“You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him— you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.”
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.
Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.
There are two primary responses to the gospel: repentance or rejection. Sometimes the rejection is brutal.
Stephen bears witness to Jesus in the power of the Spirit with a convicting clarity that drives his hearers to violent rage. And so they stone him to death.
And with his dying breath, Stephen responds to the evil being done to him with forgiveness. His actions bear witness to Jesus with the same – if not greater – power that his words did.
Great persecution breaks out that day against the followers of Jesus. They are scattered throughout the region. And wherever they go, they can’t stop speaking of Jesus… they can’t stop bearing witness to Jesus.
When the gospel of Jesus captivates your heart, nothing can stop you from speaking of him. You realize with compassion that the opposition you sometimes face emerges from the very same darkness that the gospel comes to dispel.
And so in the face of opposition, you speak of Jesus with clarity, gentleness and grace, praying that God would illumine the hearts of your hearers and forgive them for any harm they might do to you.
This is what it means to proclaim forgiveness in the name of Jesus. He forgave, at infinite cost to himself. So too must we, trusting God to raise us up.
“Lord, do not hold this against them.”
Before you go to sleep each night, spend a few minutes thinking over the day that’s now coming to an end. Invite Jesus to walk with you through the day, and bring to mind those things that would be helpful to sort out with him in the safety of his love for you.
What were the thoughts and feelings within you when you woke up? How did you spend the first hour of your day?
What was the highlight of your day?
What occupied your attention the most?
Where did you most sense God’s presence during your day? What was going on?
Did you sense God’s prompting to do something? Or say something? Did you sense him move you to engage with a particular situation you noticed? How did it go?
What were your primary emotions? Was there a fear or anxiety that was constantly present? Was there a hunger or a longing that was a constant itch?
Was there peace? Joy? Gratitude?
Who were the people you interacted with today? How do you think your interactions went? Was there a conversation you wish you could redo? Is there someone you need to make peace with tomorrow?
Is there someone whose forgiveness you need? Is there someone you need to forgive?
End your day in the Lord’s prayer.