Summary: Learning to forgive, even when all is against you.
A GOOD TIME TO FORGIVE
While preparing for this message I ran across a funny story to share on forgiving.One day a visitor leaned on the old fence around a farm while he watched an old farmer plowing with a mule. After a while, the visitor said, "I don’t like to tell you how to run your business, but you could save yourself a lot of work by saying, ’Get’ and ’whoa’ to that mule instead of just tugging on those lines." The old farmer pulled a big handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his face. Then he said, "Reckon you’re right, but this animal kicked me five years ago and I haven’t spoke to him since."
As funny as that might be, some of us are just like that old farmer. Someone had done something to us some time ago, and we like the farmer hadn’t spoken to them since, much less forgave them. But there is a moral to that story. A grudge is harder on the one who holds it than the one it is held against.
Stephen had plenty a reason to hold a grudge. All he had done was to share in the Temple about Jesus who is the Christ, and those that were there, the Libertines, the Cyrenians, the Alexandrian, and some from Cilicia began to dispute with him concerning his words. Now although they were skilled debaters they according to verse 10 of chapter Six could not resist his wisdom and Spirit by which he spoke. That is when they accused Stephen of speaking blasphemous words against Moses and God, and also they stirred the people up and set up false witnesses against him.
But they made one mistake on their behave. They allow Stephen to speak for himself in chapter Seven. In his discourse he spoke of Abraham, Moses, and David. He spoke of how the Lord dealt with them through the toughest of times, and how he had provided for Israel. But instead of Israel loving God the more, they took on a rebellious spirit. They even denied the Messiah Himself and worse off murdered Him.
Then the rage of the Sanhedrin, pent up so long in repeated trials and confrontations with the followers of Jesus, could be contained no longer. It was as if someone had given a prearranged signal and they all rushed in on Stephen. Mob violence instigated and manipulated by an expert: Saul. It was no easy feat to arrange a death sentence and assure an execution and not become directly involved. But Saul was no ordinary man. His brilliance, fired by his hatred, worked it all out. Later, near the end of his life, he clearly stated that he added his vote to the Sanhedrin’s death sentence. His task, however, was to assure Stephen’s death while getting no blood on his own hands. After Stephen was beaten, the Jews were in a frenzy. They had to finish what they had started. Since no blood could be spilled in the temple precincts, they dragged the dazed and beaten Stephen outside the city wall for one of the most painful and prolonged methods of execution imaginable. He was pushed over the wall into the pit from which there was no escape from the hurling stones. A blow to the head with death-giving concussion would have been merciful. The crowd that day was not as accurate or precise in aim as an execution squad. Probably the vital death blow was a long time in coming. So while Stephen had every opportunity not to forgive these men but as verse 55 said that he was full of the Holy Spirit. So instead of hating these men he chose to forgive them. So let us recount that day and see why it was a good time to forgive.
First of all it was a good time because...
1. STEPHEN WAS NOT LEFT ALONE. (V.55)
“But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,”
Many times we go through things, and it appears that we are going through them all alone. It appears that no one cares whether you make it or not.
Stephen was going through this type of crisis. They had just finished questioning him and he in return spoke to them the truth. The verse 54 said that “when they heard these things, they were cut to the heart and they gnashed on him with their teeth.” What they heard caused them to be enraged. In fact so enraged that one commentary said that they were shook to violence. His words cut clean to their hearts. Did he intend to hurt them with his words? No but he did want them to think about the wrong they had done in the name of religion. They were infuriated because here was another one of the followers of Jesus accusing them of murdering a man who some thought was the Messiah. But although they were shaking their fist at him and breathing their threats Stephen never felt alone. If you would allow me to use my imagination. I would think that he was singing as he looked up at the Father and the Son, [No, never alone, no, never alone, he promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone.] Can’t you hear him? The crowd were breathing their threats and he is singing [No, never alone, No, never alone]. Had you ever had to sing a song while the heathen were raging. Can’t you hear your self singing like James Cleveland, Master the tempest is raging, Oh the billow are tossing high. The sky is all shadowed with blackness, No shelter or help is nigh: Car - est Thou not that we per - ish? How canst thou lie there and sleep, when it seem like each moment so mad - ly is threatening A grave in the angry deep? Tell it children.