Monday, October 1, 2012

The Prayer

The Prayer

As they were stoning Stephen, his last words were to Jesus alone, as final prayers:

"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." Acts 7:59-60 (ESV)

SPIRIT: pneuma (a current of air, breath or breeze; figurative for the human rational soul, vital principle, mental disposition; used to refer to an angel, daemon, God, Christ's spirit, the Holy Spirit); from pneo (to breathe hard, a breeze)

Stephen was dying.

His last words reflect what he passionately believed was true: Jesus was his Lord, his body was injured beyond repair, the only imperishable portion of his life was his spirit, the very breath of God given him at his conception, returning now to the One to Whom it truly belonged.

  • The Babe in the womb of Mary was conceived by God's Breath.
  • Jesus assured His disciples that God's breath would speak through them, especially in times of danger and weakness.
  • God's spirit within us is the only part of us that is capable of seeking and desiring God.
  • The sudden insights, the discovery of indisputable truth, is due to the very breath of God entering your being.
  • Only in our spirit can God be truly worshiped.
  • Only in our spirit can we truly experience life.
  • A Christian is born twice, first given a fleshly body made animate by a human spirit through the breath of God, then given a divine spirit through the breath of Christ.
  • The Spirit of life in Christ Jesus frees us from the law of sin and death.
  • For the Christian, death is merely a doorway to God Himself, a heavenly adoption and redemption.
  • God's breath in us, His Holy Spirit, is our direct, eternal connection with Himself, that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.

(Matthew 1:20, 10:20, 26:41; Luke 12:12; John 3:6, 4:23, 6:63; Romans 8:1, 23; 1 Corinthians 2:12)

"He who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him." 1 Corinthians 6:17 (ESV)

"In one Spirit we were all baptized into one body --- Jews or Greeks, slaves or free --- and all were made to drink of one Spirit." 1 Corinthians 12:13 (ESV)

"The Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit." 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 (ESV)

"Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. - Blessed indeed, - says the Spirit, - that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!" Revelation 14:13 (ESV)

"The Spirit and the Bride say, - Come. - And let the one who hears say, - Come. - And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price." Revelation 22:17 (ESV)

In one, brief, flashing instant, Stephen experienced every implication of the word, "spirit", seeing with his own eyes the object and focus of his entire life's desire. In one instant Stephen saw his future: Jesus.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What helps make it possible for ordinary people to remember daily their spiritual life? What helps you keep uppermost in your mind the truth of the invisible, but ultimately most powerful, aspect of your life in Christ: His Spirit within you? Is it possible to experience rapturous worship without experiencing physical pain and death?

Stephen's final words were ones of supplication:

"Lord, do not hold this sin against them." Acts 7:60 (ESV)

HOLD AGAINST: histemi (stand) and autos (self)

Stephen's prayer implies that Jesus could choose to hold this sin against those who executed him, or not. To hold against means to stand their guilt in their place, to view them not as human beings, but as sin.

SIN: hamartia (sin); from hamartano (to miss the mark and not share in the prize, to err, to sin)

Imagine yourself competing for the prize in an archery contest. The prize represents a deep inner desire of yours, to qualify for acceptance onto our nation's Olympic athletic team. You've practiced, you've shown superior skills in smaller, local contests. You draw back the bow, you sight the center of the target and release the arrow.

And you miss.

You misjudged the wind, you chose a defective arrow, you held too long, you released too soon, you took your eyes off the target...time after time you miss the mark and your score at the end is humiliatingly low.

From that day on your identity in your own mind is "Loser". You missed the mark and your judgemental conscience replacing your name, your worth, and your future with the word, "Loser".

The word used here for sin does not necessarily mean malicious, selfish or rebellious intent to disobey or pervert. It can also include sins of omission, sins of weakness, sins of simply being human.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? On what grounds could Stephen ask Jesus to forgive these murderers? Biblically, how are sins resulting from human weakness forgiven by God? Are the actions of Stephen's killers resulting from unavoidable human weakness or purposeful intent to destroy and pervert? How do you deal with your own judgmental conscience when it holds your sin against you? How does God deal with it?

Image provided by John Trainor, Creative Commons License, cropped by the author