The Bladen United Methodist Charge
Friday, June 22, 2018
Making Disciples, One Person At A Time

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By Nanette Inman

Three young men of the Bible had a certain fearlessness to stand for what they believed, whatever their predestinations be. They were Stephen, Jonathan and Timothy.


Stephen (from Greek meaning crown or wreath) was revered as the first martyr of Christianity. He was, according to Acts, a deacon of the Jerusalem early church who angered synagogue leaders with his teachings. Accused at his trial of blasphemy, of having spoken ill of the temple and Moses' law, Stephen stood and denounced Jewish authorities (Sanhedrin) sitting in judgment of him, saying they themselves had strayed from the law. He finalized his speech by crying out, "I see Heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God." The proceedings erupted when the mob _ having heard enough _ began shouting, surrounding him. "They cried out with a loud voice, ... and ran upon him with one accord (Acts 7:56)." The throng dragged him out of the City, beyond the eastern gate of Jerusalem, and stoned him. Stephen prayed for his persecutors and that the Lord receive his spirit. He sank to his knees and fell asleep.


The 36 AD stoning was witnessed by Saul of Tarsus, who approved of their killing Stephen, as Saul was trying to eradicate this new Christ-worshipping sect (Acts 8-9). "The witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul." This is the same Saul who, after a conversion on a road to Damascus, became a follower of Jesus then Paul the Apostle.

Stephen's body was left outside the city to be eaten by dogs. The second night after, Gamaliel _ a teacher of his and later of apostles Paul and Barnabas _ came and carried the body to his estate in Caphargamala for proper burial. Nicodemis, who died weeping at Stephen's grave, was buried there as well. During the reign of Theodosius the Younger (405-450), Stephen's relics were discovered and taken to Constantinople, an event Catholics and Greek Orthodox commemorate each Aug. 3. Today, an agate adorns Jerusalem's eastern gate, St. Stephen's Gate, and his relics are now in Rome's Basilica di San Lorenzo Fuori le Mura.


Stephen was mentioned in Acts only as one of seven deacons appointed by the Apostles to distribute food and clothing to Greek-speaking widows, orphans and the poor. The Catholics, Anglican, Lutheran, Greek Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox and the Church of the East venerated (honored) Stephen as a saint. Artistic representation often depicted him with three stones and the martyr's palm fronds. He was illustrated as a young beardless man with a tonsure (shaving of the scalp only), wearing deacon regalia and holding a Gospel Book, miniature church and sometimes a censer (perfume burner).


Ten Jonathans were mentioned in the Bible. This one boldly went into battle, and was killed. When his father King Saul found he and his two brothers dead, the king asked that he be slain as well. He was refused. This particular Jonathan was mentioned in Samuel 1 in the Hebrew Bible. He was the oldest of King Saul's sons and friend of an even younger David. Like Saul, he possessed strength and swiftness, excelling in archery and slinging. He first appeared in the biblical narrative of the Battle of Geba, a Philistine stronghold. All the fighting in this part of the world was over land and power. King Saul had been trying to expel the Philistines from Hebrew territory. Jonathan had also felt the oppression of the Philistines. Acting on his own, he carried out a lone and secret attack of the Philistine garrison, and showed off his "prowess and courage as a warrior" by killing twenty Philistine soldiers in the area of an acre. He won the battle, having caused panic to the degree that the ground shook. "Let us go to the garrison of the pagans (worshippers of Baal, Dagon, Ashtoreth), and the uncircumcised (non-Jews). It may that the Lord be with us." 


Jonathan and his brothers died at the Battle of Mount Gilboa as the Philistinians retaliated. The battle, fought in northern Israel in 1025 BC, ended when a heartbroken king (who had had a rocky relationship with Jonathan) asked his weapons bearer to kill him with his sword. The weapons bearer said no, so Saul planted the handle in dirt and lunged forward onto the blade. 


Next day, when the Philistines came to pilfer the dead, they found Saul and his sons lying on Mount Gilboa. They cut off the king's head and stripped him of his armor and, upon returning to their own town, displayed his armor in the shrine of the (moon goddess) Ashtoreth, and nailed the corpses to the wall at Beth Shean. Having gotten word of the Philistines' deed, the men of Jabesh traveled in the night to Beth Shean, took the corpses from the wall, returned to Jabesh and burned off the flesh, burying the bones under a tamerisk tree. The men fasted in mourning there for seven days. From those days forward, the Philistines occupied the land of Mount Gilboa.  Mourning their deaths, David cursed the mountain. "Let there no dew nor rain be upon you ... "


Timothy was the early church evangelist whom Paul the Apostle addressed in his letters. He became a disciple of Jesus under the care of Paul. "This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee, that thou by them mayest war a good warfare."

Born in Lystra, Lycaenia, now Turkey, Timothy was the son of a Greek man and Eunice, a converted Jewess. He first joined Paul when the apostle preached at Lystra his first time without Barnabas. Paul allowed him to be circumcised to appease the Jews, being the son of a Jewess. He then accompanied Paul on his second journey.


After some time, Timothy was sent to Thessalonica to report on the Christians there, to scold them for wrongdoings _ a report that led to Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians. Timothy and Erastus were sent to Macedonia and Achaia, and he was probably with Paul when Paul was imprisoned at Caesarea and then Rome the first time. Timothy was himself jailed but then freed. 

Paul had written two letters to Timothy, one from Macedonia, and the second from Rome while Paul awaited execution (having gone before Nero). He had asked Timothy to join him in Rome "before winter." Paul died in 68 AD, months before Nero committed suicide. It was nearly thirty years after he'd visited Paul a final time, and Timothy was still bishop in Ephesus


One night in 97 AD, the alleys in Ephesus were full. The festival Catagogian, in honor of Diana, was going on in plain sight. Pagans carried clubs and images of gods through the streets, dancing lewdly. Timothy darted toward them, scolding them for their idolatry. Retaliating, they ranted and chanted, growing more violent. They began beating Timothy unrelentingly with clubs and stones. He died two days later. In the 4th Century, his relics were transferred to Constantinople (now Istanbul) and placed in the Church of the Holy Apostles. In 1945, his relics were found in Cattedrale di Termoli (Timothy) in Termoli, Italy, beneath a marble tile. It is believed his relics were moved there during the 1235 Siege of Constantinople. 


Stephen, Jonathan and Timothy _ young as they might have been when they began _ fought their Godly battles until the moment of death.


"Don't let anyone think less of you because you are young," Paul had told him in First Timothy 4:12 (NLT). "Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith and your purity."