The first mark of a martyr is a person who has died TO Christ long before he dies FOR Christ.
In John 15:13 Jesus said these words to men who would one day be martyred for following Him:
“Greater love has no one than this; that one lay down his life for his friends?”
Jesus is challenging the quality and depth of the disciple’s friendship by telling them he loves them enough to die for them, which he soon will do. Thus, our ultimate expression of love for Christ is to lay down our life here and now – dying to self every day.
Listen again as Christ defines friendship:
“You are my friends if you do what I command you.”
We cannot consider dying for Christ until we are willing to live for Christ.
What does that mean? Jesus explains in John 15:13 that there is a tremendous difference between laying down our lives for Christ, and dying for Him. A life “laid down” is a life that has already died…to self.
Jim Elliot, himself a martyr for the Gospel, once wrote these words:
“He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
Getting back to Stephen, this was no ordinary man. Those Synagogue leaders rose up against Stephen, because he was filled with the Spirit of Jesus. It was that Spirit they wanted killed. What they did not know is that you cannot kill a man who has already died. Stephen was a dead man walking. All martyrs are like that. They would rather be dead than ashamed of Christ.