Today is in England “Boxing Day,” and in the USA “After X’mas Sales Day,” but for much of Europe it is marked as Saint Stephen’s Day or the Feast of Stephen.
Stephen was one of the Greek speaking believers of the early Jerusalem church which was chosen as a “deacon” or minister of service, by the church and installed by the Apostles (Acts 6: 2-6). He was said to be “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit (verse 5)” and “a man full of God’s grace and power, [who] performed great wonders and signs among the people (verse 8, NIV).” He was also to become the first Christian martyr.
In Acts 7, Stephen is brought before the Jewish ruling council, and makes a magnificent presentation of the Gospel. As he speaks the council members become more and more hostile to him and the Word. He then concludes:
“51b You always resist the Holy Spirit! 52 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— 53 you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it. 54 When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. 55 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. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
On hearing this:
“57b they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58 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. 59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 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.”
We today in the Western world seldom face such trials. Yes, we have brethren elsewhere who do, and we should pray for them daily. But we face a more subtle opposition, one of indifference and unbelief. Are we prepared to be bold, to follow the example of Stephen on the day set aside by many to remember him?