Stephen, First Martyr

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Question: Who was the first known Christian martyr after Jesus’ Resurrection?

Answer: Stephen is the first known Christian martyr after Jesus’ Resurrection.

Acts 7:54-60

54 When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart (the truth cut them deeply and made them furious), and they gnashed on him with their teeth.

55 But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,

56 And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man (Jesus) standing on the right hand of God.

57 Then they cried out with a loud voice (they shouted), and stopped their ears (plugged their ears because they didn’t want to hear his testimony), and ran upon him with one accord,

58 And cast him out of the city, and stoned him (killed him by throwing rocks at him): and the witnesses laid down their clothes (so they wouldn’t get dirty while they killed Stephen) at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul. (Saul will be converted and his name will be changed to Paul. He will become the Apostle Paul.)

59 And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. (JST “And they stoned Stephen; and he, calling upon God, said, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”)

60 And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge (allow these men, who are killing me, to repent). And when he had said this, he fell asleep (he died).

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James E. Faust, Second Counselor in the First Presidency:

One of the greatest blessings of life and eternity is to be counted as one of the devoted disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ...

The word for disciple and the word for discipline both come from the same Latin root, discipulus, which means pupil. It emphasizes practice or exercise. Self-discipline and self-control are consistent and permanent characteristics of the followers of Jesus, as exemplified by Peter, James, and John, who indeed “forsook all, and followed him.”

What is discipleship? It is primarily obedience to the Savior. Discipleship includes many things. It is chastity. It is tithing. It is family home evening. It is keeping all the commandments. It is forsaking anything that is not good for us. Everything in life has a price. Considering the Savior’s great promise for peace in this life and eternal life in the life to come, discipleship is a price worth paying. It is a price we cannot afford not to pay. By measure, the requirements of discipleship are much, much less than the promised blessings.

The disciples of Christ receive a call to not only forsake the pursuit of worldly things but to carry the cross daily. To carry the cross means to follow His commandments and to build up His Church on the earth. It also means self-mastery. As Jesus of Nazareth instructed us, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” “And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.”

The words of a beloved Primary song resonate with all who follow the Master:

I’m trying to be like Jesus;

I’m following in his ways.

I’m trying to love as he did, in all that I do and say...

True followers of the Savior should be prepared to lay down their lives, and some have been privileged to do so. The Doctrine and Covenants counsels us:

“Let no man be afraid to lay down his life for my sake; for whoso layeth down his life for my sake shall find it again.

“And whoso is not willing to lay down his life for my sake is not my disciple.”

We read in the book of Acts the account of the disciple Stephen, who was “full of faith and power, [and] did great wonders and miracles among the people.” Stephen encountered a hostile audience in Jerusalem who falsely accused him of blasphemy even though he was transfigured before them. Stephen testified of the divinity of the Savior, and when he called them to repentance, several in the crowd turned on him. “But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God.” Even as he was stoned to death, the last words on Stephen’s lips were “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.”...

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In the early days of the Church, other disciples in addition to Joseph Smith and Hyrum Smith also laid down their lives for the gospel of Jesus Christ. The faithfulness of Edward Partridge, the first bishop of the Church, is noted in the Doctrine and Covenants. On July 20, 1833, Edward was sitting at home with his frail wife, who had just given birth. Three mobsters burst in and dragged him into the bedlam of the street and then into the square, where they had already taken Charles Allen. A mob of about 300 demanded through their spokesman that Edward and Charles either renounce their faith in the Book of Mormon or leave the county. Edward Partridge responded: “If I must suffer for my religion, it is no more than others have done before me. I am not conscious of having injured anyone in the county and therefore will not consent to leave. I have done nothing to offend anyone. If you abuse me, you are injuring an innocent man.” The mob then daubed Edward and Charles from head to foot with hot tar containing pearl ash, a flesh-eating acid, and then they threw feathers that stuck to the burning tar.

The Prophet Joseph Smith characterized Edward’s death a few years later at age 46 in these words: “He lost his life in consequence of the Missouri persecutions, and he is one of that number whose blood will be required at their hands.” Edward Partridge left a legacy that lives on in a large and righteous posterity.

For most of us, however, what is required is not to die for the Church but to live for it. For many, living a Christlike life every day may be even more difficult than laying down one’s life. I learned during a time of war that many men were capable of great acts of selflessness, heroism, and nobility without regard to life. But when the war was over and they came home, they could not bear up under the ordinary daily burdens of living and became enslaved by tobacco, alcohol, drugs, and debauchery, which in the end caused them to forfeit their lives...

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The blessings of discipleship are readily available to all who are willing to pay the price. Discipleship brings purpose to our lives so that rather than wandering aimlessly, we walk steadily on that strait and narrow way that leads us back to our Heavenly Father. Discipleship brings us comfort in times of sorrow, peace of conscience, and joy in service—all of which help us to be more like Jesus...

We are grateful that in our discipleship of the Savior we come to enjoy His promise of “peace in this world,” with contentment, happiness, and fulfillment. Through our discipleship, we are able to receive the spiritual strength that we need to deal with the challenges of life.

One of the greatest blessings of life and eternity is to be counted as one of the devoted disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. I have a profound testimony of this truth, to which I bear witness, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

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Sources: Come, Follow Me–For Individuals and Families, p. 107; The New Testament Made Easier, Part 2, Volume 3, by David J. Ridges, 21; Excerpts from “Discipleship,” by James E. Faust, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, General Conference, October 2006.