Being inspired by Saint Stephen
Painting: The Stoning of Saint Stephen is the first signed painting by Dutch artist Rembrandt, painted in 1625 at the age of 19. Note that Saint Paul shares the same face as Saint Stephen, perhaps alluding to the fact that Paul will be sharing a similar fate. Rembrandt also painted his own face in it (just above Stephen’s), where he looked confused and uncertain.
I had the opportunity to reflect on the death of St Stephen at the morning services in the Nave last Sunday. I will do so again at the 5 pm Service today at the Servers' Festival where we will be dedicating the servers (deacons!).
However, St Stephen is primarily celebrated as the first martyr of the Church on record. St Stephen’s Day falls on the 26th of December in the church calendar. Overshadowed by Christmas, this is one reason why this day is seldom observed.
It is interesting that the word “witness” and “martyr” both share the same root word in Greek, μαρτυρία (marturia). This is captured in a focused way through the death of Stephen. He paid the price for witnessing to the Gospel (See Acts 6:8-10 for the reason which sparked his arrest and trial).
His life (and death) continue to speak to us. I am personally challenged, as like many Christians here, I find myself veering towards being politically correct in modern Singapore. I am barely willing to pay any price for Gospel witnessing. If the conversation gets too uncomfortable, change the topic! As we know, when we remain this way for too long, something dies within us. We are not testifying to the Gospel verbally and directly. Our faith is locked up in our hearts and within the four walls of the church. It has become private.
Even our public voice as a church can become muted. We may hang Alpha banners on our fences but even these one-liners have to be comfortable to the public.
- Explore the meaning of life.
- You can ask why.
- Got questions about life?
We are not doing anything that will remotely make us “stonable.” To be clear, I am not saying that we should ask for it. Peter has already said that if we get punished for doing what is wrong, we are just being foolish (1 Peter 2:20). But there will be moments, if we are witnessing for Christ, that what we are doing becomes unacceptable by others. Here is where courage and conviction is needed.
What will be the right thing to do? The right thing to say? The circumstances are too varied for me to provide the answers. However, the Celebration of Hope next year (May 2019) will help us to pray through this and level up on personal evangelism.
If your voice has been muted, it is time to pray and ask for the Lord’s help. That we may not be ashamed of the Gospel (Romans 1:16) or of Christ and His words, which will be a basis for judgment on that Day (Mark 8:38).
I want to invite you on a journey of learning to live out your faith as a witness. In this season leading up to Celebration of Hope, together, we need to ask for the Lord’s help, that we may testify for Him. Training courses will be offered church-wide and in our Connect Groups. Canon J John has himself written a book on “Natural Evangelism” which you can purchase at the Welcome Centre.
Unless something radically changes in Singapore, we can be grateful that we need not shed a drop of blood in the process of being witnesses. But losing some sweat over it, I think, is in order.