“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.” (Acts 7:59+60/NIV).
These are the final words of the first Christian martyr. In Acts chapter 7 we find a lengthy sermon of his. This was his defence when interrogated by the High Priest.
Stephen had been a member of the first Christian Church at Jerusalem. He had been chosen to be one of the deacons of that church. His task was to make sure that all the widows in the church would be cared for properly. They were to receive food according to their daily needs. Apparently, otherwise, some of the widows, who had been living abroad earlier, tended to be neglected.
Stephen had not been appointed to be a preacher. Yet obviously he had a good knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures. We read that he was full of the Holy Spirit.
Members of one particular synagogue at Jerusalem began to argue with him. This synagogue consisted of Jewish people who had been staying in provinces outside their own country.
“… but they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke. Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, “We have heard Stephen speak words of blasphemy against Moses and against God.”” (Acts 6: 10+11/NIV).
Stephen was put to trial before the Sanhedrin. False witnesses were speaking up, saying they had heard him announce that Jesus of Nazareth was going to destroy the temple and change the Jewish customs derived from Moses.
“All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.” (Acts 6:15/NIV).
Stephen was given a chance to defend himself. In Acts chapter 7 we can read his words. He set out referring to Abraham and Moses. From this, his respect for Moses and God’s commandments could have been gathered. Then he mentioned how the Israelites had often disobeyed the words of God. They also had persecuted the prophets that had been sent to them.
“When they heard this they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen full of the Holy Spirit looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Men standing at the right hand of God.”” (Acts 7:54-56/NIV).
Stephen was taken out of the city. There he was stoned.
He was a man full of the Holy Spirit. We find him praying for those who killed him. In doing so he acted like a priest praying for his people. Stephen was ready to forgive.
He was very aware that God was with him even in his extremity. We learn that even the members of the Sanhedrin had been marveling at his shining face.
Love “keeps no record of wrongs”. Stephen facing death was looking to God.