He knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” And after saying this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:60)
Psalm 116:15 says “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” What a comfort to know that the Lord watched with what must have been proud and tearful eyes his servant Stephen holding fast to his faith in his last hour, clinging to Christ as he was being stoned to death. What a marvelous testimony of conviction! Truly the Holy Spirit was with him such that with his dying breath he could say about his murderers, just as his Savior Jesus Christ did, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Who among us in that moment could pray such a prayer and feel such feelings of compassion toward our enemies if not for the Holy Spirit’s miraculous work in our hearts? Stephen finished well. And it serves as an encouragement to us that we too can finish well, when we have a faithful God who clings to us even under the most dire of circumstances. He has us in the firm and true grasp of His saving hand.
Now we turn our attention to Paul, or as we see in the text, Saul, the name he was formerly known by. Not the apostle, not the servant of Jesus Christ, not the missionary, but the persecutor. The enemy of Christians. With fervor and passion, he pursued and persecuted Christians, in the name of the government and Jewish religion. He could not be a more unlikely candidate for an apostle.
We saints two thousand years later have the hindsight of reading in the pages of Holy Scripture what becomes of Saul and how he is redeemed and forever changed through an encounter with the resurrected Jesus. But until that fateful day, we would never suspect such a thing happening to a man like this, nor would we dare choose, if we were in such a position, to elect Saul to be the great missionary to the Gentiles. How do you love and forgive someone who is purposefully and viciously hurting you? Only through the amazing, awe-inspiring, hate-melting, overcoming love of Jesus Christ. Stephen did it. And because of the Holy Spirit who lives in us, we can too.