“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 we there, giving approval to his death.”
~Acts 7:59-60 (NIV).
We hardly find the grace in Stephen conscionable. But there’s an even bigger story in this little passage. It’s the fact that Saul—dead from the waist up in his spiritual blindness—would one day become Paul, the light to the nations, preaching Christ and him crucified for the sin of humankind.
Stephen’s Grace to Forgive his Stoners
We’ll often battle to forgive the least transgressor. And yet how abjectly full of the Spirit was Stephen?—to stand and preach to the Sanhedrin, calling them “stiff-necked, with uncircumcised hearts and ears!” (Acts 7:51)
He must surely have known his quick destiny.
Surely, he’d also known of a Lord who did the very same thing not five or so years earlier—fully compliant of God, even to death. It might’ve been a full-of-the-Spirit no-brainer. Christians then counted themselves fortunate to suffer as Jesus had suffered (Acts 5:41).
Only a person actually full of the Spirit could possibly forgive their killer in the very act of their impending death.
Personal application: where are we routinely giving over our wills in forgiving the least transgression? And regards suffering, are we so ready to suffer, lose, add to our pain, and swelter?—for God.
This is the mightiest challenge for every single one of us—to rid ourselves of the worldly, Satanic and sinful urges—mechanistically, Spirit-filled—to live after God!
Saul Redeemed in Paul
This is the bigger story, if Stephen’s stoning, the First Century circumstances and his response weren’t already enough.
I’m thrilled to the core just to think that someone so ardently sold to a God he thought he knew—the god of legalism—could swing on the pedestal, accepting a Lord so abhorrent to the Jews; this Messiah.
A Jew of Jews—a Pharisee through and through—this prisoner for God was totally lost to the Law (Philippians 3:4-6).
And yet, we see him raised again—turned one-hundred-and-eighty degrees—preaching within days of his utterly uncontrivable conversion (Acts 9:18f). Ardency did Paul have. The love he had for Yahweh was turned in on Jesus in an instant, knowledge of the Holy Trinity owned in the Holy Spirit’s dwelling all over his life and ministry from those moments forth.
A Divine love affair to the nations had been birthed—the mission of God to the entire world; a mission subsisting today.
The Price of One Life
Jesus’ life for ours. Ours for Jesus. One saved—the other sent—in Jesus’ holy name.
We are worth it; bought by the handsome blood and perfect body of Jesus, every last one. None of us can tell who’ll be the next Paul-bound Saul.
And this is the holy mystery enveloped to the praise of God—majesty so irrefutably beyond us (Isaiah 55:8-9).
© 2010 S. J. Wickham.