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 prays to the Father, and pleads forgiveness.. for they know not what they do, while it is to Jesus - his Lord, Saviour and intermediary, to Whom Stephen interceded when he prayed: Lord, do not charge them with this sin.
The incredible contrast between the venomous fury of the angered Jews, who were cut to the heart and gnashed on him with their teeth.. and Stephen, who fell asleep after having prayed for his murderers forgiveness.. is staggering.
Christians were yet to receive the completed canon of Scripture, which gives such assurance in times of trouble.. They were yet to be taught 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. He already had the indwelling Spirit-of-Rest abiding in His heart, and he knew that our times are in God's hands. Stephen's outward behaviour displayed a supernatural, inner confidence in God, Who keeps us in perfect peace when our mind is stayed on Him.
Today there is an increasing amount of Christian persecution.. 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 had promised to give us the grace we need for whatever we have to face... but He will only give us 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 come 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 examples of people like Stephen, who demonstrate a man 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 walk in spirit and truth and to trust in Your never-failing goodness every moment of the day. To You be all praise and glory, world without end - in Jesus name I pray, AMEN