Sacrifice: A Response to Violence
Northwest Christian University
May 7, 2015
In this journal, I will attempt to show that in Paul’s letter to the Romans, he starts off the 12th chapter with two verses that have the synopsis of the message of the New Testament to people who are coming to the church today. I will show that it is our job, or the mission of the faithful to be examples of this living sacrifice.
Paul had witnessed the stoning of Stephen in the beginning of his persecution of the new movement, and this was a signal of the role that Paul would play up to and including his own martyrdom. I read in article that I googled on the question of why the witnesses laid down their cloaks at the feet of Paul, and the author gave a few different possible reasons, leading up to the fact that in the Old Testament during a ritual sacrifice, the presiding priest would take off his cloak before killing the animal to be sacrificed. (http://www.academia.edu/1089412/The_Meaning_of_the_Phrase_And_the_Witnesses_Laid_Down_Their_Cloaks_in_Acts_7_58_ExpTim_) This may be a stretch, but as I was reading this article online, I got the impression that Luke was trying to draw a comparison to the ritual sacrifice of the Old Testament and the stoning of Stephen. Even though, the presider, Saul or Paul, would not have been the one to kill the sacrifice, he was the one that was the recognized authority. Paul admits that later when he retells the story of the stoning of Stephen to Jesus, who had appeared to him in a trance. “And when the blood of your witness Stephen was being shed, I myself stood by giving my approval and keeping guard over the cloaks of his murderers.” (Acts 22:20 NABRE)
I hopefully have laid the groundwork for my interpretation of the two verses that begin the 12th chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans. In it he says that we are to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, and I believe that he is telling the Romans that no matter what happens, they must be willing to submit to the will of God. The second verse says, “Do not be conformed to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Romans 12:2 NABRE) I think if Stephen was given a choice of whether he was the first martyr, after the Resurrection, or live to an old age like John the Apostle, he would have chosen to live to an old age. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13 NABRE) He chose to give up his life and it was God’s will that Paul was there to be a witness to the first ritual sacrifice of many sacrifices to come, including Paul himself. Stephen’s death would signal the beginning of the demonstration of his disciples willingness to give up their life in this world, because of the promise of the life to come, and the perfect example of Christ’s own sacrifice.
As we witness the murder of Christians today on live video feed from countries that have been friendly to his disciples for generations, I think we can draw strength from their courage in the face of martyrdom. It is unlike the courage of Stephen, who most likely met Jesus and saw his resurrected body, they have a hope that is based on a living witness of a body of Christ that stands with them ready to die with them. We are hopefully displaying courage by showing compassion to the perpetrators of these heinous acts. It is my hope and prayer that the people who commit these acts will receive his mercy and forgiveness and come to the realization that we have this promise from Paul’s second letter to Timothy. “For God did not give us the spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control. So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord, nor of me, a prisoner for his sake; but bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.” (2 Timothy 1:7-8 NABRE)