Heroic Examples to Live By in Holy Scripture

The Martyrdom of Stephen by Peter Paul Rubens

The Martyrdom of Stephen by Peter Paul Rubens

Corruption, terror, and war are just another day’s headline. Christians living in a post-modern world may sometimes find it difficult to know how to respond to the world around us, a world that promotes vanity and deprecates life. How do we answer this world?

Christ is our great hope. In and through Him, we are redeemed. We, who follow Jesus as Lord, have nothing to fear from the world, and we look toward Jesus’ coming again. In the interim, we obey, pray, read His Word, love our neighbor, and worship Him.

We know this, yet it is helpful to have examples for Christian living. We need heroes we can mimic. Jesus is the greatest of these. We are to model our lives after Him, but we can also learn from the example of the heroic men and women of the Bible. We can do as they did in our world today.

I was contemplating this during Evening Prayer Wednesday night while reading the Second Lesson for Evening Prayer, Acts 7:35-53, and was awed by the example of St. Stephen. Stephen was the first Deacon and Christian Martyr. Scripture describes Stephen as a man filled with grace and power. He spoke with wisdom when debated. He was brought before the Sanhedrin and accused of blasphemy by false accusers.

In answering his accusers, Stephen recollected the history of God’s relation to the Jews; the Abrahamic Covenant, the life of Moses, the ten plagues and emancipation from slavery in Egypt, the rejection of Moses and turn to idol-worship by the Jews in the Wilderness, and the construction of the Temple in Jerusalem by Solomon. Stephen concluded his defense by reproving his accusers for betraying and murdering the prophets, chief of whom was Christ. He said;

Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers: Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it.

Stephen told his accusers that their ancestors rejected God’s Word for generations before Christ. God repeatedly sent prophets to correct their ways, but the prophets were rejected, persecuted, and murdered. Their betrayal of Christ was the ultimate disobedience to the Law.

St. Stephen was himself a prophet sent to God’s people and he bore the fate of other prophets. He was rejected and murdered.

Today we live in a world that continuously mocks Christ. Ultimately, God will judge the world. In the mean time, we are to answer the World as Stephen did. We must be a prophetic people, who live for Christ and who speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), even to people who reject Christ. We must reprove those who do not live according to the Word of God, for, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness (II Tim. 3:16 KJV.)”

Before he died, Stephen uttered the words, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit (Acts 7:59 NAB.)” and, “Lord Jesus count not this sin against them (Acts 7:60 ESV).” He prayed for his persecutors, following the example of His Lord, who prayed for those who put Him to death, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34 KJV.)”

We must pray for those we love, yes, but we must also pray for those who reject Christ, that they may know Christ. We should pray for even those who persecute us, that they too may know Christ, and be forgiven.

May we be given the grace to live lives of truth speaking, truth doing, of prayer, and of forgiveness. May we follow our examples in the faith, St. Stephen, and our Lord Jesus Christ.