Guest Blog #3...Even more on forgiveness.
I guess the Lord really wants to make sure I get it. Our pastor was in the last 16 verses of Acts 7 today at Sunday service and there it was--a brightly painted picture of forgiveness:
Acts 7:57-58 “But they (the Jewish ruling Council) cried out with a loud voice and covered their ears and rushed at him (Stephen) with one impulse. When they had driven him out of the city (Jerusalem), they began stoning him…”
Stephen had been chosen by the early church there in Jerusalem to take charge of some administrative duties; thus allowing the disciples full freedom of time to their ministries of prayer and the Word. The Lord had other ideas for Stephen however. He became a Spirit-filled force; he performed great signs among the people and began teaching them with God’s wisdom. This raised the ire of the same men who had worked so hard to kill Jesus. So they arrested and tried Stephen.. He was given the chance to make a defense; but at some point during his discourse, Stephen recognized that the elders before him were no different than the ones who had persecuted and killed God’s prophets for millennia…he also knew that he was next and that heaven awaited him. He was given a vision of God’s throne room with Jesus standing next to God’s right hand.
The Council’s reaction to Stephen’s vision was described in the above verses. In their anger, they apparently forgot/overlooked Rome’s restrictions concerning the death penalty. So…here was Stephen: wrongfully arrested, falsely accused, and illegally being killed by stoning. By all accounts, he was having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day…or was he?
Acts 7:59-60 “They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, ‘Lord Jesus receive my spirit!’ Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord do not hold this sin against them!’ Having said this, he fell asleep.”
I am astounded as much by what Stephen says as by what he doesn’t say. Earlier during his trial he had upbraided the elders for resisting God with their evil hearts. He shows us a righteous anger similar to Jesus’ when He cleared the Temple (John 2:14-17). Stephen was by no means a weak and delicate man. He had guts. But here, with rocks pounding him slowly to death, we don’t see a spirit of wrath, vengeance, retribution, or hate. I don’t see curses, rage, or resentment. Why? Verse 55 tells us: “But being full of the Holy Spirit…” In fact, Stephen’s entire life as documented in the Scriptures was dominated by the Spirit: Acts 6:5: “…they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.”; verse 8, “Stephen full of grace and power…”; verse 10, “But they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which Stephen was speaking.”; verse 15, “…all who were sitting in the Council saw Stephen’s face like the face of an angel.”
So…it appears that the Holy Spirit is, among many other things, the active agent of forgiveness; which may explain why it is sometimes so difficult for us to fully and completely forgive…we can’t do it on our own accord. We need the Helper and His power. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you…If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:7,11) Let’s ask…let’s seek…let’s bang down the door on God’s goodness and watch Him work!!"