Who was Stephen in the New Testament? Why is he mentioned? He must have done something that is so right. Think with me for a minute.
Stephan is mentioned first in the list of six men filled with the Holy Spirit whom the first church set aside as deacons to relieve the apostles from administering material things. Acts 6:5.
The name “Stephen” is spelled practically the same in both English and Greek, indicating it is one of those words that is transliterated rather than translated. It means “A Crown,” or “That which surrounds.” Most of the time “crown” designates a headdress made from gold, of a monarch or other important individual, perhaps with many inset stones, and designates the wearer as one with great authority and/or responsibility. As a headdress, it symbolically indicates that which surrounds the head or the occupation of the mind. This the way it is used often in the scriptures.
Often Paul referred to the churches as his crown of joy and rejoicing. He told Timothy that God had a crown of righteousness laid up for him. He spoke of the crown of glory and honor. Solomon said grandchildren were a crown to old men. Of course these were not literal headdresses, but the certainly did occupy the mind, and told the story of life.
But the most telling crown of all time is the crown that Jesus wore on Golgotha. It was made of thorns, and symbolically portrayed the awfulness of our Savior’s experience on our behalf. The pain of his head was so real, but not so severe as the pain of his mind and heart as He bore our sins.
Now, back to Stephen. His being full of the Holy Spirit tells us the things of God, and goodness was predominate in his mind. He preached most effectively, and worked miracles among the townspeople. When warned to stop it, he refused to do so. At his trial, he preached one of the longest and most thorough messages in the New Testament, recorded in Acts chapter seven.
Stephen was stoned to death by a group of religious hypocrites. But heaven was looking on, and allowed him to see that it was. In death, he became the first of millions of Christian martyrs.. He remained true to the faith, and gave a testimony that Saul of Tarsus could not shake, and won the incorruptible crowns of glory, righteousness, and life. He would not be deterred by the forces of evil, and folks that is so right! What is the crown you are wearing?
Tag Archives: martyr
Who was Stephen in the New Testament? Why is he mentioned? He must have done something that is so right. Think with me for a minute.
NOW, I CAN BURN!
William Andrew Dillard
Parson to Person
The dark ages are appropriately named. It was a time when knowledge was stifled, persecution rampant, and martyrs made in wholesale numbers as one may readily and correctly infer from such documents as Foxe’s Book of Martyrs; A History of the Churches of the Valleys of Piedmont, and other such historical books.
Almost within shouting distance of the famous Oxford University, the powers of England burned William Tyndale at the stake as he prayed “Lord open the eyes of the King of England.” His crime: translating the Holy Scriptures into the English Language so common people might know God’s truth in a time of terrible clerical corruption.
Among many English martyrs is one notable Thomas Cranmer. He was a religious cleric who lived in the stormy political time of King Henry VIII. It was a time when religious reformation was gaining acceptance, but with a terrible price. Cranmer did the bidding of kings, and was reluctantly promoted into the office of Archbishop of Canterbury. Pressure on his life was so intense that he finally wrote things he did not believe, but to his credit, he recanted his recantations in public forums as well as in written form.
Cranmer was tried, condemned as a heretic and subsequently burned at the stake at Oxford in 1556. He was so remorseful of his earlier actions, and so willing to die rather than re-affirm them, that when put to the stake and the fire began, he said with his hand first extended to the flame, that with this hand I have written offensive things to my very heart, and it should burn first. With his hand steadily in the fire, he was heard to say, “Now I can burn!” In a short time, the man who had served royalty stood by his heart’s convictions and calmly died, consumed by flames without crying out.
So many have paid the ultimate price for matters of faith ( Heb. 11). We need not endorse their every tenant of faith, but, let us not fail them with infidelity to our biblical convictions, even many of those same convictions for which so many died.
Posted: 27 Mar 2015 04:42 PM PDT
He bore the Saviors Marks in his body
Wouters van Kuijck was finally burned at the stake on this day in 1572 after he was tortured and scourged in the prison at Dordrecht, Holland. He had been moving his family from place to place in his effort to avoid arrest, for he was considered a heretic by the State Church for his belief that salvation was a personal matter of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ alone. The bailiff learned where Jan was residing and he and his men came to arrest him. Knowing that his arrest would end in the capture of his entire family, Jan said in a booming voice, “it is I” when the bailiff knocked and asked, “Does Jan van Kuijck live here?” Of course it was designed to allow his family to escape, which they did. During his imprisonment he wrote a dozen letters that have been preserved, eleven to family including his daughter and one to his captors presenting clearly his faith and a warning to them of judgment. He concluded that letter with these words, “I confess one Lord, one faith, one God, one Father of all, who is above all, and in all believers. I believe only what the Holy Scriptures say, and not what men say.” Fearing his testimony Jan’s mouth was gagged before he was taken to the place of execution. Somehow he managed to relieve himself of the gag. A fellow believer was able to draw close to him and he opened his shirt and showed him his bloody body from the scourgings, and said, “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” As the fire was kindled he looked over those assembled and cried, “…farewell my dear brethren and sisters, I herewith commend you to the Lord, to the Lord Who shed his blood for us.”
Dr. Greg J. Dixon condensed from: This Day in Baptist History III (David L. Cummins), pp.180-181.
Some time ago, when preparing a sermon on the life of the apostle Paul, I came across the story of Sergei Kourdakov. Today’s post is adapted from the illustration I used as the introduction to that sermon.
The year was 1969.
A lot happened that year. It was the year Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. It was the year my parents got married. And it was the year that John MacArthur became the teaching pastor of Grace Community Church.
It was in that same year that 18-year-old Sergei Kourdakov, a Russian orphan who had distinguished himself as a leader in the Communist Youth League, began his term at the Soviet naval academy. Given his natural leadership ability and his commitment to the Communist cause, it was not surprising that Kourdakov was soon approached by the KGB, who put him in charge of a secret branch of the city’s police force.
As a secret KGB unit, Kourdakov’s squad of fellow soldiers was largely tasked with targeting church meetings and the Christians who attended them. These “believers” posed a threat to the state and to communism itself, or so Kourdakov was told. As such, they had to be found and stopped by whatever means were deemed necessary.
Over the next two years, Kourdakov would carry out more than 150 raids on Russian underground churches and Christian communities. On one such occasion, he and his men hid while an outdoor baptism service was being conducted. As soon as the baptisms were over, his men attacked. The Christians, of course, did not fight back. But that didn’t stop Kourdakov’s unit from treating them with brutality. Within minutes, all of the believers were beaten and bleeding, lying on the ground. The pastor himself was dead, his body floating in the river where he had just performed the baptisms.
As the attacks continued, Kourdakov was shocked to notice that many of these believers were young people – even as young as he was. He was also startled by the fact his raids were not effective in stopping Christian meetings. To his surprise, people who were beaten and arrested at one meeting would later be found attending subsequent meetings.
It seemed that the more he persecuted the church the more the church grew.
In each of these raids, in addition to beating and arresting the believers, Kourdakov and his men would confiscate any Bibles or other religious literature they found. These would either be destroyed or sent back to KGB headquarters.
One day, Kourdakov himself was curious about what these Christians were reading. So he picked up one a few pages of Christian literature and snuck them back to his room at the naval academy.
What he read shocked him. The pages were from the gospel of Luke, and they changed his life forever. Here is what he said of that experience:
At the first opportunity I had, lying in my bunk at the naval academy, I opened up those pieces of paper and began to read them again. Jesus was talking and teaching someone how to pray. I became more curious and read on. This certainly was no anti-state material. It was how to be a better person and how to forgive those who do you wrong. Suddenly the words leaped out of those pages and into my heart. I read on, engrossed in the kind words of Jesus. This was exactly the opposite of what I had expected. My lack of understanding, which had been like blinders on my eyes, left me right then, and the words bit deeply into my being. . . . Through the days and weeks ahead, those words of Jesus stayed with me. I couldn’t shake them, hard as I tried. I wished I hadn’t read them. Everything had been so organized in my life, but those disturbing words had changed something. I had feelings I never had felt before. I couldn’t explain or understand them. (Sergei Kourdakov, The Persecutor)
He was now conflicted. Soon he began to realize that the communism to which he had dedicated his life was nothing more than an empty façade.
With the words of Christ piercing his soul, Kourdakov knew he had to get out of the KGB, and if possible, the Soviet Union.
Soon he had his opportunity. After graduating from the Soviet Naval Academy, he was stationed on a cruise ship patrolling waters off the western coast of North America. He thought that if his ship came close enough to land, he might be able to jump overboard and swim for shore. On September 3, 1971, Kourdakov jumped off of his ship into the cold waters of the Pacific Ocean. The next morning he washed up on the coast of British Columbia. Amazingly, he was alive.
While still on the Soviet ship, Kourdakov had purposed in his heart that once he escaped he would serve the very Jesus he had persecuted so vigorously. True to that promise, he began attending an English-speaking church in Toronto, Canada. He also visited a Ukrainian church where he was given a Russian Bible.
Kourdakov immediately recognized the Russian Bible as being the same type of Bible that he had often confiscated from the believers in Russia. He asked where it came from, and was told that it was distributed by a missions organization known as Underground Evangelism—a California-based ministry that helped to smuggle Bibles into communist countries.
Soon after, Kourdakov himself moved to California where he worked with Underground Evangelism.
Incredibly, the man who had persecuted Christians, who had been involved in the beatings and even murders of believers, was now helping a missions organization do the very thing he had once violently opposed!
God had graciously brought Sergei Kourdakov to faith in Christ. Just a few months later, the Lord would take him home. On January 1, 1973, Kourdakov was found shot dead in his room. Based on threats he received before he died, he was almost certainly assassinated by KGB agents who wanted to silence him.
Kourdakov’s testimony is pretty remarkable: A man who violently persecuted the church for a cause he thought was right, only to find that the cause he had so passionately pursued was false and he had actually been fighting against the truth.
Confronted with the words of Christ, his heart was dramatically changed. He left his former life behind, and joined the very movement he had been persecuting, promoting the work of Underground Evangelism so that more Bibles could be sent back into the Soviet Union. In the end, he was killed by the agency he had formerly served.
In many ways, the story of Sergei Kourdakov parallels the story of the man whose life we will be looking at in our message today. That person, as you might have guessed, is the apostle Paul.
His head was set on a pole, in front of his church
October 19, 1661 – John James, a Sabbatarian Baptist was arrested. His congregation met in Bulstrake Alley, Whitechapel, London. It was in the afternoon when a justice of the peace entered to disperse the assembly and ordered Mr. James to cease preaching, which the little man promptly declined. He was then taken from the pulpit and transported to Newgate prison where he was charged with having used seditious language in his sermon which James denied in no uncertain terms.
In Nov. he appeared in the dock and pleaded, “not guilty,” and afterward a verdict was given against him upon the evidence of profligate persons. James petitioned King Charles to intercede, but the King treated him with contempt and decreed that the sentence must be fulfilled and that he was to be hanged. To the sentence Rev. James responded by quoting several scriptures including, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints,” and “He that toucheth the Lord’s people toucheth the apple of His eye.” He also told them that they were going to bring innocent blood down upon their heads. He closed by saying, “I have no more to say for myself, but one word for my Lord…The Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is the King of England.”
On the 26th of Nov. James was dragged…from Newgate to Tyburn, the place of execution…James said, “I do own the title of a baptized believer…The executioner said, ‘The Lord receive your soul, sir,’ to which he replied, I thank thee,’ and added, ‘Father into thy hands I commit my spirit.’ His head was set on a pole, in front of his church, where his people had met in peace.
Dr. Greg J. Dixon from: This Day in Baptist History Vol. I: Cummins/Thompson, pp. 433-35
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His outspoken ways brought great persecution
Balthasar Hubmaier received the doctorate of theology from the University of Ingolstadt in Germany and entered the Roman Catholic ministry on Sept. 29, 1512. Through his studies he became disillusioned with what he had been taught and by 1523 was in contact with the Protestant reformer, Zwingli and he was transformed by the grace of God. Later he left Zwingli over believer’s immersion. His outspoken ways brought great persecution down upon him. He like Peter, under pressure, denied the truth, but repented and was able to give a glorious testimony to God’s grace in the flames of martyrdom on March 10, 1528. Three days later his wife Elizabeth, undaunted in her faith, was thrown into the Danube River and drowned. The doctrine that caused our Anabaptist forebears to suffer at the hands of Catholic and Protestant Reformers alike was infant baptism. That wicked heresy was established in the third century as Cyprian consulted with sixty bishops upon the question of whether children were to be baptized on the third or eighth day from their birth? Our forefathers the Donatists, repudiated this falsity. The Reformers, Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin continued in this heresy, and also persecuted the Baptists, and other non-conformists over this issue, which they had received from Augustine. [Wm. R. Estep, The Anabaptist Story Nashville: Broadman Press, 1963), p. 49.
Dr. Greg J. Dixon: From: This Day in Baptist History II: Cummins and Thompson, pp. 533 – 34.
He served over seventy years in the ministry
Anderson Moffett was born in Fauquier County, Virginia on August 28, 1746. David Thomas who had come to Virginia originally from the old Philadelphia Baptist Association had planted the Broad Run Church in that County when Moffett was but a youth. Many of the Regular Baptists of Northern Virginia had caught their fire from Thomas who they often referred to as Old Father Thomas.” He fired their souls while establishing them in sound doctrine without quenching their evangelistic zeal. Moffett was converted at an early age and began to preach when he was 17. His age is not known when he was imprisoned in Culpeper. There is only verbal evidence that this happened because all of Anderson’s records were destroyed by fire when he was an aged man, and too weak to rewrite them. His nephew Judge W.W. Moffett gave testimony that his father told him personally of the account of his uncle Anderson Moffett’s jailing for not taking a license to preach, and gave the date as the latter half of 1885 or the first part of 1886. He gave this testimony on Dec. 21, 1923. His father showed him where the Culpeper jail stood. The Culpeper Baptist Church moved to a new location and still stood as of 1993. Moffett was imprisoned along with many other young preachers in that jail. He was there when someone attempted to suffocate them by burning an Indian pepper plant under the jail floor. This incident evidently did not affect his health. God gave Moffett over seventy years of ministry, ending in his 89th year after he had served Smith’s Creek Regular Baptist Church for over fifty years.
Dr. Greg J. Dixon: From: This Day in Baptist History Vol. I: Cummins/Thompson, pp. 355-56.
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Bound and drowned for Christ
Aeltgen Baten an aged woman. And Maeyken Wouters a young woman about 24 years both received Christ and were baptized and gave evidence of their faith before God and man in their community in their native city of Liege, Belgium. For no more than this, the authorities of the state church (Roman Catholic) sent 14 trappers (those who were charged to bring in heretics) to apprehend these two offensive women. They were imprisoned for ten weeks in the officials’ tower, where they were enticed to turn from their faith. One bishop’s chaplain came to Maeyken on bended knee with wine trying to get her to recant but she repelled the “devil’s deceipt.” A friend came and said, “Just yield on one point and you can live as before.” She said, “Would you advise that I should forsake God and become a child of the Devil?” The man said, “Then you will have to die.” She said, “I would rather have this come to pass than to enjoy the light of day.” These two saints of God endured the worst tortures devised by depraved mankind, often fainting and being revived with cold water. They were so sustained that Aeltgen said, “Yes, if the door stood open, I should not wish to go away.” In all their sufferings they were joyful in their God, thankful to Him and sang praises to Him in prison. Their sentence was that they were to be bound, gagged and cast alive from the Meuse River Bridge. And so it was. Aeltgen said, “O Lord, this is a beautiful city indeed; would that it repented with Ninevah.” Maeyken asked that she might pray, her executioner told her to pray to the lords the magistrates, and believe with us in the Romish Church, and you shall save your life. And so the depths swallowed up these two precious saints on July 24, 1595, and their Lord received them.
Dr. Greg J. Dixon: From: This Day in Baptist History Vol. I: Cummins/Thompson, pp. 303-04.
They paid the price for their faith in Norway
King Christian the sixth sat on the throne of Norway and Denmark when Soren Bolle immersed Johannes Halvorsen on July 1, 1742, in the river that flows through Drammen. On July 8 Halvorsen immersed Bolle, Nills Buttedahl, two others, and then Bolle immersed his wife. This was not done in secret but openly before the eyes of everybody, in order that they might show the world that they were “the true disciples of Christ.” There were no Baptists in Norway, and the state church was Lutheran, but Bolle, having prepared for the Lutheran ministry, was dissatisfied in his learning and could not subscribe to the doctrines of the state church. This has happened from time to time during the ages, when groups of people have come to the knowledge of believer’s immersion without any connection to Baptists elsewhere. The first person to administer the ordinance had never been immersed. He then immersed himself (this is called “sebaptism”). In almost every case, those whom he baptized lacked the assurance of the validity of their baptism due to a lack of succession. Nevertheless it wasn’t long until the wrath of the State Church backed by the government came upon them. Bolle said, “In regard to infant baptism, “my heart would rejoice if anybody could show me out of the Bible, one word that speaks about it, because what we say or do must be founded on the scriptures…because they shall judge me one day.” All of these men suffered in prison and the confiscation of their goods for their faith.
Dr. Greg J. Dixon: From This Day in Baptist History Vol. I: Cummins/Thompson, pp. 269-70.
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“from my Palace in Culpeper.”
James Ireland was one of the great Baptist Church organizers in Virginia. “On one occasion in Culpeper County, while he was praying after a preaching service, he was seized by the collar by two men and given the ultimatum of promising not to preach there any longer or going to jail. He chose the latter alternative, and after a few days he was incarcerated in Culpeper. Through the jail bars he preached in spite of all the efforts to disturb him and his listeners. His detractors ran riding horses at a gallop through his hearers, urinated in his face as he preached, attempted to blow him up with gunpowder, and endeavored to suffocate him by burning brimstone and Indian pepper under the floor of his cell. A doctor and the jailer conspired to poison him. Ireland also was dunked in water and threatened with public whippings. When drunken rowdies were placed in his cell to harass him, he led several to personal faith in Jesus Christ. During this time, he wrote letters to individuals and churches which he headed “from my Palace in Culpeper.” This resulted in the salvation of many souls who heard his letters read as well as those who heard him preach. He said, “My prison then was a place in which I enjoyed much of the divine presence; a day seldom passed without some signal token and manifestation of the divine goodness toward me.”
Even while he preached out of prison, he continued to be threatened with beatings and dunkings. On one occasion two women conspired to poison his family, which nearly resulted in Ireland’s own death and did cause the death of one of his eight children. He bore the burden of ill health as a result of this maltreatment until his death May 5, 1806.”
Dr. Dale R. Hart: Adapted from: This Day in Baptist History Vol. I: Cummins Thompson /, pp. 183-184
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