And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 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.
When I was in junior high and high school, I could make even the most hardened pagan blush with my “colorful” language.
I’m not proud of it. And even 40 years later it takes a lot of self-control to not revert back into that old pattern of speaking – especially when I’m angry or when I’ve dropped a piece of lumber on my toe.
As I get older, I have this growing fear that I’m going to revert back into that foul language when my mind gets weak with age and my self-control begins to wane.
I’ve ministered to several people who have suffered with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. As they slip further into the disease and away from who they were, I witnessed them revert to what appears to be an earlier time in their lives, usually a more child-like time.
Will that happen to me? And will I revert to my high school potty mouth?
How’s that going to look when I’m in the nursing home and people know I’m a retired pastor and I’m cursing and swearing up a storm because I got lime jello instead of chocolate pudding!
I suppose that could still happen. But I heard something recently that has gone a long way to putting my mind at ease about this.
It’s the story of Stephen, one of the first seven deacons of the Christian church.
Stephen was brought up before the Jewish ruling counsel – the Sanhedrin – because he had been preaching about Jesus Christ. This was the same Sanhedrin that condemned Jesus months before.
Stephen proclaimed Jesus so powerfully that the Sanhedrin were pushed to murder yet again. Only this time they didn’t have Rome do their dirty work for them. They grabbed Stephen and dragged him outside the city walls and there stoned him.
As they threw rocks at him, I’m sure some hit him in the head causing, at first, concussions. I can imagine that he may have not been thinking clearly due to pain and injury. I can also imagine that no one would really fault him if he had gotten angry for being unjustly murdered!
So, what does Stephen say? As he’s critically injured and life is literally flowing out of him, does Stephen call down curses on these wicked people?
No more than three years before, Stephen had come to faith in Jesus Christ. We aren’t told how that happened or when that happened. But we are told that Stephen was “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5).
We’re also told Stephen was “full of grace and power” and “was doing great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8).
It is clear from these descriptions that Jesus Christ – through the Holy Spirit – has gotten a strong grip on Stephen. So strong, in fact, that Stephen is not afraid to proclaim both Law and Gospel to the Sanhedrin.
So strong, in fact, that as Stephen suffers from critical injuries, as he succumbs to fatal concussions, his last words are not curses or filled with (justified) anger.
His words are, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” and “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
It didn’t matter what kind of person Stephen was when he was younger. It didn’t matter if he had a clean mouth or a potty mouth. When Stephen died, he was filled with Christ’s spirit and his words were Christ’s words (see Luke 23:46 and Luke 23:34).
I pray that if I am ever in that kind of situation, where I’m hurt or injured or even suffering from a disease, I will be just as filled with the Holy Spirit.
Heavenly Father, I do not rely on my personal righteousness, but trust solely in the merits of your beloved Son, my Redeemer Jesus Christ. For his sake forgive me my sins, touch my lips that they may be pure, and create in me a clean heart. When my last hour comes, I pray that the words of Jesus will be on my lips and in the ears of those gathered around me. I pray that I will start now to speak Jesus’ words! In Jesus’ name. Amen.
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