Summary: Learning to forgive, even when all is against you.

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Acts 7:54-60

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.

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