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God’s Spirit Makes Us Bold

Nancy McGuirk - Bible Commentator

Does the thought of dying for Christ terrify you? Consider Stephen’s life and death.

The very word causes many of us to shudder. In the first of three articles on the power of the Holy Spirit, teacher and Bible commentator Nancy McGuirk discusses the life of Stephen—the first martyr in the New Testament. She reminds us that choosing to give one’s life, rather than deny Christ, is the ultimate witness for God.

The Spirit Empowers – Article 1 of 3

Of all the people in the Bible other than Jesus Himself, the person whose testimony fills me with the greatest sense of awe is Stephen. What a powerful witness for God! I am humbled every time I read the story of this man recorded in Scripture as the first Christian martyr. The meaning of the word martyr is “witness.” Choosing to give one’s life, rather than deny God, is the ultimate witness for Jesus Christ.

We read in God’s Word that God empowered Stephen not only for the service of assisting people in need, but for the ultimate service of laying down his life for Christ. Only one source could have generated such great love, courage and wisdom in Stephen’s life: the Holy Spirit.

Let’s take a brief look at the story of Stephen. Shortly after Pentecost, as the number of disciples increased, the original apostles decided that they needed to select seven men who were “full of the Spirit and wisdom.” These men would take over the distribution of food to the needy widows. Stephen was one of those selected and immediately set apart as a man “full of faith and the Holy Spirit.”

The writer of the book of Acts describes Stephen as an evangelist, “full of God’s grace and power.” However, it was his effectiveness and power that provoked his opponents to wrath because they “could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke.” Stephen was falsely accused before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish Supreme Court.

In his own defense, Stephen reviewed the history of the Jewish people and how they had constantly rebelled against each fresh revelation from God by murdering His prophets. Stephen concluded with an indictment by charging his judges with betraying and murdering the Righteous One—the Messiah whom the earlier prophets had predicted would come.

Furious, the hearers abandoned the judicial proceeding and dragged him into the street to kill him. As he was being stoned to death, this courageous martyr saw a vision of Jesus. While dying, Stephen cried out, “Lord Jesus receive my spirit,” and “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” These words sound hauntingly familiar as we remember Jesus’ words when He was dying on the cross, “Father into your hands I commit my spirit.” Jesus also prayed from the cross, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Stephen imitated His Savior’s loving example as he willingly gave his life for the cause of Christ and the glorious message of salvation.

Nancy McGuirk - Bible commentator, small group facilitator, and intercessor - is the founder and director of the Women's Community Bible Study International. Nancy ministers to thousands of people each week in person and through a video and audio tape ministry. The focus of her work is evangelism, discipleship and intercessory prayer.

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