Forgiveness

Read Acts 7:57-60 “But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.”

Imagine the violent scene surrounding Stephen, the crowd rushed toward him and drug him outside of the city gates in order to stone him to death. Scholars have debated whether the crowd that executed Stephen were only the Sanhedrin or perhaps there were also Jewish citizens among that crowd. They have also noted that a standard execution by stoning, according to Jewish law, must first be brought before the governor for approval. And that certainly didn't happen, he was immediately taken out to be put to death. Stephen had just levied a very grievous charge against the Jews in his speech and now as rocks and stones are being combatively thrown at him, what did he do? He prayed...at the top of his lungs. He committed his spirit to the Father and he forgave. Just as Jesus did, and no doubt Stephen knew it, he asked for forgiveness for those who were stoning him. Interestingly enough, that forgiveness he requested included Saul, who would later encounter Jesus personally on a dusty road and become Paul, the writer of the majority of the New Testament and a powerful apostle of the Lord.

How did Stephen pray for forgiveness for his murderers? That is worth spending some time pondering. It's a unfathomable response, but Stephen and many who have been martyred after him have followed suit. There is really only one explanation. They really had learned something from Jesus, which central to his message was a non-negotiable teaching of loving ones enemies. Forgiveness. Jesus told Peter not to forgive his brother only seven times, but rather seventy times seven. (Matthew 18:21-22) What Jesus was saying is that forgiveness of others is essential to our spiritual well being. There is an excellent quote by Lewis B. Smedes, a Christian author and theologian, that says, "To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you."

Spend some time meditating on the Stephen's martyrdom and the circumstances surrounding it. Pray about and meditate on the fact that Stephen asked for forgiveness from his murderers.

How about you...are you currently in a prison of holding unforgiveness toward someone? Look up several verses regarding forgiveness and ask God to help you set that person free, to free you from the unforgiveness. This is a process that will likely need daily prayer toward, but God is faithful and will walk you through it.