As they stoned him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” He fell to his knees, shouting, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!” And with that, he died. Acts 7:59-60 (NLT)
Stephen was one of the people proclaiming the gospel and the awesomeness of Jesus after Jesus death. During one of those times, the people who did not believe Jesus was the Messiah became so angry and agitated they reacted with violence. They began to throw stones at Stephen and killed him.
Interestingly, Stephen was talking to God in his last moments. He asked him to receive his spirit and then he said, "Lord, forgive them." After that he died. The last thing he did was ask for their forgiveness. Jesus did the same thing. As he was being crucified, he asked God to forgive the people who were murdering him.
Sometimes forgiveness is hard. And sometimes the things we need to forgive others for are because of horrific acts. But God still asks us to do it. I am reading a book called Grace is Greater by Kyle Idleman. In the book he says two things that struck me:
Second, I wonder if Jesus and Stephen both prayed that God would forgive their murderers, instead of just offering forgiveness themselves, because ultimately what matters most, what people need most, is God's forgiveness, not ours.
Third, I wonder if maybe Jesus, and especially Stephen, prayed God would forgive them because in that moment they didn't have forgiveness to give. I said forgiveness isn't simple; it's difficult and maybe even impossible on our own. Perhaps Stephen couldn't muster up the grace to say, "I forgive you" to the men who were killing him, so instead he prayed that God would, which is what they really needed anyway.
We all know forgiving someone who has truly hurt you is hard. And sometimes we don't have it in us to do it on our own but, if we pray and ask God to forgive them and to heal our hearts, he will get us around to the place where we can forgive. Forgiveness doesn't mean that you discount what was done and throw the consequences to the wind, it means that you give it up. You give it up to God. You give it to him for your own peace and your own healing. And you stop the damage that is being done to you by becoming whole again.
It is still hard but oh so worth it.