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 after he said this, he passed away. (Acts 7)
I can hardly comprehend the level of love that it takes to pray for your enemies while you are suffering a brutal death at the hands of those same enemies. The way in which Stephen handles himself during his violent and unjust execution is awe-inspiring and on a whole nother level.
As stones are being thrown at his skull, Stephen shows his absolute assurance in Jesus, as he faithfully entrusts himself to his Lord expecting to be with him at the moment of his death. Stephen then exhibits a final act of radical love towards his enemies which seems to give us a perfect example of what a martyr’s death should look like.
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 that all Christians are commanded to follow. But before we exalt Stephen as a superhero of the faith, we need to realize that even Stephen was simply being obedient and not necessarily acting out of originality.
We must remember that it was Jesus who first showed Christians how we must suffer when suffering becomes our calling. It was Jesus who displayed absolute assurance in his heavenly Father by surrendering himself to him in death (Luke 23:46). And it was Jesus who exhibited a radical love for his enemies when he prayed for them with his last breath (Luke 23:34).
Amazing faith like Stephen's is always motivated by the power of Jesus' amazing grace.
As we think about this level of amazing faith and radical love, we might be tempted to think that praying for our enemies in the midst of being executed seems more futile than it does fruitful. But let us be encouraged by the fact that, in the case of Stephen, a man named Saul of Tarsus just happened to be among those enemies that were being prayed for that day.