Stephen is regarded as the first martyr of the Christian faith, hence why he was called the Protomartyr (proto meaning first). His name originates from the Greek name Stephanos, which means ‘crown’. After Jesus’ resurrection, the Hellenistic Jews complained that their widows were not cared for as well as others of the same faith. The Apostles upon hearing such complaints decided that their own responsibilities were of more importance, so they instructed the Hellenists to choose seven persons from among them to take care of the widows; Stephen was one of those that were chosen.
Stephen was diligent in his work and compassionate right from the beginning. As time went on, he became more immersed in the ministry of God’s Word and he added preaching to his duties. He was outstanding in his faith and was very wise; he preached the gospel so passionately he was recorded as a miracle worker as so many listeners became followers of the Christian faith. This however, was not looked upon so well by those of the Hellenistic synagogue. Envious of the deacon’s success, malice stirred up in his enemies and they disputed with him attempting to discredit him to the public. Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit continued to speak with wisdom and was up to the task, which enraged the Hellenists further. So they conspired against him bearing false witness with the claim that he was blasphemous against Moses and God. He was brought before the Sanhedrin, but this did not deter Stephen from preaching the Word of God; he even went on attack of the Jews by speaking of the history of Israel and stating that they were continuing the practices of their fathers. He called them ‘stiff-necked’ and he said that they were circumcised in body but not in heart and that they always resisted the Holy Ghost even though they received the law by the disposition of the angels. Furthermore he exclaimed that they were responsible for the death of the Messiah. The judges of Sanhedrin, all 23 of them were instantly offended and all the Hellenistic Jews that were present were so angered by his account that they began to ‘gnash their teeth’ at him. Stephen filled with the Holy Spirit, looked up to the heavens as they opened up and he beheld the sight of Jesus standing at the right hand of his Father and overwhelmed by this vision he exclaimed what he saw which enraged the Jews even further as they felt that now more than ever he was being blasphemous. So they seized him and began to stone him to death and all the while being stoned, Stephen asked the Lord to receive his spirit and prayed for his persecutor’s forgiveness. As he died, he became the first martyr of the church. Stephen’s speech to the Sanhedrin is said to be responsible for the theological revolution of the early church and he is recognized as the first person to clearly state the principles of the universal mission delivered by Jesus outlined in Matthew 28:19-20; “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” We definitely feel blessed that our church is named after this martyr and we strive to be stewards of the Word as he was.