90 Day Challenge – Day 85

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Bible Time Period: The Church

The Church carries on your work in the world: Make me a faithful ambassador of your love.

Reflection

As you read, notice these things about the Church:

  • It is founded on the 12 apostles (representing the 12 tribes of Israel)
  • It is empowered with the life of Christ by the Holy Spirit
  • It expands to include not just children of Israel but Gentiles as well
  • It thrives despite (and even because of!) fierce opposition

You also might notice that just as Christ lived out the life of Israel during his time on earth (only doing right what they failed to do), now he acts through his body the Church. Look for specific ways in which first the apostles and then other Christian disciples live out the life of Christ. Their lives provide a model for ours.

Today’s Reading

Acts 5-8

Today’s Question

How does Stephen’s martyrdom reveal the new reality of the Holy Spirit indwelling believers?

Join the discussion below!

Sarah Christmyer

Sarah Christmyer is co-developer with Jeff Cavins of The Great Adventure Catholic Bible study program. She serves as Strategic Consultant of The Great Adventure and is author or co-author of a number of the studies. Sarah has thirty years of experience leading and teaching Bible studies. She helped launch Catholic Scripture Study and is co-author of "Genesis Part I: God and His Creation" and "Genesis Part II: God and His Family," published by Emmaus Road. Sarah has a BA in English literature from Gordon College in Wenham, MA, and is working toward a Masters of Theology at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia. Raised in a strong evangelical family, she was received into the Catholic Church in 1992. Sarah also writes at comeintotheword.com/.

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  • Margie

    How eloquently Stephen retold the story of the Old Testament. I’m sure since there were no written texts of this history at that time there may have been many people who were open to hear the truth, or who were susceptible to experience their own “holy spirit”. They may have stood back and weren’t party to stoning Stephen to death. I would like to believe that the “Holy Spirit” had the strength to touch many souls, even those who didn’t know what to believe. I can only imagine what it would have been like living in those times, being part of the evolution of a new religion, a new belief in everyone’s soul, centered on witnessing miracles and listening to the preaching of the Apostles. Watching Stephen being murdered and dying with the sight of Jesus on the right hand of God. Dying so gloriously I’m sure touched many hearts. Today, Stephen has touched my heart and burned the “holy spirit” in my soul.

  • Marian Potts

    Stephen was the 1st martyr. What a witness of an anointing by the Holy Spirit-his speech and his acceptance of death and forgiveness of his Murderers. He was united to Christ in suffering.
    He was united to Christ in love and in His indwelling.

  • Marianne

    Stephen’s martyrdom reveals the power of the Holy Spirit in ways they never imagined possible. Impassioned, eloquent speeches and bravery amidst the most brutal attacks can only come from God. The Holy Spirit transformed these ordinary people into extraordinary apostles and saints.

    These are not fairy tales designed to entertain us. The Holy Spirit is real and present in our world and in our lives today. It is evident by the terrific comments I’m reading that the Holy Spirit touches us as well. Which means that WE can also do great things. WE can be the voice that spreads “the Word of God… and the number of the disciples… (will) increase greatly” (Acts 6:7)

    • Rosi

      I agree with you, Marianne. The Holy Spirit is real and present in our lives today just as He was in the lives of the Apostles and disciples during the formation of the early Church. My prayer is that I would never shy away from spreading the Word of God in good times and in bad times. And if the future were to hold martyrdom, that I would hold on to the strength of the Holy Spirit and keep my eyes on Jesus…just as Stephen did. I noticed that our priest has brought up the topic of martyrdom in some of his homilies….whether we would remain faithful. It is not unrealistic in today’s world and truly something to think about and pray about. Lord, give me, and all your children, the grace to ALWAYS remain faithful in all circumstances, no matter how difficult they may be.

      • Marianne

        Amen Rosi. It’s no easy task…
        “And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and enable your servants to speak your word with all boldness, as you stretch forth your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are done through the name of your holy servant Jesus. As they prayed, the place where they were gathered shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” (Acts 4:29-31)

        • Rosi

          Amen, Amen, Amen! Jesus, I place all my trust in You!

  • Janet

    The Holy Spirit indwelling in the early Christians could be seen by all at Stephen’s trial. Stephan was poised, at peace, able to speak at length and in detail of the Jewish faith from Abraham through David’s son, Solomon. He then has the courage to say to them, “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always oppose the holy Spirit; you are just like your ancestors.” (Acts 7:51) He keeps his “face of an angel” throughout it all. And even as he knows the Jewish leaders are infuriated, he looks to heaven, sees and proclaims the glory of God and seeing Jesus standing at the right hand of God.

    The Holy Spirit can and does give all of Christ’s disciples (then and now!) whatever is needed when it’s needed, to accomplish the will and glory of God. Stephen had faith that the Holy Spirit would not fail him, and though he was killed for his witness, he went to his death asking the Lord not to hold this sin against them. Even in the face of and at his death, Stephen’s faith was not shaken.

    I pray that my faith grows strong enough to emulate Stephen during in his darkest earthly hour(s) to have the poise, peace, courage, words and forgiveness during my own darkest hours.

  • I noticed that everywhere else in the NT Jesus is ‘seated’ on the right of God, but now he ‘stands’, ready to aid. As Jesus had given up his spirit to his Father, so Stephen gives his to Jesus, thus revealing his faith in our Lord’s divinity, and completing, I suggest, the intentionally incomplete doctrine of his speech. The parallels between our Lord, and the first witness to imitate him unto death, are many: false witnesses, outside the city, the accusations, the reference to Daniel arousing fury, the commending prayer, and the prayer for persecutors. And watch how Stephen defended himself against the anger of his enemies. He puts on charity for a breast-plate, and by that came off victorious. By his love of God, he resisted the enraged Jews; by the love he held toward his neighbor, he prayed for those that stoned him. Through charity, he admonished them of their errors, in order to their amendment; through charity, he begged the divine goodness not to punish their crimes against him. Leaning on charity, he overcame the cruelty of Saul, and merited to have him a companion in heaven, who had been his chief persecutor on earth. Yes, If Stephen had not prayed, the Church would not have gained Paul.

    • Marianne

      Well said! Which means that we must pray for our enemies and those who hurt us. We never know when a conversion may take place. I heard somewhere “there are no bad people, just bad acts”. If Saul, now dearly known to us as St. Paul, could be forgiven his sins, ANYONE can. If we stand firm in the faith, we just may become the light for someone else to “see Jesus” on their way to Damascus. Just goes to show how God can make sense out of horrible acts; how He can make something good out of all our mistakes.

      But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen…” (Acts 9:15)

  • Susan

    The story of Stephen is an excellent example for those of us today. Are we willing to die – much less be stoned to death – for our faith? We are witnesses in this story of Stephen and see the length to which or the path that has to be followed for the believers in this time of the Church. The commitment has been ratcheted up and the non-believers are becoming increasing bold in their handling of the believers – who stoned Stephen? Gentiles? Jews? Were those who stoned him some of the same who listened to Jesus while he walked the earth and then cried for his crucifixion? The times are becoming more hostile but the Apostles and disciples are scattering to bring the word of Jesus Christ to thousands and thousands more – their strength is increasing as they do their work with the Holy Spirit within and the Word on their tongues.

    We are all called to be disciples at our baptism, this early Church can teach us much about the hunger for the Word. Perhaps if we were brave enough to speak out, to evangelize, we too, would gather a crowd of those eager for the Word of Jesus and we could help spread the faith.

    • Fisher

      And as we see daily on the news, the persecution of Christians is no less bloody today….We take for granted our religious freedom; pray for tolerance and charity to prevail here. Lord, may the blood of these current martyrs germinate the seeds of the way around the world, that their deaths may not be in vain.

      • Marianne

        Amen, Fisher, I echo your prayer. Modern day martyrs are very courageous and an inspiration to us all. May those seeds blossom and flourish in our world.

        More prevalent for us who take our freedom for granted, but dangerous to our mission nonetheless, is the threat to our religious freedom of speech. With social media, people of faith are being attacked in the general media and accused of “hate” when standing up for the teachings of our church. All it takes is one person to “tweet” it to thousands of people and it takes on a life of its own, damaging a person’s reputation and the church as well, causing even Christian leaders to “take sides”, trying to appease the masses instead of standing up for the Truth. I know of one such person… a few years ago she was given a prestigious award by the diocese for her service, and this year she is being ostracized even by her own community. It’s a tragedy when Catholics must fear losing their jobs for reiterating Catholic teachings. This takes great courage indeed. We must never stop praying for these brave souls.

        • Fisher

          Blessed are those who are persecuted….Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you (falsely) because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. – Matthew 5:10-12
          All we can do is work to insert the light into the darkness, especially in the social media arena. …Stay strong!

          • Marianne

            I just quoted this same exact Scripture on another blog!

          • Fisher

            No coincidences!

          • Marianne

            🙂

    • pnkyB4brain

      Susan, What wise words! You presented a different slant of the readings for me to ponder. The “brave enough” phrase is what stands in my way. I think I am one that thinks it’s safer to be silent, which is a terrible shame. I need to rethink about my spiritual goals in life. Thank you, Susan. May God bless.

  • pnkyB4brain

    While perusing the assigned reading today, I was so impressed with the calmness of the heart and soul of those that received the Holy Spirit. Stephen was called in front of the council due to some very unscrupulous men that that lied about Stephen. When Stephen spoke to the council he presented a beautiful synopsis of the Old Testament. After he completed his discourse, he warned the council of ignoring the words of the prophets and of Our Savior, Jesus Christ. The council did not appreciate his comments and ‘cast him out of the city and stoned him’ to death. All during that time he still had the Holy Spirit dwelling within and he was calm, even unto death.
    With all the immediate gratification we have at our fingertips today, I often wonder if the Holy Spirit has entered my soul and I have ignored this holy phenomenon because I am always preoccupied and at times impatient. With this new found information I will be more aware of this preoccupation!

  • Maxine

    So many good insights from today’s reading. I think what struck me most in the story of Stephen was his unfailing devotion and love for God and man. He was trying to convince the Sanhedrin so that more people would be saved rather than let them die not knowing or hearing the truth. Emulating Stephen in this day and age is difficult when we encounter people who know the truth and yet rather live their own way. Stephen could only say the truth as was given to him by the Holy Spirit. If only I would do that more often! I think we should all ask the Holy Spirit for the right words to say when we have a difficult person to face or something important to say. How much wiser our words would be! So glad I started this daily bible study, i now understand a lot more about the Word than I ever did before.

  • jacqueline

    With the new church growing, Stephen was recruited by the apostles to help preach the word to the young church in Jerusalem. He was “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” Acts 6:5. Our church gives us the day after celebrating the birth of Jesus on Christmas day, the martyrdom of Stephen – Great joy and suffering intermingled. He was willing to lay down his life for the sake of his belief. His martyrdom shows the true essence of his faith. He preached fearlessly and with great Zeal and worked many miracles. Just like Jesus, they accused him of using blasphemous language and stoned him to death. We can all follow Stephen’s great discipleship of faith and trusting in the Lord to the end. A true disciple of the Lord, he forgave his tormentors and prayed for them “Lord do not hold this sin against them” Acts 7:60. His love of God kept him from yielding to the mobs. Stephen was filled with the Holy Spirit – “his face appeared to them like the face of an angel” Acts 615. He was in love with God and Love inspired him to forgive and pray for those who stoned him to save them from punishment. His example can help us stay focus on our spiritual journey. A mark of true discipleship, the first martyr to shed his blood for Jesus.

  • Avila

    Stephen, the first martyr seems to me to be the epitome of the Church’s message that we are called to be like Jesus Christ. Stephen was living the Gospel, he stayed true during trial, was given strength with his vision of where he was going, yet, like Jesus, he remembered the sinners. I wonder whether he remembered (or was told) of when Jesus said to His disciples that their forgiveness or otherwise was a binding? Stephen was heroically ensuring that when he died, his persecutors still had the opportunity to move forward in repentance. Stephen saw beyond the painful now, to souls suffering severe anguish for want of his asking God to forgive them.

    Sometimes I find it hard to forgive. I think I have managed it, mainly through distance and some praying, but paths cross, I turn away, but the offender seems to delight in pinning me in a corner or pouncing when least expected. Stephen did not say “I forgive you” he said “Lord, do not hold this sin against them”. Maybe I have been going around this the wrong way? I don’t want hatred or dislike in my heart, and I can think of nothing more horrible than condemning a soul (perhaps for eternity) – no one deserves that. Perhaps I should ask God to not hold their sins against them? Then I should ask Him to forgive me for my weakness and ask that in His mercy, He helps me to be the person He created me to be.

    • Fisher

      I share your forgiveness dilemma, and also believe that when I struggle with it, it is best to give it to God that He will forgive for me. He knows our hearts and I give thanks and praise for the time given to me that I can get to a place of true forgiveness. Let’s pray for each other in this regard!

      • Barbara Ann Baugh

        When I forgive someone, I always pray that God forgive them. Because I know it is not all about me. It is really between them and God.

    • Liza

      Forgiveness has been on my mind this Lent. In one situation in my life (10 years ago), someone has been hurt by my intervention because she was causing great harm and on-going problems for one of my children, I believe I had to step in to prevent further harm but a consequence was hurt and illness for her. I have it on my conscience to ask forgiveness for the hurt I caused her but I fear this will re-ignite her anguish and may re-ignite distress on my part. Asking God to forgive may be the only way? Your comments Fisher and Barbara are very helpful and I hope God will resolve.

      • Fisher

        Sorry, I just saw this….I think if you put it to prayer, listen for discernment, you will have your answer on this. I had a similar situation 10-12 years ago. I heard through three separate lectures and then the homily at Mass God calling me to seek forgiveness….and for a situation I thought I was totally right about! But I needed to prayerfully consider my part in the situation; how I could have handled things differently; how even though I may have been justified in my actions, the other party was hurt/coming from a broken place in their actions. So, I did call and apologize, without any expectation or need to hear the same from the other person. It was such a huge weight lifted from my heart.
        If you are feeling the Spirit move you toward this, then pray for the words, the compassion, empathy, wisdom and peace to move forward. Whether the other person forgives, or offers an apology, too, is beside the point. Your conscience will be clear, and you will have revealed Christ to the other person. God bless you, and I will keep your situation in my heart and prayers.

        • Liza

          Thank you, lots of praying to do.

        • Rosi

          Excellent advice. I think it is something we have all struggled with at some point during our life. To start with prayer and then with the prompting of the Holy Spirit….apologize and forgive. You are right, it doesn’t matter if they accept your apology or in turn forgive. That is between them and God. Your conscience will be clear and the weight lifted from your heart.

  • Barbara Ann Baugh

    I particularly saw the workings of the Holy Spirit in Stephen’s speech before the Sanhedrin when he looks up to Heaven and sees the “Glory of God” . When the members of the Sanhedrin hear this they cover their ears. When look upon Stephen they see the face of an angel but they ignor it.
    There is a witness to Stephen’s martyrdom who also will struggle with the Holy Spirit but will eventually be overcome by the Holy Spirit he is Saul aka Paul.

  • Beverly Hagar-Schmerse

    I think everyone has covered the question for today very well…I, however, seemed drawn to go down another path…and that was to look at Peter’s respone to Ananias and Sapphira where it seems he becomes angry and they are struck down…and later on his reaction with Simon the Magician where he tells him to repent of this wickedness. It seemed to me that Peter had grown in his faith during this time. This gave me great relief and peace. As many times I have felt I was not being perfect enough to be acceptable to God. But I think God will handle all our errors correcting and perfecting them as we go. As far as Ananias and Sapphira…I think Jesus will purify them as well, though it not be in this world, I would say in the next…hence it is a good hint at why we have our belief in Purgatory…and thank God for that!!

    • Fisher

      Isn’t it funny how God will take what we perceive to be flaws/imperfections in ourselves and use them for His glory? Peter’s impetuousness, for example, was cause for rebuke earlier; now it serves him well in professing and proclaiming the faith. Saul’s/Paul’s zealousness in protecting the Jewish faith against what he thought was heresy will be used as a great tool of evangelization for the Way!

      • Beverly Hagar-Schmerse

        I was thinking more along the lines of how was moving Peter from his making an off the cuff decision (remember he said he would follow Jesus to his death; and this with Anania) to a more thoughtful form of decision making with Simon. A little less impetus than he had been.

        • Fisher

          Yes, I agree totally. I think what I was trying to say about Peter is that he moved confidently, spoke without hesitation when questioned, and said that he would have to speak the truth of his faith regardless of their order not to. As compared to his three denials without hesitation during the Passion.

          • Beverly Hagar-Schmerse

            I agree.

    • Fisher

      I wrote a lecture for my Liturgy class a few years ago, based on the passage of Jesus encountering the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. This is a clip concerning the chapters we are studying now:

      “The
      power of the Holy Spirit demonstrated in these first five chapters of the Acts
      of the Apostles makes me think of super steroids beefing up athletes. This
      early community, some 5,000 believers and growing, needed strength for the
      struggles of persecution and dispersion they were about to face, as we will
      study in the weeks to come. Maybe you prefer the analogy of super antibiotics
      better, given the chapter 5 tale of Ananias and Sapphira. The Spirit could not
      tolerate infection within this new Body, as evidenced by the extreme punishment
      of death Ananias and Sapphira suffered….
      What we will cover in the weeks to
      come includes the institution of deacons and how Christianity spread to the
      ends of the earth, as they knew it to be, following the great persecutions
      which began with Stephen’s martyrdom (Acts 6-8). Up to this point in our study, what we have learned is that in the beginning movement of Christianity, these early
      believers lived the liturgy of the world.”

  • Michelle

    Stephen had true courage of conviction as he was spreading the Truth to all he encountered. Stephen’s martyrdom, in my opinion, shows the Sanhedrin were beginning to panic. After hearing Stephen’s discourse it says, “They were infuriated, and they ground their teeth at him.” Not to be weakened, Stephen looked up to Heaven and said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” In sheer anger and just wanting this to be over, they covered their ears and, threw Stephen out of the city and began to stone him. Could this be that deep down they may have known Stephen spoke of the truth? After all, a group more grounded in the correctness of their beliefs would have not only refuted Stephen’s “story” but then offered a solid rebuttal. Instead, they reacted with anger. This unfortunate act, however, was fuel to the fire as the presence of the Holy Spirit conferred by the apostles and the entire movement of Christianity continued to grow. In true Christian style, I thought it beautiful that Stephen fell to his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” as he was dying. Truly, Christ’s presence was alive in all those proclaiming His good word.

  • mg

    Stephen’s martyrdom was such a powerful testimony to the new way and the strength of the followers and believers. I often wonder if I were persecuted in some strong way or threatened with death for my beliefs how strong I would be. I often start to have a tug of war in my mind because I know I would not have the strength like stephen did in suffering.

    One of my favorite parts of these chapters is Saul-

    All who heard him were astounded and said, “Is not this the man who in Jerusalem ravaged those who call upon this name, and came here expressly to take them back in chains to the chief priests?”22But Saul grew all the stronger and confounded [the] Jews who lived in Damascus, proving that this is the Messiah.

    What a great testimony to the Church! How great to see this conversion and strength! I mean, just look at this painting of Sauls conversion. Powerful! Have a great day all.

    • Barbara Ann Baugh

      I too am fascinated by how Luke weaves his friend Paul aka Saul into Acts.

    • Beverly Hagar-Schmerse

      I have always been drawn to Saul’s conversion. Thank you, mg….

  • Fisher

    “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the movement,” I have heard in the lectures concerning Stephen. The earthly reality of the horror inflicted on Stephen due to fear and ignorance is in sharp contrast to the heavenly power that flowed through him. Stephen ‘ s words were truth and light, and at his death very reminiscent of Christ’s own at his crucifixion.

    The persecution Stephen suffered in Jerusalem signaled the beginning of severe suffering for believers of this new “Way.” The believers scattered and in the new places they ended up, the seeds of Truth were planted and the good news spread.

    • mg

      So well said! I love the imagery of the believers scattered as seeds!

      • Fisher

        Thanks – glad you shed some light on Saul, as I was thinking about his role in this, too! What must he have been thinking, witnessing Stephen ‘ s powerful words and witness through suffering? Could this have been enough to send him tearing down that road toward Damascus in a murderous rage?

    • Michelle

      Absolutely! Stephen’s words were indeed truth and light. Very nicely put.

    • Liza

      Stephen was able to interpret the whole of the Old Testament as a sign of Christ. The Holy Spirit made him courageous, insightful, wise and faithful. He presented the New Reality of the scriptures in the light of Christ.

      I love your image of scattered seeds: the Church burst out of the confines of Jerusalem.

      • Fisher

        Nicely stated! Yes, all of history pivots on the central, salvific action of Christ, Phil. 2:6-11.