The Ultimate Forgiveness

Today’s Journey Through Scripture Readings: Job 3-4; Acts 7:44-60

51 “You stubborn people! In your thoughts and hearing, you are like those who have had no part in God’s covenant! You continuously set yourself against the Holy Spirit, just like your ancestors did. 52 Was there a single prophet your ancestors didn’t harass? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the righteous one, and you’ve betrayed and murdered him! 53 You received the Law given by angels, but you haven’t kept it.”

54 Once the council members heard these words, they were enraged and began to grind their teeth at Stephen. 55 But Stephen, enabled by the Holy Spirit, stared into heaven and saw God’s majesty and Jesus standing at God’s right side. 56 He exclaimed, “Look! I can see heaven on display and the Human One standing at God’s right side!” 57 At this, they shrieked and covered their ears. Together, they charged at him, 58 threw him out of the city, and began to stone him. The witnesses placed their coats in the care of a young man named Saul. 59 As they battered him with stones, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, accept my life!” 60 Falling to his knees, he shouted, “Lord, don’t hold this sin against them!” Then he died. (Acts 7:51-60, Common English Bible)

I preface this by saying, I know by our sins we all killed Jesus. I have blogged about that more than once. When I say here that the Jews and Romans killed Jesus I am speaking of the literal event, not of theology.

It has gone on many times in history. We have seen it happen in our own day. It happened to John the Baptist at the hands of the Romans. Jesus was killed by the Jews and the Romans. In our lesson, Stephen is killed, by the Jews. The Book of Acts also lists James, the son of Zebedee as one martyred for the faith.

If we keep following the steps of history there were others. There were many, many others. There was James, the brother of Jesus according to the early historian Josephus. Tradition also claims Peter, Paul, Mark, Phillip, Andrew, Jude, Bartholomew, Thomas, and Simon the Zealot.

As time passed, Christians started martyring other Christians. We can see that in King Edward the Martyr, Thomas Beckett, John Huss, and Joan of Arc. The sad tradition still exists. In 2016, Father Jacques Hamel, a French Roman Catholic priest was martyred at the hands of men pledging allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq. Father Hamel was celebrating the Mass when he was martyred in his church in Normandy.

Stephen falls into the earliest period of Christian martyrs. He was drug from the city and stoned to death. People have said there is no worse way to die than crucifixion. People have said there is no worse way to die than by stoning. We can safely say, these are without question two of the worst ways the human creature has devised to take the life of another person. I would guess burning at the stake would fit into the same category.

Stephen was truly amazing. Knowing he is about to face death in such a terrible way, looks up at heaven and sees the glory of God, asks for God to accept him (somehow I don’t think that one would be a problem), then, in the same way the Lord did while hanging on the cross, Stephen asks for Divine forgiveness for those who are killing him.

To me, Stephen is the symbol of a man we can look to emulate. Yes, Jesus said the same thing. But when many of us find it difficult to emulate one who lived a perfect life, Stephen was a sinful person just like us, and yet he not only forgave, he asked God to forgive as well.

At times in my life, I have found it difficult to forgive and these people weren’t killing me. When I need to forgive, I think we can probably find just such a person in most any of the martyrs. I know we can find that strength in Stephen. May God strengthen us all with a better ability to forgive.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

With Joy and Thankfulness,
Keith

Copyright 2018, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Author:

Spirita Spiro (Esperanza for "Spirit's Breath) is rather new in my life. But the blog is not. I began writing a blog several years ago. It lived under the title, "The Pastor Ponders." Over the years I have tried several different names and "The Pastor Ponders" always seemed to fit best. I am trying again with Spirita Spiro. For 27 years I was a full-time pastor in the United Methodist Church. This year, August 2018, I semi-retired (I can't actually retire quite yet) and began teaching social studies. It is something I have always wanted to do and if I was going to do this, I needed to make it sooner rather than later. So, I made the move. I thought with the career change there also needed to be a name change to the blog and other things, such as spiritual direction. Spirita Spiro is my attempt to share some of my thoughts. I often share what I am thinking with my dog "Bishop," but he keeps his thoughts to himself. He will even go to sleep sometimes while I am sharing my thoughts with him. The truth is, if it doesn't involve getting his ears scratched, his belly rubbed or some kind of treat, he really doesn't care. I will say this for him, he never argues with me or tells me I am wrong. So, I decided to share some of my thoughts with whoever might come across this blog in their ramblings around the Internet. I live with my wife Cindy and our little dog in Lufkin, Texas. I spent the past 27 years as a full-time United Methodist pastor. Most recently I served as pastor of First United Methodist Church in Sweeny, Texas. I have also served United Methodist congregations throughout East Texas including rural Madison County (Elwood UMC), Lovelady (First UMC) and Kennard (Center Hill UMC), Canton (First UMC), rural Smith County (Mt. Sylvan UMC and Union Chapel UMC), Grapeland (First UMC), Tyler (Pleasant Retreat UMC), Santa Fe (Aldersgate UMC), Freeport (First UMC) and Oyster Creek (Oyster Creek UMC), Diboll (First UMC), and now Sweeny (First UMC). My wife Cindy and I have been married for over 40 years. We have two grown sons. Wayne and his wife Nikki and all our grandsons (Kaleb, Noah, and Jaxon) live in Southern California. Christopher and his wife Morgan and both our granddaughters (Jenna and Natalie) live in Tyler Texas. I enjoy preaching and all aspects of preaching from research to writing to the actual preaching event. I also love writing, reading, playing the guitar as well as a bit of drawing. I have spent quite a bit of time over the past two years working with paracord on various projects, mostly prayer ropes I usually give away. I sing bass with a local barbershop chorus called The Coastalaires. I have also recently begun doing a little wood carving. I also enjoy playing with Bishop, something he likes a great deal better than listening to my thoughts. I hold an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Business Data Processing, specializing in Microcomputers from San Jacinto College in Pasadena, Texas, a Bachelor of Science in Political Science with a minor in History from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, TX, a Master of Divinity from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX and a Doctor of Ministry from Carolina University of Theology. When I was a student at Carolina, the school was in Iron Station North Carolina. They have since relocated to Manassas Virginia (Yeah, go figure, a school named Carolina geographically in Virginia). This blog is mostly devotional writing, but there are other things here too. Just about every week I will either post my sermon manuscript or a video of the worship service. On occasion, I will post something I see in society. Occasionally I write a short story, a poem, or a song and will post it here too. I will say this, my motivations for writing this blog are really selfish. I write it to get what I am thinking out of my head and onto something a bit more permanent. They say, after all, once something is on the internet it never really goes away. Still, I hope you enjoy reading it. And, should you desire, you can one-up Bishop and actually tell me what you think. Who knows, it might generate a bit of discussion between you and me and anyone else who might make their way here. With Joy and Thankfulness, Keith Sweeny, Texas May 2018

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