Stephen: “Christianity’s First Hall of Famer”

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My family lived in New York for three years. One of my favorite memories is visiting the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown. This museum chronicles the history of the sport and memorializes its greatest players.

Every summer, new players are inducted into the Hall of Fame. This year’s ceremony will take place on July 21. Each of these remarkable players owes a debt to the original Hall of Famer – Babe Ruth. He made such an impact on baseball that an entire section of the Museum is dedicated to him!

There will be another induction ceremony this summer. On June 29, Voice of the Martyrs will induct the Groenewald family into their Martyrs Memorial. Werner Groenewald and his teenage children were killed by Islamic extremists in Afghanistan in 2014. The Memorial honors Christians like them who died in Jesus’ service.

Like baseball’s greatest players, every Christian martyr in church history stands on the shoulders of a single man. This long line of martyrs traces itself back to the original martyr, the first to die for his Christian witness – Stephen.

Hall of Fame Church Leader

Stephen was one of seven men selected to oversee the church’s distribution of food to its widows. The apostles didn’t want to be distracted from their preaching to “wait on tables” (Acts 6:2). The English noun “deacon” derives from the Greek verb “wait on tables.” In other words, Stephen was the original deacon.

Deacons today do little more than manage church facilities. But Stephen shows us what a deacon truly is. He looked after the church body rather than the church building. He cared for the church’s poor and needy. He ensured everyone was treated with fairness and equality.

He was also a powerful preacher. The Bible says he was “full of the Spirit and wisdom…full of faith and of the Holy Spirit…full of God’s grace and power” (Acts 6:3, 5, 8). He performed miracles and debated unbelieving Jews.

Hall of Fame Martyr

The Jews couldn’t stand against Stephen in debate. So they brought false accusations against him. Putting him on trial before the Sanhedrin, they produced false witnesses who claimed to have heard him blaspheme the temple and the Law.

Stephen made a lengthy defense. He summarized Israel’s history from Abraham to Solomon. Then he rebuked the Jewish leaders. Just as their ancestors resisted God by killing the prophets, so they murdered His Son, Jesus.

At this, the Sanhedrin dragged Stephen outside Jerusalem and stoned him. (You can read his full story in Acts 6 – 7.)

Stephen’s Memorial

The Bible says “godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him” (Acts 8:2). I don’t know if his tomb has been found, or if any memorials were erected for him. But he has a living memorial. His legacy carries on every time a Christian is martyred.

Babe Ruth made an indelible imprint on the game of baseball. In the same way, Stephen impacted church history. He set the stage for all who would go on to die for Jesus. Specifically, two features of his story are repeated in the lives of persecuted Christians today.

First, Stephen was accused falsely. Christians are often mistreated or killed because of false charges. Perhaps the most famous example is Asia Bibi. This Pakistani woman and mother of four spent nearly a decade on death row for purportedly blaspheming the prophet Muhammad.

Second, Stephen forgave his persecutors. His last words were, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60). Voice of the Martyrs repeatedly shares how Christians forgive their persecutors and offer them the forgiveness and love of Christ.

It is noteworthy that Stephen’s name means “crown” in Greek. James 1:12 says, “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” The Greek word “crown” in this passage is stephanos or Stephen.

The Groenewalds (among countless other martyrs) are wearing their crowns of life alongside Stephen. So will we if we follow his example of faithfulness unto death!

Click here to watch the Groenewalds induction into the Martyrs Memorial!

For more info on Martyrs’ Day, follow my blog! Or follow me on Facebook!

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