The First Avenger
The First Avenger
To be a pioneer trailblazing a path for others takes a lot of courage, fortitude, humility, and wisdom. To be the first means, you are the first to uncover the unknown, face dangers, push through obstacles, and move forward despite those who say it "cannot" or "should not" be done. The first man in outer space, the first man on the moon; the first African American professional athlete; the first woman to fly around the world all had to overcome personal fears and persevere through the adversaries that intended to defeat them. Those that have broken social barriers are memorialized and etched into history, but lest we forget there are many silent pioneers in families that have broken stereotypes, education barriers, and generational curses that have plagued their lineages. Now, it is their life that sets the starting point for all others that will come after them to follow.
Jesus warned his apostles that they would be “hated of all men for my name’s sake.” They were his first disciples that heeded the call to follow, but they were not the first that embodied Christ’s warning. Stephen was chosen by the people and appointed by the apostles into the office of a deacon. He was a man of an honest character being full of faith, power, wisdom, and the Holy Ghost, whose ministry of evangelism and gift of miracles took him from waiting on tables to contending for the faith before the Sanhedrin court. His boldness and unwavering spirit incited violence against him that lead to Stephen becomes the first martyr of the Christian church.
As the stones pelted his body and the blood streamed from his head, his eyes looked up and saw Jesus Christ standing in authority, ready to welcome him into the kingdom of heaven. Luke records this account in Acts 7:55, “But he (Stephen), 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.” Stephen had a clear sight of Jesus Christ, even amid grave adversity, because he had a clean relationship. His situation did not change. He wasn’t translated from his persecutors or numbed from the pain. He stood his ground, anchored in the faith focused on his Savior.
Whereas the apostles were elevated above the spiritual smog on the Mount of Transfiguration to see Jesus in his glory, Stephen was in the trenches with clear visibility. Covid-19 has caused a world quarantine to go into effect that has limited human consumption resulting in a decrease in air pollution. Satellite imagery has revealed a reduction of carbon emission over major cities, the Himalayan Mountains are visible, and the water of the Venice canals are clear. The earth is healing itself from the unrestrained hand of humanity.
The earth has always been an expressed spiritual forerunner paralleling humanity. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” perfect and inhabitable. However, the earth spun into chaos, and darkness covered its soils. The light displaced the darkness but not eliminated; it crept into the heart of Adam and his descendants, culminating in the days of Noah, which God “repented” making man upon the earth because his thought and deeds were continually evil. It was at this point that God commanded Noah to construct an ark and to self-quarantine. In the ark Noah and his family was separated from the world, the promise was secured, and man’s relationship with God restored.
The ark foreshadowed salvation in Christ Jesus and his church. It wasn't luxurious and lacked the comforts and amenities of modern cruise liners. Its construction didn't even include a bathroom on board. The ark was simple but strong, the way the church was intended to be. In this season, the church buildings are empty and locked. The choirs, musicians, and programs are silent. Without these amenities that are used to incentivize worship, the simplicity of the Gospel has returned. It has returned to its first birth in the hearts and homes of believers were only Jesus, who is the Glory of God, is seen.