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 [or Son of Man] 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.
The world has changed since New Testament times. It’s unlikely any of us will ever face crucifixion or stoning (and we’re thankful). Jesus and his follower Stephen, however, faced those terrible deaths. Yet they both asked God to forgive even the people killing them, people who didn’t even want their forgiveness. Their prayers showed how Jesus' kind of forgiving spirit can permeate our lives, if we are open to it.
Lord Jesus, have mercy on me. And even as I ask for your mercy, which I need every day, help me be merciful to those who wrong me, so that they and I may be free. Amen.
* Adam Hamilton, Forgiveness: Finding Peace Through Letting Go. Nashville: Abingdon Press, p. 17.
I was chatting with a few people one day when the topic of salvation came up, specifically who would and wouldn’t be allowed into heaven. We were doing what we aren’t supposed to do – we were playing God. We’d name individuals we’d consider to be “on the fence” of eternal glory and foolishly determine their fate. Despite its gravity, it was a lighthearted conversation. That is, until the conversation turned toward certain evil deeds which much of the group considered to be unforgivable. We had done it. We had drawn the line. There would be no grace for them.
It’s been a few years since that conversation, but it still haunts me. Why did we draw the line? Why would we limit God’s ability to forgive? Is God’s mercy so powerless that it has a cap? Or could it be that God’s grace is much more comprehensive than we are comfortable with? Would it make our blood boil and cry out, “Not them! That’s not fair!”
Honestly? I hope so. I believe that God’s grace is so large and encompassing that we should be shocked by its unfairness. I imagine we will get to heaven and be stunned at those whose darkened hearts were lit in the splendidness of Christ’s mercy. We will all stand as reformed sinners in heaven, and the magnitude of the sin will be irrelevant in the brilliant reflection of Jesus.
Friends, God’s grace isn’t fair. And we should be grateful that it isn’t, because we all need Jesus. The vastness of God’s mercy is startling, perhaps even disturbing. We may get to heaven and bump into our earthly worst enemy, because the brilliance of the light of God’s grace may reach even the darkest of crevices. That is the very gospel itself. It’s absurd and sometimes even difficult to fathom, but I am ever so thankful for the irrational, illogical good news of grace!
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