There are several times in scripture that someone prays to God the Father and says something like, “Please forgive them because they know not what they do.” These words are very interesting to me and I want to explore them a little further. Let’s begin with the words of Jesus.
As the soldiers led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then “ ‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!” ’ For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. Luke 23:26-34, (New International Version or NIV).
Jesus knows that it is time for Him to die a physical death and He knows that this process of dying won’t be pleasant. He has been beaten and mocked and scourged yet He still has the strength to ask God the Father to forgive the soldiers for killing Him. He understands that these precious people simply don’t understand who He is or why He came or even why He must die in order to be the once-for-all perfect sacrifice for the world’s sins. He is the link that brings all the human race into the presence of Almighty God because through the blood of Jesus we are all reconciled with God once more. We have the opportunity of a lifetime to be at peace with God! Jesus understood that the soldiers didn’t know He and the Father’s master plan. He felt so much concern and compassion that He asks God to forgive these men. Wow! I don’t know about you but that sends chills down my spine!
When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. 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. Acts 7:54-60, (NIV).
Stephen is the first person recorded in the News Testament as having died for his faith in Jesus Christ. He never backed down from those who hated him. I don’t believe that Stephan was an obnoxious loud mouth man, rather I sense from scripture that he was kind and gentle and gracious to everyone. He also knew what he believed and was not shy about proclaiming his faith to others. I admire Stephen for his courage in speaking the truth when others didn’t want to hear it. He made the Jewish members of the Sanhedrin so angry that they drug him outside the city walls and stoned him to death. Wow! Notice Stephen’s last words as he was being killed, they are similar to what Jesus spoke from the cross. Stephen asked Jesus to not hold the sin of his approaching death against the ones stoning him. Wow! I believe that Stephen was truly an amazing Christian man. At the end of his life he wanted those men taking his life to be forgiven. There was no guile, no grudge, no cry for justice coming from his lips, but there was grace and mercy for those he knows still live without understanding. I want to be like that, don’t you? How is Stephen capable of such forgiveness and love directed toward those who are murdering him? Jesus taught a different message than the world had ever heard, that’s how!
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:38-48, (NIV).
I have grown up watching my parent’s model forgiveness of others. I watched them model turning the other cheek and lending to all who come to borrow. Having grown up in a culture that shows compassion toward others is far different from the culture Jesus came to or that Stephen lived in. The revenge factor is very prevalent in many cultures today as well. Forgiveness is mainly taught in countries that had deep Christian roots in their past. This is radical teaching today just as it was when Jesus spoke these words. This is the teaching that Stephen took to heart and it changed his life! It can change your life as well. I already know it is changing my heart. I no longer seek revenge and I do see that people today do hurtful things to others because they do not understand the love of God. They are still living in darkness because they are still at war with God, they fight against God and that is why they hurt me in the midst of their battle against God. Therefore I can forgive them and I feel compassion for them because they are so lost and they will never win their battle against God. I feel sorry for them. There is one more scripture I want to study.
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:9-21, (NIV).
I challenge you Christian, to live as the Apostle Paul lived and wrote about to the Roman Christians. I challenge you Christian, to live as Stephen lived and died. I challenge you Christian to live as Jesus taught and modeled in life to all of us. It is not an easy road but it is so much easier than the crowded road the world is on. Stay faithful, stay compassionate, stay engaged, stay focused on the things of God, stay focused on Jesus Christ, and stay merciful to others. It is radical living and the world needs to see and hear how we live in Christ!