While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.
Reginald Denny was a delivery driver. One day his normal route through Los Angeles was flooded with rioters. He stopped his 18-wheeler so that he wouldn’t hit any people. But that’s when the trouble started for him. Rioters pulled him out of his semi, beating him to the point of unconsciousness and leaving him so badly damaged that he needed years of rehabilitation just to walk again.
Witnesses were able to identify the people who did this to him. The incident went to trial, but all the charges were dropped, except one felony count against one of the attackers who was given credit for time already served. After hearing that his attackers would go free, Reginald Denny went over to the mother of one of his attackers, reached out his arms, and hugged her. A few months later, Reginald was a guest on a talk show, where he looked one of his attackers in the eye and forgave him. His attackers destroyed so much of his life. Yet, he wanted them to know that he did not hold it against them.
Stephen wanted his attackers to know the same thing. His dying words were a prayer that God would forgive the men who used stones to destroy his body and life.
And why would he want his attackers to hear such a thing? Because that’s what Jesus had said to those who crucified him. “Father, forgive them,” Jesus prayed, as he carried the weight of the whole world’s sins and died, giving every sinner, even those who pounded the nails in, the right to walk through life knowing they are forgiven.
You are forgiven.
Whatever regrets refuse to leave your mind, whatever you did that fills your heart with guilt, whatever line you crossed, whomever you hurt, or whenever you chose not to help—you are forgiven.
This is why Stephen died at peace and faced death with confidence. He knew he was eternally protected with the same forgiveness Jesus won for you.
Father in heaven, thank you for the gift of undeserved forgiveness in Jesus. Amen.