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Sunday, May 18, 2014

To Die For

The martyrdom of Stephen was a brutal execution performed by religious zealots for the sake of “purity of faith.” (This is a  warning to the “orthodox” in whatever form they take. We do love to force others to do it our way. In the realm of faith, it is probably a good rule that: Authentic Christians die for Jesus—not kill.)
In Stephen we see Jesus. Like Jesus he forgives those who kill him and hands over his own spirit to the Lord. Stephen has a vision of Jesus. A true Christian has his/her eyes on Jesus and imitates Jesus.
We have not been asked to physically die for Jesus. (Maybe someday). Yet, in baptism liturgically and spiritually, we have made that choice. In baptism we die to self. In baptism we die to sin. In baptism, we die, and are raised again. As Paul said, “it is not I who live, but Christ lives in me…” So each day should manifest our “yes” to Jesus. Those who die to self every day are prepared for martyrdom. Character is shaped by each day’s behaviors.
Stephen proclaimed the story of God’s covenant and salvation history.  Every Christian must be able to do the same. Dear friends, if you cannot then please study the speech of Stephen. You must know the story if you are going to take a stand for God.
Martyrdom is not ancient history; a woman in Sudan and another in Pakistan face execution for their faith today. Many Jesus people are still dying. “What makes a person willing to die for a belief?” A few answers come to mind:
1.    The Holy Spirit; faithfulness is always a gift of the God Who gives the grace and courage to His beloved.
2.    Personal integrity. You have to be authentic and a person of substance.
3.   Belief. Faith is key as it provides the mental and emotional reason to take a stand, even onto death.
Stephen was willing to die because he believed what Jesus said to His disciples at the last supper.
Do not let your hearts be troubled. You trust God and you can trust Me, too. I am going away, and right now you cannot come with. One of you will betray me, Peter, you will deny me. None of you will be faithful. But I go to prepare a place for you and I will come back for you. Trust!
Jesus says: I am the door to God. I am the One sent by God. The Father is in Me, when you see Me you see the Father. I am God’s revelation to you. I am Life and Truth. I am the Way. So do not fear. Trust God. Trust Me.
The words of Jesus bring offense: no one comes to the Father except through Me. What are non-Christians to think hearing such words? So many contemporary church folk pretend Jesus never said them, pretend the Book does not contain them. The Christianity espoused in many churches is devoid of its central tenant: in Jesus we find God.
Stephen knew what we all know. He never met Jesus, all he had was the apostolic witness. He knew Jesus was crucified for us and our salvation. Jesus was raised and exalted to God’s right hand. In Jesus we see the face of God…. Knowing this, everything else is relative. Jesus is more precious than life itself because He is LIFE itself!
Do you believe Jesus has gone to prepare a place for you? Do you believe that Jesus is the Way to God? Do you believe?
If you do then of course you would die for Him. More importantly, if you believe then you are willing to live for Him. Each day choosing to commit your spirit into His hands!

In the end that is what the story addresses in our daily life. We are a people who keep our eye on Jesus and imitate Him. We forgive others and give our core /spirit into God's hands each day. Living in this way, our life becomes a daily martyrdom (in Greek martyr means witness).

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