“Lord, do not hold this sin against them!”
Acts 7:51-8:13 from the daily reading in the One Year Bible
“You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did. 52 Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, and you have now become betrayers and murderers of Him; 53 you who received the Law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it.”
54 Now when they heard this, they were infuriated, and they began gnashing their teeth at him. 55 But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, looked intently 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 shouted with loud voices, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one mind. 58 When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” 60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” Having said this, he fell asleep.
8 Now Saul approved of putting Stephen to death.
And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except for the apostles. 2 Some devout men buried Stephen, and mourned loudly for him. 3 But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house; and he would drag away men and women and put them in prison.
4 Therefore, those who had been scattered went through places preaching the word. 5 Philip went down to the city of Samaria and began proclaiming the Christ to them. 6 The crowds were paying attention with one mind to what was being said by Philip, as they heard and saw the signs which he was performing. 7 For in the case of many who had unclean spirits, they were coming out of them shouting with a loud voice; and many who had been paralyzed or limped on crutches were healed. 8 So there was much rejoicing in that city.
9 Now a man named Simon had previously been practicing magic in the city and astonishing the people of Samaria, claiming to be someone great; 10 and all the people, from small to great, were paying attention to him, saying, “This man is the Power of God that is called Great.” 11 And they were paying attention to him because for a long time he had astounded them with his magic arts. 12 But when they believed Philip as he was preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were being baptized. 13 Now even Simon himself believed; and after being baptized, he continued on with Philip, and as he observed signs and great miracles taking place, he was repeatedly amazed.
When I last wrote about Stephen, a few days ago, he had been chosen to help wait on tables, serving the widows. Acts 6:8-9 says: And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people. But some men from what was called the Synagogue of the Freedmen, including both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and argued with Stephen.In today’s text it says: Now when they heard this, they were infuriated, and they began gnashing their teeth at him. But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, looked intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” But they shouted with loud voices, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one mind. When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul. They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” Then he fell on his knees and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” Having said this, he fell asleep. So, in Stephen we see not only that we can do great works for the Lord no matter what our job in the church or the workplace may be. We also see an example of forgiving as Jesus forgave. Just as on the cross Jesus said: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) Stephen said of those who were stoning him: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” That’s how we need to learn to forgive, not after the fact, only after we have come through okay, not forgiving only when someone has apologized for what they did. We need to forgive in the midst of the pain or offence. True forgiveness, as demonstrated by Jesus and Stephen is not between ourselves and others. True forgiveness is between ourselves and God. It’s God’s forgiveness they need. Psalm 51:4 says: Against You, You only, I have sinned And done what is evil in Your sight. We may be victims of the sins of others, but their sin is against God. In Matthew 6:14-15 Jesus says: “If you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Others may be judged for their actions against us, but we could be judged for our unforgiveness of those actions.
There is another thing we see in the example of Stephen’s ministry and his death. It verifies what Jesus says in John 15:18-25: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them the works no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. As it is, they have seen, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.” They hated Jesus for no reason. Like Stephen, if we are hated by the world, may it be because we are like Jesus.
Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom
Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.