The First Martyr
Now the number of believers increased greatly. Even many of
the priests believed and obeyed the gospel. Everywhere throughout Jerusalem people talked about Stephen. Because he was full of faith
and power, he did many wonders and miracles.
The foreign Jews met in their synagogue to study the Scriptures. Stephen went there to preach
the gospel, but the leaders argued
with him about his teachings. They tried to prove that Jesus was not the Christ. God gave Stephen such wisdom to speak about Jesus
that the leaders were left without a word to say.
They were very angry that Stephen spoke so convincingly about Jesus. Since they could do nothing to stop him, they hired men to go
among the Jews and accuse Stephen. Wherever these men went, they lied, "We have heard Stephen speak against Moses and against God."
The people were upset when they heard this; some even believed it was true. As soon as the rulers and scribes heard it, they seized
Stephen and brought him before the council.
The men who had been hired to tell lies about Stephen came to the council meeting too. They were called on to tell what they knew about Stephen. They said, "This man never stops saying terrible things about the temple and the Law. We have heard him say that
Jesus of Nazareth will destroy the temple and change the customs that Moses gave us."
While the false witnesses spoke, the council watched Stephen closely. Even though his face shone like an angel's, they proceeded
to accuse him.
The high priest turned to Stephen and asked, "Are these things true?"
Bravely Stephen stood up and answered them. He repeated the familiar story of their people, beginning with Abraham. He reminded
them that their fathers had disobeyed God's laws.
The rulers became angry and their eyes flashed as he spoke.
Stephen knew his life was in danger. Still he was not afraid. Turning to the rulers he said, "You stiff-necked people, you resist
the Holy Spirit just as your fathers did. They killed God's prophets,
and you killed Jesus Christ."
The men were furious that Stephen dared accuse them of doing wrong. Even though they made ugly threats, Stephen paid no
attention to them.
To give him courage to face his enemies, God let him see into heaven. Looking up, Stephen said, "I see the heavens opened, and
the Son of man standing on the right hand of God."
At once the rulers cried out loudly. They held their hands over their ears so they would not have to hear Stephen say another word. Suddenly they rushed at him, seized him, and dragged him outside the city gate. Those who had lied about him took off their cloaks and laid them at the feet of a young Pharisee named Saul.
Stephen's enemies picked up stones and threw them at him. Even then Stephen's courage did not fail. He lifted his eyes to heaven and prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!" As the stones struck
his body he knelt down and cried out loudly, "Lord, do not blame them for this sin." Soon his body was silent and still. He was the first man to be killed for preaching about Jesus.
When Stephen's friends heard about his death, they took his mangled body and buried it tenderly. And they mourned greatly for this young man who had given his life for the sake of the gospel. From that time on the followers of Jesus were mistreated and
tormented in Jerusalem. The Pharisee Saul went from house to house sending men and women to prison. Except for the apostles, all the believers left Jerusalem and went to live in other towns and cities. Perhaps they thought they could find safety outside Jerusalem.