The First Martyr

David Bast

Read: Acts 6

They could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. (v. 10)

The Greek word for “witness” is martyros. Originally, a martyr was someone who was able to testify to the truth about something. A Christian martyr was anyone who could witness to the meaning and reality of Christ’s death and resurrection. It was because so many of these first Christians sealed their testimony to Jesus with their blood that the word came to have the specialized meaning it bears today. It’s because Stephen was such a faithful “martyr” in the original sense that he became the first martyr in the modern sense of the word.

Stephen was a man of God, and therefore a godly man. Luke says he was full of faith and the Holy Spirit (v. 5), grace and power (v. 8), and wisdom (v. 10). In many cases, gracious people are not very powerful, and powerful people are not very gracious, but Stephen was both. Stephen’s story is all the more moving because he was only the first of countless millions through the centuries who likewise have paid the ultimate price for their loyalty to Jesus Christ.

Persecution for one’s beliefs is a terrible thing, and the Christian church historically has not been innocent of it. Today in many places religious persecution continues, usually with Christians as its target. Most of us will run little risk of martyrdom. But the gospel still needs witnesses. Are we willing to speak clearly for Jesus Christ? —David Bast

Prayer: Lord, strengthen by your Spirit all those today who face persecution for their faith.