Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them!" Having said this, he fell asleep.Acts 7:60(NASB)
Stephen was the first Christian martyr... and the final words we hear him speak are very reminiscent of words that Christ spoke on the Cross. Like the Lord Jesus, Stephen had been despised, rejected, outlawed, and falsely tried by the proud Jewish leaders. He spoke the truth, in the power of the Holy Spirit, and yet they would not listen.
It is sobering to reflect on centuries of Israel's rejection of God and their apostasy towards Him. God the Father had been rejected throughout long years of Jewish apostasy. They rejected God-the-Son in the Person of Jesus throughout His earthly ministry... and their abusive murder of Stephen was a clear rejection of God the Holy Spirit. What a sad state of affairs when the mercy and goodness of God is rejected by hardened hearts that refuse to listen.
Although it was God the Father into Whose hands the Lord Jesus commended His spirit... it was the Lord Jesus, our Advocate with the Father, into Whose hands Stephen released his spirit. Christ prayed to the Father, and pleaded forgiveness for those who crucified Him, "for they know not what they do," while it is to Jesus, his Lord, Saviour, and intermediary, to Whom Stephen interceded when he fell on his knees and prayed with a loud voice, "Lord, do not charge them with this sin," before he 'fell asleep'.
We notice an incredible contrast between the venomous fury of the angry, murderous Jews, who were cut to the heart when they heard Stephen proclaiming the truth and gnashed on him with their teeth... and Stephen who, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up steadfastly into heaven and seeing the glory of God and Jesus standing on the right hand of the Father, fell asleep - after having prayed for his murderer's forgiveness. The contrast is staggering.
When Stephen was martyred, Christianity was in its infancy and Christians were yet to receive the completed canon of Scripture, which gives us such assurance in times of trouble. Stephen died before many of the New Testament truths to which we hold dear, were written. Many of the blessings and promises on which we stand, had yet to be written and Stephen died without reading that His grace is sufficient and that His strength is made perfect in our weakness.
But Stephen was a young man who had learned the Old Testament Scriptures and who knew his God - and so Stephen trusted the Word of the Lord. Stephen believed in God and also in Jesus Christ, Whom the Father had sent to be the propitiation for his sins. Stephen already had the indwelling Spirit-of-Rest abiding in His heart, and he knew that our times are in God's hands.
Yes, Stephen's outward behaviour displayed a supernatural, inner confidence in the Lord Who keeps us in perfect peace when our mind is stayed on Him. During his shocking ordeal, Stephen discovered that the peace of God which surpasses all comprehension, guarded his heart and shielded his mind as he looked to JESUS - the Author and Finisher of his faith.
Today there is an increasing amount of Christian persecution. Believers are increasingly being harassed and vilified... and similar outrageous murders and abuses of God's people continue in a frenzy of demonic attacks in many parts of the world today. BUT His grace is still sufficient, His peace is still perfected in the heart that is stayed on Him, and our times are still in God's hands.
The Lord gave Stephen the grace he needed as he faced that violent mob of murderous villains who hated God and despised the truth, and likewise we have the assurance that He has promised to give us the grace we need for whatever we have to face... but He will only supply what we need at the time that it is needed - and not before.
May we continue to look to Jesus, trust His Word, and tell forth the glory of His name, as we look for the any-day return of Christ when He comes in the clouds to take us to be with Himself into heavenly places. Let us comfort one another with these words and sing praises to Him with thanksgiving with every passing day, knowing that we are been saved by grace through faith in God's only begotten Son, Who loved us so much that He gave His life so that we might live.
Heavenly Father, thank You for Jesus and the example of Stephen, whose mind was stayed on Christ and who was able to exhibit the peace of God in the midst of a vicious and evil generation. Help me to speak the truth in love, to walk in spirit and truth, and to trust in Your never-failing goodness and grace every moment of the day. To You be all praise and glory, world without end. In Jesus' name I pray, and for His greater glory, AMEN.
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