Jim Elliot, that great missionary to the Auca Indians, who along with Nate Saint and his colleagues was speared to death, is reported to have said this – He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose. What did he give? His life. Why could he not keep it? Because we all die some day and he had a passion to tell others about Jesus. So what did he gain? Eventually, the whole tribe accepted Christ as their Saviour – it’s a magnificent story of grace, love, forgiveness and perseverance – through their wives. You can read about it in Jungle Pilot and Through gates of splendour. What could he not lose? The eternal salvation of those who finally accepted Christ’s offer of Eternal Life.
After the eruption in the Sanhedrin, the religious leaders rushed at Stephen, dragged him outside and stoned him to death. Dr Luke records that those stoning Stephen left their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul (of Tarsus). Chapter 8 of Acts begins, And Saul was there giving approval to his (Stephen’s) death.
That Saul went on to murder many more ‘Followers of the Way” in a sort of one-man crusade to eliminate the early church. However, he was to have a ‘Damascus experience’ that would change his life forever. He met the risen, living Jesus Christ, and went on to become one of the greatest leaders, missionary pioneers, apostles and apologists Christianity has ever known.
Every Christian owes a huge debt to Saul, who became Paul, the great letter writer and servant of Jesus Christ and His Church.
No doubt being an eyewitness to Stephen’s martyrdom had an amazing affect on him. Initially, it gave him a blood-thirst for more victims who were trying to undermine his hereditary theology and traditional dogmas. However, somewhere in the deep recesses of his mind must surely have been that final act of Stephen’s.
Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
That act was not just some magnanimous gesture of goodwill. It was a spiritual time bomb. In asking the Lord to forgive his murderers, he released the power of God to act in mercy and grace. He set them free to receive forgiveness. He laid the foundation for their eventual repentance.
The Scriptures tell us that there is power in the tongue. We can release life or death. That’s where we are introduced to the concept of curses. Stephen wanted to make sure that in the dying seconds of his life he would do everything he possibly could to assist his opposers to come to the same faith and experience, the same wonderful life that he had.
Maybe too, he remembered what Jesus prayed whilst on the Cross – “Father into Your hands I commit my spirit” and “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”