One of the most profound deaths of an apostle recorded in the Bible is when Stephen is stoned to death by a crowd of people who had JUST heard his testimony, but refused to repent. The most amazing thing about this account? It lasts just a few verses! In fact Stephen’s testimony takes up more space in Acts than his death is given room for!
Stephen is previously introduced as being “full of faith and power” which tells us he is able to wield great priesthood authority. In the next line it’s again confirmed when it is stated that he “did great wonders and miracles among the people.” Stephen is an extremely powerful man, faithful to God, and capable of great works. He is also recorded as having spoken with “wisdom and the Spirit”. THIS is the man who bore his testimony before a council who sought his blood.
They accused him of blasphemy. They brought false witnesses against him. And what did he do? He opened his mouth and recounted their own history to them. He spoke of Moses, and the Israelites. He spoke words that they KNEW to be truth. But their minds and hearts were obviously closed to the truth. Much as Christ preached unto the learned men of his day, and they didn’t listen.
It boggles my mind that a group of people could listen to a man called to preach the word of God, and then get so angry at his words that they could stone him to death! Death by stoning, for anyone who doesn’t know, is a very slow and agonizing process. Again we find in Stephen a type of Christ. In fact even as they were growing angry and beginning to react to his words, Stephen saw the glory of God and Jesus Christ.
Stephen was so full of the spirit that HE. SAW. GOD. Just as he rose to the highest point in his faith, and felt the spirit most strongly, he was cut down by defilers of God’s plan.
As he is dying Stephen calls unto Jesus to receive his spirit, very much as Christ called unto his father to receive his. Then he asked the Lord not to hold the people who were stoning him to death accountable for the sin of killing him, just as Christ’s own words “Forgive them, for they know not what they do” were uttered years earlier.
In contrast, Abinadi was sentenced to death as well. He was to be burned to death, which was also slow and horrible. However, unlike Stephen he was called to curse the people. He cursed them with pain and destruction. He did call unto God to receive his soul, just like the other martyrs. The major difference between these accounts were the forgiving of the people carrying out the death sentence. Is this because even the men who killed Stephen were supposed to be chosen children of God, and were otherwise good men? We would need more historical context to know the truth there.
At the end, Stephen was so full of the spirit that he asked for the very men who broke his bones and caused him to bleed… to be forgiven. He forgave them himself, in asking for it. I know if someone were slowly beating me to death with rocks, I would not be feeling very forgiving or benevolent. But I believe that the spirit remained with him throughout his trial, and he was comforted. He knew what was coming. He knew he was going to die. But he also knew the face of God; knew where he was going. And he embraced that calling with a heart full of faith and forgiveness.
Are we as forgiving of the little trespasses against us that occur every day?