Acts 7:59-60 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.
By some measures, Stephen had a very short ministry. However, in his death he made an indelible impact on a young man named Saul, who went on to become Paul the Apostle and write half the New Testament. We naturally make a great deal of Saul’s conversion experience itself, but in many ways the stoning of Stephen was a direct analog of Peter denying Jesus at His trial. Once he had met Jesus as Lord, Saul/Paul probably often remembered his participation in this stoning, and it kept him humble. For his part, Stephen could hardly have been a better example of how to glorify Jesus in martyrdom. As is recorded here, he kept the focus on Jesus and chose to forgive those who were killing him, just as Jesus did from the cross. (Luke 23:34) Because we know so little about him, encountering him first in Acts 6 when he is chosen as one of the first deacons, Stephen seems almost too perfect. We have no record of his faults, the way we do of Peter, Paul, David, and others. We need to remember that he was just as human as we are, but that he chose to submit himself fully to the Holy Spirit, and that is something we can do as well. We are enjoined to be perfect, (Matthew 5:48) like Jesus, but the way to do that is by consistently choosing to be open and submitted to His Spirit. Our only real description of Stephen is that he was “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 6:5) Those are choices we can make, choosing to receive the faith that God gives (Ephesians 2:8-9) and to be fully open and welcoming to the Holy Spirit. That may or may not be an invitation to physical martyrdom, but it will certainly put to death the flesh so that we may live by the Spirit. (Romans 8:13)
This is directly applicable to me. I live in a city that had hundreds of martyrs and our church vision is that the city would again be the foremost Christian city in the nation, but if I do not live as Stephen did, I will not participate in what God desires to do here. I am not to be physically or spiritually lazy, but actively press in to receive more of God so that He may have more of me. I tell others that putting off things they don’t want to do doesn’t make them any easier, but I am guilty of that myself at least daily. I am not to worry about my entertainment, but rather focus on what my Lord would have me do each moment. That will include times of rest and relaxation, but that is not to be my focus. My schedule is pretty unstructured for the next several months. I am not to waste this time but make the full use of it that God intends, so that as His agent I may do His will consistently, for His glory.
Father, thank You for waking me up this morning and calling me to Yourself. Help me stay focused on You and Your purposes for me, not allowing myself to be drawn away by all the distractions. You are doing good things here, and some of them need to be in me. May I not resist, but cooperate fully, allowing You to do in and through me all that You desire, for the sake of the Body of Christ and for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!