They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!"Acts 7:59(NASB)
God the Father was rejected by the people in the Old Testament and yet God in His grace sent the eternal Son to be the propitiation for the sin of the world. But God the Son was also despised. He was rejected and crucified by those he came to save. And although His propitiatory work on the Cross stands fast for whoever believes on His name... the Lord Jesus returned to heaven for a season and God the Father sent God the Holy Spirit as the Heavenly Comforter to convict the world of sin and to warn of coming judgement for those who will not believe.
The Holy Spirit was sent to permanently indwell all who by faith in the Lord Jesus, became sons of God... but even in those early days of the Church, we see many resisting the gospel of grace and rejecting the inspired words of Stephen, the first Christian martyr - who was himself filled with the Holy Spirit. But like the Father and Son, we see much resistance to the work of the Spirit of God.
By God's sufficient grace, Stephen pleaded for the forgiveness of his murderers, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." It appears likely that Stephen's murder completed mankind's rejection of the Triune Godhead - rejection of the Father, rejection of the Son, and now... rejection of the Holy Spirit in Stephen's testimony... and yet in His grace, the Holy Spirit of God continues to convict fallen man of sin, righteousness, and judgement - such that whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
Stephen's faith in Christ and his godly life did not exempt this man from the vicious darts of the enemy, nor did it prevent his apparently premature death. But our times are in God's hands, and following the example of His Lord and Saviour, Stephen committed His spirit into Christ's safe-keeping with the prayer, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!"
The beautiful example of this first Christian martyr has encouraged and emboldened many believers down through the centuries who have had to face the assassin's blade, the cruel hangman's rope, the fiery darts of the enemy, the blazing fires of the diabolical stake, the evil atrocities perpetrated by the unsaved... and even the ungodly attacks from many blinded religious-minded Pharisees - all for Christ's sake. Blessed are those that are persecuted for the sake of righteousness is a comforting truth - for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Indeed, the Lord Jesus Himself taught us, "Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you, because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."
The spirit and soul of Stephen hastened heavenward that very moment to be with the Lord Whom he served... while his bloodied body was put in a grave until the bodily resurrection of the dead in Christ, at the Rapture of the Church. However, Stephen's bold proclamation of the glorious gospel message, together with his gracious words of forgiveness and the releasing of his spirit into the loving arms of Christ Jesus our Lord, is an inspiration to men and women of all ages who may have to face severe persecution for the sake of Jesus Christ.
Paul summed up this beautiful picture of a servant suffering for the sake of his Lord with these words, "that I may know CHRIST, and the power of His Resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death." Paul also gave us that wonderful encouragement, that "God is faithful, Who will not allow you to be tried beyond what you are able, but with the trial will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it."
Heavenly Father, how I thank You for the beautiful example of Stephen whose love for Jesus was displayed in the life he lived and the death he died. Help me to live a life that is pleasing in Your sight. Fill me anew with Your Holy Spirit day by day, and use me in whatever way You will, to Your eternal praise and glory. This I ask in Jesus' name, AMEN.
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