The Forgotten Witness
Posted under The Rectory Bulletin
Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him [Stephen]. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. (Acts 7:54–58)
Boxing Day - that stomach-filled lull after Christmas - is now a day of sales. Once, though, it was observed as St Stephen’s Day and you’ll remember that it was on the Feast of Stephen that Good King Wenceslas once stepped out. Not Boxing Day (which would rather spoil the rhyme with “deep and crisp and even”).
Stephen was the first of the Christian martyrs, and was a deacon in the church. That meant that he was tasked with caring for the poor, so that the Apostles might be freed up to preach. The church was growing fast, and was attracting unwelcome attention. Many Jewish priests were coming to the Christian faith, which would have attracted even more attention, and in this context deacon Stephen came to attention.
Those who debated with him could not overcome him, and so he was hauled before the ruling council on trumped up charges. Even there - as death stalked nearer - he spoke boldly and clearly of the faith. The conclusion, though, was foregone. He was stoned to death, as he died he uttered the words at the top of this page.
Note this: the first martyr was not an apostle. They may have had the formal preaching role, but it was Stephen whose witness to the faith cost the first Christian life. Stephen whose job it was to wait on tables. Stephen who was “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5). Never leave Christianity to church leaders. God delights to use all his children.