If we encounter opposition for our faith – we too must pray for those who abuse us – and have a forgiving attitude.
For that is how enemies of the Kingdom can be won for Christ.
But the key to all this was that Stephen was a man full of the Holy Spirit. We read in Acts 6: 8 that Stephen was a man full of God’s grace and power
If we are going to achieve anything for the Kingdom of God – we must be filled with His Spirit like Stephen was
The death of Stephen must have been a tragedy for the Church – they must have wondered how they could recover from such a loss. Yet it was this persecution that drove the Church out of Jerusalem to preach the Gospel throughout the world