In Acts 6 & 7 we read about the first martyr of the early church. His name was Stephen and he was a man full of faith. But living in such blatant devotion in ancient times was dangerous.
Some Jewish leaders did not like Stephen’s message. He fully supported Jesus Christ as the long awaited Messiah and determined in his heart to fulfill the great commission making him an easy target because his convictions challenged their belief system and threatened the Jewish leaders long-standing power over the church.
These leaders conspired to dispose of Stephen by stirring up the people. They found false witnesses who offered false testimonies. Stephen didn’t back down before his accusers. He stood up for his unwavering beliefs and spoke boldly about his faith.
And in the midst of the hostile confrontation, something amazing happened. The heavens opened before Stephen. He saw Jesus standing, not sitting, at the Father’s right hand. The King was on His feet at full attention while the events surrounding Stephen unfolded. It was as if Jesus was saying, “I see. I know. I am here.” Stephen so caught up in the vision before him proclaimed, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
His words sent the violent crowd into an angry tirade. They charged at him. Their riotous screams must have been deafening. They violently forced him to the outer fringes of the city where they surrounded him, each with stones in hand.
No one knows how many minutes or hours Stephen suffered as jagged pieces of the earth were hurled at his tender flesh. But it is for sure that death by stoning was an inhumane slow form of torture.
Stephen suffered an evil murder and became the first in a long line of men and women who would give their very lives proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ.
Before Stephen passed from this life into eternity he uttered these words, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” Stephen’s words were reminiscent of Jesus’ words on the cross when He said, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do.”
Stephen’s response embodied the mercy and grace of Jesus Christ. Though the people slayed him he humbly asked God to pardon their sin. What a beautiful heart! Oh to be so free that even the most brutal human act could not shackle this man of God’s heart!
Forgiveness ~ it calls for the pardon of the crimes of others. It refuses to wrap mental arms around assaults but releases the ignorant actions of others into the hands of the only One capable of righting human wrongs. Forgiveness has eyes fixed heavenward and not earthbound. Forgiveness creates a pure and light heart. Forgiveness understands that a decision to pardon is the gateway to God’s healing.
And on that tragic day so many years ago, forgiveness was precisely what another man in the angry crowd needed. While Stephen was being stoned to death, Saul was standing on the sidelines watching, his ignorant stamp of approval on the day’s event. Unbeknownst to him, however, the prayer that escaped Stephen’s lips before he died would be answered in Saul’s life.
In our next reading we will visit an amazing event that happened on the Damascus Road and the tracks of this man’s miraculous life on the journey of self-forgiveness.
But for now forgiveness is looking for some answers from you.
Have you adopted forgiveness as a lifestyle?
Are your expectations on human frailty too high?
Do you keep your eyes on heaven or is your gaze earthbound?
Are you determined to fight your own battles or do you trust your Great Protector to fightthem for you?
If you cannot forgive someone who hurt you for your own sake or for their sake, can you forgive them for Jesus’ sake?
Forgiveness is not an easy process. The good news, however, is that forgiveness is simply a decision. Once a decision is made to forgive a door opens for God’s miraculous healing to take place.
The Lord always carries the heavy burdens for His children. He always mends the broken fences along life’s trails.
May God’s grace and mercy flow from His heart into yours and overflow onto all who surround you.