St. Stephen is the only martyr whose death is recorded in the Bible, and his sainthood is celebrated by Catholics and Protestants around the world on December 26th. The Sunday between Christmas and New Years provides a great opportunity to explain to kids why someone would die for their faith and make it understandable. This St. Stephen’s Day object lesson, featuring a caterpillar and a butterfly, can help shed light.
St. Stephen’s Day Object Lesson: A Caterpillar with Eyes Like a Butterfly
• Picture of a St. Stephen painting (this and the two below are easily available on the Internet)
• Picture of a Caterpillar
• Picture of a Butterfly
On December 26th, many people around the world celebrat the life and death of St. Stephen. Stephen was killed for believing in Jesus shortly after Jesus was taken up into heaven in the Ascension, 40 days after his resurrection.
St. Stephen stuck up for Jesus and all the apostles’ and disciples’ belief in him. The Jewish leaders of the day, known as the Sanhedrin, got very angry because they didn’t believe in Jesus. Here is what happened, as told in Acts chapters 6 thru 8:
8 Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people.
9 Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia—who began to argue with Stephen.
10 But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke.
11 Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, “We have heard Stephen speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.”
12 So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin.
13 They produced false witnesses, who testified, “This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law.
14 For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.”
15 All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.
[Steven gave them a long speech about how much he loved Father Abraham and Moses, whom he had been accused of bad-mouthing. He said...]
“You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him—you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.”
The Stoning of Stephen
When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him.
55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.
56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him,
58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.
59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
When he had said this, he fell asleep.
Why would someone be willing to give up their life for Jesus?
Take various answers
Someone would only be willing to give up his life for a person who was extremely good, and something more important:
Somebody would give up his life for a person who had promised them something far better, and it is believable.
Jesus said, in John 14:1-4, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you.
I am going there to prepare a place for you.
And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
We cannot imagine what heaven is like. Beyond a few things that Jesus said like this, we only know that it is perfect, beautiful, and it lasts forever and ever.
But to St. Steven, it was believable. He was willing to pass through the doors of death for something he truly believed in—eternal life with his dear friend, Jesus.
While he was alive, St. Steven was a little like a caterpillar.
Hold up your photo of a caterpillar.
Caterpillars have very small brains and sluggish bodies. They can’t fly. They just have to crawl along and process what little they can. Their brains and eyes are not designed to “process” a butterfly.
Hold up your photo of the butterfly.
But that doesn’t mean a butterfly doesn’t exist. Where do butterflies come from?
How does it happen?
A caterpillar ends its life by going into a cocoon and after a long sleep it emerges as a butterfly. So, a sluggish little caterpillar is not able to see what it will become. But it still becomes that butterfly.
It’s sort of like us when we go to heaven. We are these sluggish things right now who can’t fly and can’t see spiritual beings that can fly. And we’ve been told that someday, we’ll not only see spiritual beings, but we’ll be like them. It’s like someone telling a caterpillar that someday he will be a butterfly.
When St. Stephen was finished defending himself to the bad guys, he looked up to the ceiling, only he didn’t see the ceiling. What did he see?
He said he saw the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of God.
It’s as if, for a moment, God gave Stephen a butterfly’s eyes. He could see the things that fly and the bigger universe.