Welcome to Tuesday’s Foundation podcast. Today’s reading is Acts 7:54- 8:3. We are going to focus on verses 59-60:
While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “LORD Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “LORD, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.
This week, off the back of the latest Grow Project session, we are looking at what it means to be a witness for Jesus. As apprentices of Jesus, we each have a story, a personal testimony of how we have experienced Jesus and the way he has transformed our lives. Our prayer this week is that as we look at the Bible together we would be encouraged to look for ways in which we can share that story with those around is words and action.
Yesterday we began to focus on Stephen – standing firm in the face of opposition from an increasingly enraged group of religious leaders being shown how they have constantly turned their back on God. In today’s reading we see this reach its climax. Stephen’s defence speech is suddenly cut short. The Sanhedrin cannot stand to hear any more and such is their rage – they cast him out of the building and they brutally execute him.
It’s a truly dramatic passage of scripture; you can hear it read in full at the end of this reflection.
Stephen dies with two prayers on his lips: ‘Lord receive my Spirit’ and ‘Lord do not hold their sins against them’ – both echoing Jesus’ words on the cross. We’ve focused on these verses today because Stephen’s words and actions here are truly incredible. How can he forgive these people at the moment they are stoning him, ending his life – all because he told the truth? How can he do that? I don’t know about you but I find his words and actions here totally staggering.
As we look at Stephen again today we are reminded that to be a Christian, to follow Christ, is to be someone whose life is marked by forgiveness – aware of our own need for it and quick to offer it to others. Paul writes to the church in Colossae: Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the LORD forgave you. We are called to be a people who forgive. Something which is easy to say, a nice ideal as it were, but often incredibly hard to do. C.S Lewis: “Everyone thinks forgiveness is a lovely idea until he has something to forgive.”
As I wrote this reflection on forgiveness, I was reminded again of a clip from the Alpha film series – Why did Jesus die? It moves me every time I see it. In the episode we hear the story of Corrie Ten Boom, a Dutch Christian who hid Jews during WW2. She was captured and taken to Ravensbruck Concentration camp. She escaped but her father and sister died whilst there. Years later, she spoke to others about her experience and what it means to forgive. On one such an occasion she met a former Nazi soldier who served at Ravensbruck but had since become a Christian. He asked her to forgive him. She recalls her account of that moment and what she said – you can watch it in full here (24min 52s): https://vimeo.com/250767723
Like Stephen, her story is an incredible example of what it means to forgive. She closes by saying this: “Can you forgive? No,” she explains, “neither can I, but He can.”
As people who have encountered and received Christ into our lives – we are a people forever marked by forgiveness. In dying on the cross, Jesus took our shame, our guilt, our sin and he died in our place so that we are forgiven and restored to God. Forgiveness defines us as a people. We receive continual forgiveness, therefore we are to be continually forgiving.
I’ve heard it put like this: Forgiveness is a choice but it’s not an option. Being someone who forgives – it’s the only way to live. Forgiveness is the way we embrace the better, richer and fuller life that Jesus came to give each of us.
To forgive is not easy, but it is the only way…because it’s Jesus’ way. And it’s part of your story and my story. Today and in the days ahead let’s ask God to help us display forgiveness to others. That as we are the first to say sorry, to let go, to reconcile our differences with people, to be bringers of peace – that we would reveal the heart of who God truly is to those who have yet to experience him.
Father, we thank you for Jesus – that by his wounds we are healed, we are forgiven. Lord, help us know that truth in our hearts today as we turn and confess our need for you. Help us to live as forgiven and free people this day and to extend your forgiveness to those around us. Amen.
READING: Acts 7:54-8:3
When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’
At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.
While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he fell on his knees and cried out, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he fell asleep.
And Saul approved of their killing him.
On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.