St. Stephen, Protomartyr
Acts 6:8-7:60, Matthew 23:34-39
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our problems, without exception, are caused by sin. Sometimes it is our own sins. Sometimes it is the sins of others. But always it is sin. So also that first Christmas suffered under sin. It was less than ideal. It was not Jesus’ sin that made it sad and cold. It was Mary’s sin, and Joseph’s too, and also the innkeeper’s and ours. Mary was most certainly not happy about laying her Baby into a dirty animal feeding trough out-of-doors. She wasn’t thinking what a romantic story this would make. But the rejection of Christ by His own, His suffering, had already begun. Sin would do its worst to Him. It would drive Him out of Bethlehem. It would make Him a refugee and claim those other boys in His place. It would tempt Him, hurt Him, take away those He loved. It would cause friends to betray Him, and finally it would murder Him on a cross outside of Jerusalem. But that’s it.
And that is why He came. Sin would kill Him. He who knew no sin became a Sinner, guilty for sins He did not commit, in our place, as our stand-in, our substitute. As a Sinner, because of that damning guilt, He died. But that’s it! There is no more. Sin has done its worst and placed God into the grave, but then, it was spent. There is no more. Sin is done. Death is dead. Jesus is alive, back from the dead, out of the grave, victorious over Satan who can harm us none. God is alive as a Man. As a Man, as one of us, He has ascended into heaven, paved the way for those who believe and trust in Him.
And thus Stephen stands before that hateful, violent mob without fear. What can they do to him? They can’t kill him. God is on his side, has given His life for his, has promised him eternal glory in the Father’s presence. If it is time, if his suffering witness is complete, then God will bring him home, but not a moment before. Stephen sees clearly through the dross. The Lord has lovingly disciplined him so that he would not mistake this fallen creation, success, popularity, or an abundance of things, for what God actually desires to give to him. Stephen’s expectations about this life are therefore realistic. They come from the Scriptures. He knows that men always resist the Holy Spirit and do evil. But God is still good and still loves men, and the sacrifice of His Son on the cross is enough to forgive even scheming, diabolical murderers. Again and again men reject Him. Again and again, He reaches out to them with grace, forgiveness, peace.
And do not miss the profound effect of Stephen’s dying prayer: Saul is no longer at odds with Stephen. They are brothers in heaven, fellow martyrs of Christ, who have come to their reward. Stephen’s prayer was answered. Paul was saved by grace and reconciled to the one he murdered. God is good. Dry turkey, missing batteries, and family squabbles still hurt. So do stones. But they will not last. They will not hurt forever. Your time, too, will come. And there are no disappointments in your true home. Jesus was born, died, and rose that He would bring you there. Here is the answer to your disappointments. Here is strength for the day.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Rev’d David H. Petersen
Redeemer Lutheran Church
Fort Wayne, Indiana