And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:59-60)
I can hardly comprehend a love that prays for my enemies while suffering a brutal death at the hands of those same enemies. The way in which Stephen handles himself during his execution is awe-inspiring.
He first shows his absolute assurance in Jesus, as he faithfully entrusts himself to his Lord expecting salvation at the moment of his death. Then he exhibits a radical love towards his enemies that seems to perfect this rare example of a godly death.
In the midst of being stoned to death, Stephen fulfills the two greatest commandments!
As difficult as it is to admit, it's hard to deny that in the midst of martyrdom this is the example we are commanded to follow. However, even Stephen was simply being obedient and not necessarily acting out of originality.
For it was Jesus who first showed him how we must suffer when suffering becomes our calling. It was Jesus who prayed for His enemies while breathing His last breath (Luke 23:34). It was Jesus who displayed absolute assurance in His heavenly Father by surrendering Himself to Him in death (Luke 23:46).
Amazing faith like Stephen's is always born out of the gift of Jesus' amazing grace.
And if we ever begin to think that such a prayer for our enemies in the midst of execution is more futile than fruitful. Let us be encouraged by the fact that a man named Saul was among those enemies being prayed for that day.
Lord, thank you for the grace given in your last breath and may we not underestimate the power possessed in ours.