Sometimes people who are just doing their jobs are elevated in a few moments to icons, who will be remembered throughout history. Stephen is just such a person.
When the church, the body of those who believed in Jesus as Messiah, was young, most of the members were converts from Judaism. Their new faith caused them to be ostracized from their synagogue and even their families. So the believers banded together to care for one another. One of the needs was to distribute food to families. Racism is not just a problem of modern times; those who were Gentiles (not Jews), complained that their families were not receiving as much food as those who had been Jews. So the young church chose seven men with good administrative skills, and “full of the Holy Spirit,” to oversee the program and distribute goods fairly. Stephen was one of the seven chosen. In fact he is listed first and it is noted that he was unusually full of faith and the Holy Spirit. Stephen even did miracles, yet he was primarily a businessman, not one of those early Christians known as a preacher.
Some Jews started an argument with him, but Stephen’s logical thoughts were too powerful, and he won this mental game. So they decided to tell some lies about him and say that he had cursed Moses and even God. A crowd gathered and began to denounce Stephen. Soon he was arrested and brought before the Council.
When the High Priest asked Stephen if the accusations were true, Stephen may supposedly not have had the gift of preaching, but he delivered a powerful message beginning with the history of his people, the Jews, and ending with King Solomon who built the first Temple. He then challenged them to remember that God does not live in structures made by humans. Further, he accused them of resisting the Holy Spirit and killing the prophets of God who predicted the coming of the Messiah. All the while his face was glowing, and he spoke as if he knew that this would be his final speech. Tolerance was not an attribute of early courts of any kind. He was sentenced to death by stoning.
Stephen then said that he saw Jesus in the heavens, standing beside God. He was dragged outside the city and stones were thrown at him until he died. His final words echo those of the Christ he served, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
Standing in the crowd, apparently involved in some way, was a man named Saul. Those who threw the stones laid their coats at his feet before they began the execution. Saul later was converted and became the apostle Paul. Stephen’s testimony in life and death must have had a powerful influence on Saul.
Thus, Stephen became the first Christian martyr, the first to die because of his belief in the divinity of Jesus. We can certainly learn some lessons from Stephen’s life: do your job well, be prepared to clearly state your belief, and be so certain in your faith that to die for Christ is better than to live having denied Him.