When Christ ascended to the Father following his resurrection, he charged His disciples with a very simple, but challenging command:
19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
The church calls this The Great Commission, and on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit fell on them, they went forth and began to preach the name of Jesus through action and word. Immediately, they faced resistance from the Temple Authorities and the Roman government, beating them and charging them with heresy. In no way did this stop their speaking up and their holding all things in common. However, whenever one of them named Stephen was brought before the Council while speaking about Jesus in the synagogue, it would prove to be deadly for him.
8And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people. 9Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and disputed with Stephen. 10But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. 11Then they secretly instigated men who said, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” 12And they stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council, 13and they set up false witnesses who said, “This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, 14for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.” 15And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel.
So…not only could they not refute what he was saying, they had to LIE about it before they could get him before the authorities. Guys, when we preach the gospel, the world will have its arguments to present, and opposition can be very hostile at times, but “we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard!” (Acts 5:20) Stephen refused to stop, and when they brought him before the council, he gives a very, very long speech which I am not going to post here (read it here), tying together everything in the Hebrew Scriptures, showing that the men of the Council were no better than the stiff-necked people who stoned the prophets, or who opposed Moses in the wilderness. The men of the Council reacted as such (and Stephen remained as such)…
54Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. 55But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. 58Then 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. 59And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
Acts 7:54-60 (Saul was the man who would eventually be converted by a vision of Jesus and become Paul, the man who wrote most of the New Testament)
Imagine this: as your enemies hurl great big stones at you, trying to kill you, all you can say is, “Lord, forgive them.” This is the unconditional love that so many men have gone forth with, preaching the Gospel, and losing their lives as a result. Even in death, they still loved the people who persecuted them, who made them their enemies. They didn’t fear death because of what lay beyond it for them, and that made this world all the more important to them.
I’m not about to tell you to go make yourself a martyr; that never helped anyone come to Christ. What these men did was live out Christ’s teachings so hard they wound up dying for it. When you try to be a martyr, you really just wind up committing suicide. When the Spartans believed that dying in battle was they greatest honor they could receive, that doesn’t mean they didn’t try to WIN the battle (interesting analogy for a nonviolence blog…). No, they fought on. In the same way, Stephen fought until his death. Peter and John fought the same until their death and exile, respectively. James fought so hard he led his executor to Christ, and his executor died with him right there.
So here’s what I’m telling you to do: death preaching the name of God is indeed the greatest honor a Christian can receive, but killing yourself and calling it martyrdom is just stupid. Therefore, live Christ so hard that you lose yourself, lose your life, in Him.
How can you live hard for Christ today? Better yet, how can you stop making yourself a martyr and start living for Christ today?