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Acts 7:54-8:1, Stoning of Stephen

Narrative Lectionary Key Verse for Today

While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’
— Acts 7:59

NL Daily Devotion for Tuesday, April 30, 2019

by Daniel D. Maurer, Clergy Stuff

I must confess that the martyrdom stories in Acts and the rest of the New Testament are not my favorite stories in the Bible. It’s not because of their grisly nature, either. It’s because they’re always the same.

Some group (often “Jews” in a typical antisemitic fashion) approaches one of the apostles, arrests them or crowds around them and kills them mob-style. Typically, the martyr calls out to God for God to forgive them or, like in this text, God to receive their spirit.

I mean . . . didn’t any of them ever say, “Well, shit. I guess I shouldn’t have followed Jesus” ?

No. I don’t think so. And I think that’s the point. These people were so convinced of God’s love in Jesus Christ that they weren’t just unafraid to die for Christ, they were willing, so that God’s story might live on.

Martyrdom stories were especially popular with the early Church and martyrs were venerated in the medieval Church. We seem to have lost our connection with them somehow. Although, we too have our own martyrs like Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Perhaps what we can learn from this is not just their willingness to die, but their humility in their willingness to spread God’s love and life, even through their death.

Profound? I think so.

Do martyrdom stories speak to you? How so or why not?