Read the previous 13 days of this 31 day blogging series here. Sunday was a busy day…so this entry is extra long=)
Day 15: Acts 7:51-60
“51 “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. 52 Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, 53 you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.” 54 Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. 55 But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. 58 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.”
The stoning of Stephen is always a difficult passage to read. Partially because of clips of the movie The Lottery that I saw as a kid (yikes) but mostly because thinking about the persecution Christians have endured is painful. When I read this chapter this morning, verse 60 took on a new meaning. First, and something I usually thought about when reading it, is how this request by Stephen resembles that of Christ’s on the cross. Second, and this was new, is that Stephen must have felt very secure in his faith to a) make such a request of God and b) be willing to let go of any desire for vengeance as he is dying.
As Christians, we are called to imitate Christ. Stephen does this, until the last possible moment. We can imitate Christ despite our circumstances when we are completely convinced of our security in him. If I’m claiming to walk with Christ but show an over-concern or fear of what others might think or say of me, I am valuing my security in people higher than Christ. I struggle with this — I want to be concerned for the comfort of others but that often goes overboard into fear of offending people.
If you go back and read Stephan’s entire speech in chapter 7, that guy was not afraid of offending. And if you read the account of the life of Jesus, neither was he. Again, who are we imitating? We imitate who we look up to, who we most want to be like, whose opinion we most value. To be secure in our identity in Christ, we have to want to be secure in Christ.
Stephen died with his last thought being one that had God in his rightful place — asking God to forgive the people stoning him meant he knew it was actually a sin against God (a bigger deal than a person being sinned against) and that it was up to God to forgive or not to forgive. When we try to take matters into our own hands, we are often demonstrating a lack of trust in God’s justice.
I often find myself doing this when I think I am doing what Stephen did. Someone will hurt me and in an effort to let it go, I think and act like it is my own graciousness that I release them of their sin. Sin is forgiven by God. The most effective way I have found to be rid of bitterness and resentment is recalling the hurt I have caused Christ and renewing thankfulness for his forgiveness of me. I can only do this when I am secure in my own forgiveness through the sacrifice of Christ.
What about you? How do you fight against bitterness and resentment?