And falling to his knees he cries out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he said this, he fell asleep.

Acts 7: 60

Forgiveness is one of the most powerful acts that is within the realm of human endeavor. This is especially true when the person or people that are being forgiven are guilty of perpetrating wrong against their benefactor. The wrong that was done to Stephen in this event from the history of the church in Jerusalem during those tumultuous times that came about after Jesus was crucified was as great as it can possibly get. For Stephen had been tried and convicted of blasphemy against God and was then taken outside of the city where he was brutally and violently executed by means of stoning. Stoning is a highly personal device for bringing about the torturous murder of a victim. This follower of the Risen Christ used his final breaths in order to speak out forgiveness for the people whose anger was being poured into his flesh by the impact of every jagged rock that impacted with his body.

This example of forgiveness is extreme. Yet, Stephen is doing nothing more than following His Master in this attitude of the heart, mind, and spirit. Remember, Jesus also forgave His executioners from the cross as He was establishing this same grace for all of us for the rest of time. In Christ, we are forgiven; through Christ’s blood, we are baptized into eternity as our universal separation from God and antagonism with the Lord are reconciled as Christ pronounces upon us the innocence that only He deserves. For Stephen to be able to forgive the people in the mob that was taking his life from him required something that came from a source that was far greater than anything that he naturally possessed. This was an act of both his will and of his heart, and it was one that, coming in this final moment of his earthly agony, required strength of body and of spirit that was beyond anything that people are capable of doing from within their own resources.

These words are those of the Spirit within Stephen, and this act of forgiveness is supernatural in its inspiration and in its execution. God forgives us because we have accepted Christ as Savior and Lord of our lives. Christ retains the role and the right to judge all human hearts and to tender this same grace to all that He deems worthy. Out flawed and frail human capacity to so determine who is righteous and which of us is worthy is no longer in play. Thus, we have no other choice than to follow Stephen’s example and to forgive people in all sorts of circumstances and situations. Forgiveness is complex, and it does not necessarily mean that a person is trusted and accepted fully regardless of what they may have done or the attitudes of their hearts and minds. Yet, forgiveness releases us from being responsible for establishing judgement and tendering eternal sanctions upon others; so, it also allows for us to extend Christ’s call to repentance and enter into restoration of relationship with the ones that have offended against us. Forgiveness enters us into the processes of bringing life after death, and this endeavor is Christ’s ultimate mission and our greatest calling as His people.  

Advertisements

You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in hearts and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you.

Acts 7: 51

 

The early church martyr Stephen is stating the hard truth about the way that so many of God’s own people were living. They were granted the presence of God, Himself, in Jesus, and they violently rejected Him. They had a long history of being blessed by God in ways that were special and miraculous; yet, they refused to obey the Lord’s will. These people always seemed to want more than they had, and still they didn’t enjoy contentment when they were given what they requested. Although they had been chosen by God, rescued out of slavery by Him, and provided with all that they could possibly have needed; they refused to fulfill their part of the bargain by giving God all of their hearts and all of their minds. They were holding back, unyielding, and not willing to trust in God to the point where they could have a real impact on the righteousness of their communities.

 

Unfortunately, this sounds like a way that God might describe our times, this community, and our response to Him. This world is one in which the hand of God with His mercy, grace, and love is quite evident. Yet, His heart must be saddened by the way that we continue to reject His offer of life. We rage against the injustice in our lives while we accept the oppression of millions. We complain about the erosion of our incomes and the loss of our quality of life; yet, we turn a blind eye as the unborn are denied the right to even draw breath. We spend a great amount of time and place very real energy into seeking to change our government while we give only passing interest and involvement in our own church bodies, and we put even less of ourselves into promoting the unity of Christ’s body outside of those walls.

 

Although Stephen’s words were filled with condemnation and rebuke, I am certain that his heart’s desire was that at least some of the people in his audience would hear God’s truth in those statements and that those individuals would turn away from their self-centered course of life and back to God. As we hear those same words, that is what I believe God is saying to us. He wants us to examine our own lives. Christ implores us to meditate deeply on His Word and listen carefully to what He is saying to us. Christ desires for His people to become the voice of love, grace, mercy, and peace in our troubled world. He wants us to stop dwelling in the isolation of our own homes and reside in the community of His body. The Holy Spirit is moving in our land, and He is calling for us to repent of our wandering ways. Christ calls, and He wants for us to respond by giving Him our all.