Lesson for the Lord’s Day

And he kneeled down and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep. Acts 7:60

Did you ever have an earnest prayer to God for something very important to you and fail to receive an answer? Many of us, for example, have prayed for salvation for someone who was very dear to us, and now that person has departed, leaving no hope that they ever trusted Christ. There are other things too for which the Lord’s people cry to God, and yet the Lord seemingly withholds that blessing from us. In such cases, we might well wonder whether the prayer was a worthwhile effort or just a waste of time. In our text today, we have an earnest prayer from Stephen as he was dying. And we have no evidence that his prayer was answered. But we have plenty of evidence that his prayer was worthwhile.

Many have noted that Stephen’s final prayer was much like that of the Lord Jesus on the cross, when He prayed, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34). We have no way of telling how completely that prayer was answered. If it was in reference to the Roman solders who crucified Him, we read that the centurion and those with him all declared, ‘Truly this was the Son of God!’ They were forgiven. So also were some of those who were in attendance who later believed under the apostolic preaching. So also have untold millions who have over the centuries recognized their culpability in the death of Christ and have called on God for mercy. We don’t have much evidence of an answer to Stephen’s prayer, beyond the conversion later of Saul of Tarsus, and according to uncertain tradition, the conversion of Gamaliel. But Stephen’s great prayer served another great purpose that we should carefully note.

Unjustly tried, unfairly condemned, and illegally executed, Stephen had every right, humanly speaking, to lash out in anger and bitterness against his slayers. But instead of rage and hatred, we find in Stephen’s words the heart of compassion and forgiveness that was so like that of his Saviour. He responded like the Lord Jesus, Who, when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not; but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously (1 Peter 2:23). Stephen’s response shows us that it is not just the Lord Jesus who is capable of grace under persecution. This grace is available to you and me, as we experience the barbs of the enemies and the blows of the oppressors. Stephen did not hate his enemies. He loved them and wished them to be spared the punishment for their murderous actions.

Many of those who cast stones that day will one day be condemned for it. Stephen, the recipient of those cruel stones, will one day be commended and rewarded for his response. To die with compassion and forgiveness on our lips and in our hearts should be our desire as well. -Jim MacIntosh

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