December 26, the day after Christmas, is the Feast of Stephen. Many evangelicals aren’t very aware of days like this. This is a good one to remember. This day we remember the countless followers of Christ who loved Him with their very breath, even unto death, as did Stephen, the first Christian martyr. On my Facebook page, I’ve occasionally shared pieces of the devotional “The Advent Project,” but everything about this one hit me. For instance, it contains a video that honors the 21 Egyptians who were beheaded in 2015 because they would not renounce Christ.
Do I love Jesus “even unto death,” as the song in this devotional says? I guess I don’t really know. I’m surrounded by a legacy of OMers who have given their all for Jesus—risking arrest, imprisonment, and sometimes more—so that people would know Him. I am overwhelmed at times by this heritage and honored to be in OM but it feels distant to me.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:10.) Many of us in the West don’t really understand how this could be, but we have brothers and sisters all over the world who are persecuted, sometimes violently. Some have given their lives for Him. Jesus Himself said they are blessed. They now stand as witnesses in a great cloud of those who have gone before—those of whom the world was not worthy (Hebrews 11; 12:1).
I posted much of this on Facebook on December 26, but as I was putting it into this blog today, I was actually encouraged as I read Hebrews 12:1ff. We needn’t feel ashamed as followers of Christ who don’t undergo the same intensities of persecution as others, but this great cloud of witnesses should stir us to consider our Lord who endured the cross—because of the joy that was before Him—and run our race with perseverance, unhindered and unentangled. The writer of Hebrews goes on to say that his audience had not yet resisted to the point of blood, as had the great cloud of witnesses, but he reminds them that they can view hardship as the love of the Lord: they are reminded that they are His children, and as their Father, He disciplines them through hardship because He loves them. This discipline produces a harvest of righteousness and peace.
Let me remember them, and consider Him, as I enter into 2017.