But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. "Look," he said, "I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God." Acts 7:55-56
Stephen was a man known for his great faith. He demonstrated God's grace and power. He did "great wonders and signs among the people." That's why the religious leaders of the day decided to bring him to court. There they produced false witnesses to charge Stephen with blasphemy. Stephen gave a stirring speech condemning the leaders' rejection of Jesus. They dragged him out of the city and stoned him.
Stephen was the first Christian martyr but not the last. Juvenal, a Roman poet, said that Christians belonged in the sewage. Suetonius, a Roman historian, said that Christians were "a race of men given to novel and baneful superstition." The Roman historian, Tacitus, described the horrid deaths of the early Christians. He wrote the following:
"Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired."
While you may not be called to die for Christ, each one of us is called to live for Him. And we are called to live for Him in a way that demonstrates His power in our lives. Jesus said, "Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:16). Today, let's let our light shine!
Father, thank You for the many examples of men and women who have gone to their deaths for You. We pray for those throughout the world who are being persecuted today. Father, give us the courage to live for You and to demonstrate Your power in our lives. And if You should ever call us to die for You, give us the same courage and resolve that You gave Stephen. In Jesus' name. Amen.