Live Like Stephen. Die Like Stephen
Acts 6:8-7:2a, 7:51-60
December 26, 2021
The day after Christmas is great day for preachers. Just ask Stephen. He preaches a powerful sermon, a sermon Saint Luke records as God’s own Word. He covers the entire Old Testament in a few minutes. (Don’t you wish your preacher could do that). He preaches God’s mercy to Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Solomon and wraps it all up with Jesus. How does his day end? He heads home, opens all the wonderful gifts from his members over a Lutheran beverage, and falls asleep on the couch while watching the Vikings lose. No, it ends up even better than that – Stephen falls asleep in the arms of Jesus having lived and died just His Savior did.
The day after Christmas is a bloody day on the Church calendar. Today marks the martyrdom of Stephen. The church puts a beautiful name on Stephen – Martyr. Martyr is the Greek Word for witness. Stephen is a witness to Christ’s resurrection, but He preaches a Christmas sermon to his congregation. As they are putting an end to his sermon he sees Jesus as the right hand of God — Jesus, the Son of Man, his human brother, the little boy all grown up, crucified, raised from the dead, and ascended. He sees His flesh and blood brother and Savior at God’s right hand who has opened heaven for him. His congregation doesn’t put their yes, their amen on his sermon. They put an emphatic no by stopping their ears and shutting his mouth.
Remember though it’s not just preachers who get killed for Jesus. You will get killed too. Christmas for the church is far different than Christmas in your homes. Everyone likes the gifts you give or at least they pretend to like them. The world does not like Jesus. Ask the bakers and florists who have lost their businesses. Ask the government who will fund drag queen story hour and statues of Satan but won’t let Jesus anywhere near our children. You don’t need to ask them, because you yourself know. None of us naturally likes Jesus.
Stephen preached a beautiful sermon of God’s love toward His Israel, evidenced by His promise of son to Abraham, His work in the life of Joseph, His sending His Savior Moses to deliver His children, His choosing David as King and Solomon to build the temple. What did Israel do, again and again and again? They rejected God’s love and forgiveness. They grumbled against Moses, built a golden calf, worshipped at the altars and temples of every fun god under the sun and when the Son, S-O-N finally shown bright in the world, they snuffed Him out.
Faith is hard and unbelief is easy. Faith confesses you are a sinner when you would rather justify your sins and blame everyone else. Faith believes in an objective right and wrong when you know you are right, and your wife is wrong. Faith believes all life matters and it is so easy to believe your life is more valuable than others. Faith believes there is one way to heaven and His name is Jesus of Nazareth, and it is so easy to pursue everything else under the sun than to cling to the Son of God alone. Unbelief comes to us naturally because of sin. Faith does not come easy. You don’t have it in you to believe. Faith is only worked in you by the Holy Spirit when you hear God’s Word.
Faith to confess is hard, but here’s God’s promise to faith. If you live like Stephen, you will die like Stephen and his death was a good death.
Stephen lived like Jesus. He spoke like Jesus. He is accused and convicted like Jesus. He is killed like Jesus, and he dies like Jesus and that means he lives like Jesus. Stephen did not do any of that, Jesus did that, in and through Stephen by faith.
If you believe in Jesus, you will speak of Jesus. You will confess that Christmas is Christ’s birth and Easter is His resurrection. You will, like Stephen, declare God became a man to love us and He loved us by dying for us and now that Man who saved us is standing at God’s right hand to welcome us home. There is only one key that opens heaven’s door. His name is Jesus. Watch out – the world hates the particularity of Jesus, of God in the flesh, of God on the cross, of God risen from the dead, of God declaring one way, one truth, and one life.
The world will easily swallow any god who is flavorless and bland, a god who lets them add their favorite spice and zest to life no matter how sinful it is, but the world cannot stomach a God who says, “You have sinned, and Jesus is your only Savior.” That is strong food and strong drink only to be consumed by faith and it will tolerate no additions, subtractions, or substitutions.
Stephen brings us a wonderful present on this second day of Christmas. Live like Stephen and you will die like Stephen.
Stephen died like Jesus. On Palm Sunday the crowds threw their coats down as Jesus came into Jerusalem. Stephens congregation threw their coats down as they dragged their pastor out of Jerusalem to kill him like they killed Jesus. Stephen prayed for his murderers as did Jesus. Jesus committed Himself into His Father’s hands and so did Stephen.
The most beautiful words of this text are the very last words – Stephen fell asleep. Saint Luke was a medical doctor. He could have recorded all the gruesome details of Stephen’s death, but Luke sees it as Stephen sees it, as Jesus sees it, as faith sees it Stephen fell asleep.
Someone should write a children’s bedtime prayer about Stephen. None of us knows how we will die or what we will suffer, but we have this promise – you live like Stephen, and you will die like Stephen. If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. Death for the Christian is merely the body taking a nap while our soul is with Jesus. On the last day we will see heaven opened, and the Son of Man coming with great power. Our bodies will awaken, and we will be like Jesus – body and soul raised to life never to die again. And then no matter how we died or when we died or what we suffered will be as forgotten as a nightmare of oour childhood.
Learn from Stephen, the Martyr, be a witness to Jesus and to confess Jesus. Live like Stephen and you will die like Stephen. You’ll fall asleep in Jesus and on the last day your body will be awakened so you can be with Jesus. That is God gift and promise to you through Saint Stephen the Martyr. In the name of Jesus. Amen.