Acts: 58-60 – When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul. They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” Then he fell on his knees and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” Having said this, he fell asleep.
When you begin to connect the dots in the Bible, it literally takes your breath away. Steven is the first martyr in the Christian church. It’s not a coincidence who was responsible for Steven’s death. Saul (later the Apostle Paul) was there, possibly in charge of the rabble that stoned Steven to death. It was Steven’s death that Paul could never shake. Like Jesus before him, Steven prayed for his executioners. “Don’t hold this sin against them.” These were Steven’s final words uttered in a prayer. You would think he would be begging for mercy or possibly cursing his murderers. This was proof of the supernatural nature of Christianity. Paul was smitten by the way Steven died. Here is how Barclay describes this scene:
“As Jesus prayed for the forgiveness of his executioners, so did Stephen.…Those who follow Christ the whole way will find strength to do things which it seems humanly impossible to do…. To Stephen came the peace which comes to those who have done the right thing even if the right thing kills them….Paul has entered on the scene under his original name – Saul. The man who was to become the apostle to the Gentiles thoroughly agreed with the execution of Stephen. But, as St Augustine said, ‘The Church owes Paul to the prayer of Stephen.’ However hard he tried, Saul could never forget the way in which Stephen had died. Even at this early point, the blood of the martyrs had begun to be the seed of the Church.”
It has been said that the death of the martyrs is the seed of harvest. God’s first seed, Steven, was quite a powerful one. How many souls were in that seed? How many souls came from the ministry of the Apostle Paul? Not only were multitudes won by his preaching, millions have come to Christ from the power of his writings. Forgiveness is supernatural. Forgiveness changes our world. Lord, help us to forgive those who have sinned against us as you have forgiven us.