NEW TESTAMENT TIMES
and also preached in the synagogues which were attended by certain of the Greek-speaking Jews residing at Jerusalem. By his preaching he stirred up opposition. And the opposition was of a new kind. Up to that time the objection to the Early Church had come, principally at least, from the Sadducees. But the Sadducees were a worldly aristocracy, out of touch with the masses of the people, and in their efforts against the Church they had been checked again and again by the popular favor which the disciples of Jesus enjoyed. Now, however, that popular favor began to wane. It became evident that although the disciples continued to observe the Jewish fasts and feasts, their preaching really meant the beginning of a new era. The people were not ready for such a change, and especially the leaders of the people, the Pharisees, who, since the crucifixion of Jesus, had shown no persecuting zeal, came out in active opposition.
The result was at once evident. Stephen was arrested, and was charged with revolutionary teaching about the Temple. The charge was false; Stephen did not say that the Temple worship should then and there be abandoned by the disciples of Jesus. But he did proclaim the beginning of a new era, and the presence, in the person of Jesus, of one greater than Moses. So, after a great and bold speech of Stephen, he was hurried out of the city and stoned. As Stephen was stoned, he called on Jesus, saying, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit," and then kneeling down he prayed for forgiveness of his enemies: "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge." Acts 6:8 to 8:3
Thus died the first Christian martyr. The Greek word "martyr" means "witness." Others had witnessed to the saving work of Christ by their words; Stephen now witnessed also by his death.
When Stephen was stoned, the witnesses had laid "their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul." Saul was to become the greatest preacher of the faith which then he laid waste. But meanwhile he was a leader in a great persecution.
The persecution scattered the disciples far and wide from Jerusalem, though the apostles remained. But this scattering resulted only in the wider spread of the gospel. Everywhere they went the persecuted disciples proclaimed the faith for which they suffered. Thus the very rage of the enemies was an instrument in God's hand for bringing the good news of salvation to the wide world.