Thursday, February 17, 2011

True Forgiveness

Acts 7:60 And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

60 θεὶς δὲ τὰ γόνατα ἔκραξεν φωνῇ μεγάλῃ· κύριε, μὴ στήσῃς αὐτοῖς ταύτην τὴν ἁμαρτίαν. καὶ τοῦτο εἰπὼν ἐκοιμήθη.

This is the end of Stephen. We meet him in Acts 6 and by the end of Acts 7 he is dead. He lived to preach a very powerful sermon against the Jews regarding Christ. He explained through their history how things were leading up to Christ and then how they had rejected the prophets. Apparently they didn't take too kindly to being called stiff-necked and being associated with killing the prophets. The truth does hurt.

This is how Stephen reacted. He called out in a φωνῇ μεγάλῃ, which literally is a "great voice" or a "large voice." In other words, he was yelling. He addresses the Lord with the vocative case and says κύριε, μὴ στήσῃς. It's interesting to me that this is a subjunctive (a prohibitive subjunctive according to Wallace) rather than an imperative. That is a known usage of the subjunctive when giving a negative command, which is what Stephen was doing here. In other words, there is nothing particularly insightful to glean from the Greek compared to the ESV.

What is insightful to me is the grace that Stephen showed with his last breath. You don't have to look very far in Foxe's Book of Martyrs to find examples of men who used their last breath to forgive their executioners. I suspect that many a martyr died with this passage on his mind. Stephen shows us how to die here.

More importantly, he shows us how to live. Here was a man who could have cursed the men stoning him and I don't think that we would think too badly of him. We would know what he should have done, but we would put ourselves in his sandals and realize that we would likely do no better and therefore cut him some slack. But we don't have to because he did the right thing right up to the end. He demonstrated grace. He loved those who were persecuting him. In other words, he lived like he really believed that Jesus' commands were binding.

Do we do that? How do we treat those who curse us? Do we bless or curse them? Do we petition the Lord for their pardon because of their ignorance? Or do we start finding imprecatory psalms to pray against them? Stephen's story leaves us without excuse in how we go out this in our lives.

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