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. And Saul approved of their killing him.Acts 7:59-8:1
A vivid picture, is it not? It is noteworthy to see how God stands by his faithful martyr here. Stephen's eyes are opened, even in the presence of the council, and he sees the Lord Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father. It is my conviction that every believer who dies sees this event, that when a believer steps out of time into eternity the next event waiting for him is the coming of the Lord Jesus for his own.
Here Stephen sees him waiting to step out and receive him in a few moments, when he will be taken out of the city and stoned to death. This is the sight that greets the eyes of those who fall asleep in Jesus, and Stephen sees it. He prays to him in words that echo those of Jesus himself on the cross. Jesus had prayed,
Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do, (Luke 23:34). Stephen says,
Lord, receive my spirit, and do not hold this sin against them. When he had said this, he fell asleep.
Twice in this account we have reference to young Saul of Tarsus. All of those who killed Stephen laid their garments at his feet. He kept the garments of the rest while they were doing the stoning. He had voted against Stephen in the council; he was consenting unto his death. But the idea the Holy Spirit wants us to grasp from this account is a truth that we have exemplified here and that has been manifested through the church many times since this day: The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. When the church suffers this way it always grows immensely. Out of the blood of Stephen there came the preaching of Paul. By the death of this first martyr there was brought to the church the heart and soul of the mighty apostle to the Gentiles, the Apostle Paul. Paul never forgot this scene. It was etched in his mind and memory so that he could never forget.
To this memory Jesus referred when he said to Saul, arresting him on his way to Damascus,
Saul, Saul...It hurts you to kick against the goads... (Acts 26:14 RSV). What did he mean? This memory of Stephen was like a goad digging at young Saul's conscience, bothering him constantly, and preparing his heart for that moment when the Lord Jesus, who had received Stephen's spirit, would appear and reveal himself to this young man who would be converted and become Paul the Apostle.
Father, this account has sobered me that this life is a real battle and it can come to blood and sweat and tears. I pray that I may, like Stephen, be found faithful unto death, recognizing that the One whom I serve is the rightful Lord of heaven and of earth.
Heroes of faith have left us a heritage of their stoning, flogging, torture, imprisonment and martyrdom, perhaps never more prevalent than today. Are we prepared to submit to the suffering God may choose for us so that He may accomplish His sovereign purpose?