The First Martyr

The stoning death of Stephen

Instead of the usual introductory statements I thought I would share a small sample of headlines taken from today’s news.

Hundreds Missing, Scores Dead as Raging Floods Strike Europe…Worst Deluge In 200 Years…Waters breach Dutch defenses…Germany Landslide Horror…Pope Francis renews restrictions on old Latin Mass, reversing Benedict…Three doses better than two? Debate over third Covid shot…As stock prices peak, markets begin to fear looming threats…More Videos Filter Out Of Cuba Showing Brutal Repression…Air Force sending fighter jets to Pacific amid tensions with China…Another massive heatwave is coming to the western US…World Health Organization (WHO) Laments record high suicide rates around the globe.

Along with these troubling headlines is this warning from the UN with a quote that captured my attention, “we are in uncharted waters.”

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United Nations chief warned Friday that a “hurricane of humanitarian crises” around the world has left civilians in conflict areas paying the highest price and is compounded by a relentless wave of attacks on humanitarian and medical workers. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said humanitarian needs are outpacing the ability of the United Nations and aid organizations to meet them, “turbocharged by the COVID-19 pandemic. We are in uncharted waters,” he said in a speech to the U.N. Security Council read by Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed. “The sheer scale of humanitarian needs have never been greater,” Guterres said. “The United Nations and our partners are seeking to reach 160 million people with assistance this year — the highest figure ever.”

I think it goes without saying, the world is in crisis unlike anything we have experienced in our lifetimes and it is only getting worse. Wild extremes in weather, record breaking temperatures, floods, disease, volcanic activity – the list goes on and on – but this list is not unfamiliar to anyone that reads the Bible. But even for believers, it is getting harder to remain hopeful, to be the salt and light so desperately needed in this lost world.

I think we are all familiar with the warnings given by Paul in 2 Timothy chapter 3, which starts with this grim introduction, “There will be terrible times in the last days.” We are living those times at this very moment, but I want to focus your attention to another portion of chapter 3 as it serves to remind us all that our hope is not lost, God is in control, and these things must take place in order for God’s perfect will to play out.

“You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:10-17

Paul in these eloquent words offers encouragement that is just as meaningful today as it was in his time. We are urged to continue in what we have learned and what we are convinced of, which is our faith in Jesus Christ our Lord. Understand what these words mean, “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Paul knew a thing or two about persecution, after all, this is the man that preached the gospel at Lystra – even brought healing through the Holy Spirit to a man that was crippled – yet was stoned by an angry mob that dragged his lifeless body outside the city gates assuming that he was dead. Paul rose up from that extreme persecution and along with Barnabas, continued to preach the good news and remained focused on Christ. Eventually Paul would complete the race, steadfast in his faith, and would become another of many martyrs for Jesus.

But while Paul was not the first martyr, he was present and accounted for at this terrible event, the stoning of Stephen. In fact, at that time, he was known as Saul of Tarsus – a zealot of the Pharisees – who would become a strong “enforcer” eager to seek out the early believers in Jesus and willingly carry out all levels of persecution – until his fateful encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus. (Read Paul’s own account in Acts 22)

It was Stephen that was taken before the court of the Sanhedrin, falsely accused of blasphemy, that was given an opportunity to speak to these charges. Acts Chapter 7 begins with these words:

Then the high priest asked Stephen, “Are these charges true?”

Given this opportunity to speak, Stephen could have gone any number of ways in how he responded, but his faith was so strong and his commitment was unshakeable. As you read these accounts, I ask you to consider your own situation – if you’re a believer, do you feel the weight of the world upon your shoulders? Are you burdened to the point of simply wanting to give up? Don’t give up – stand up! Yes it is hard to walk in faith in today’s dark world – but we are not of this world – our savior’s kingdom is our home and we will be gathered there soon enough, but until that time, we have work to do. Stephen set the example in no uncertain terms – we have an obligation to honor all those that have gone before us by remaining focused on the one who delivered us from all sin – Jesus Christ. Read these words from Stephen, the First Martyr, in his reply to the Sanhedrin.

“Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him— you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.” When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep. Acts 7: 52-60

Imagine having the ability to sincerely call out to God as you are being stoned, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”

It’s all about perception and perspective – if we dwell on our own circumstances, we will lose sight of our objective – and in so doing, we will lose sight of God. Nothing is happening today that hasn’t been pre-ordained by the Lord – remember, Jesus told us, “these things must be.” God is in control and there is a reason all of this has been laid out for us in the Bible. As I shared earlier in Paul’s letter to Timothy, “all scripture is God-breathed,” it is there so that we know what to expect. This is God’s warning to the world and we have to stand firm in our faith and share the message so that the lost have the opportunity to come to salvation that is only found through Jesus Christ. The world is looking for answers but they don’t know where to search. World governments will not provide the solutions they need – but for those that ignore the Truth – they will find a ruler that will soon rise up and bring temporary solutions that will be welcomed for a season. However, his reign will come in what Daniel prophesied as “the time of Jacob’s trouble” and will reveal a turning point so horrible, the “abomination of desolation,” at which point all hell will literally break lose on earth. Jesus described it this way,

“For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.” Matthew 24: 21-22

So what does this mean for all of us? Believers – you should pray and study the Word daily. This is where we gain our strength and grow in our faith. Look up and know that God is with you, then step up and be light in this dark world.

Maybe you haven’t made that decision of faith by inviting Jesus into your heart, acknowledging His death on the cross and resurrection to life. If this applies to you, don’t let another day pass, settle the question once and for all. If you have questions, please reach out to us through this link and let us help you – Prayer Requests, Questions, Comments – we will pray with you today and answer any questions you might have about faith in Jesus Christ.

To all believers in Christ – are you sharing your faith with others as we are all called to do? We know how hard it can be to have that conversation with someone you meet, a stranger, friend, co-worker, so let us help you. Reach out to us at this link Prayer Requests, Questions, Comments and request our free ministry cards. Be sure to include a mailing address with your request. Become one of many that are sharing their faith as part of our COMMUNITY MISSIONS TEAM

God is loving and patient, which is why we are seeing all of these signs in our world today – this is our warning, just as prophesied in the Bible. Take heed and turn to God – the world has no answers, but unless we come to repentance, we will face a time of great tribulation like no other time ever seen on the face of the earth. Time is running out, the enemy is ramping up his attacks, believers have work to do – non-believers may only have one more chance – don’t wait until it’s too late. The time to believe is now. Pathway to Salvation

John Stephen Frey, Director and Senior Editor, Life Beyond Horizons Ministry

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