“Lord Jesus, receive my spirit... Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” — Acts 7:59-60
As Stephen finishes his defense against false accusations, he notes that many prophets in the past were persecuted and killed—and that his accusers did the same to Jesus. At this, the crowd becomes an angry mob that drags Stephen out of the city and begins to stone him.
Why does the crowd become so violent? When Stephen says he sees heaven open and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, that means Jesus is in the place of ultimate authority. And the leaders who wanted Jesus dead and gone cannot bear to hear this testimony, so they rush to silence Stephen by killing him.
In the midst of his suffering, Stephen prays. The link between Stephen and Jesus is clear and dynamic. His words are similar to some words Jesus said while he was suffering on the cross (Luke 23:46; see Psalm 31:5).
And because of the link between Jesus and Stephen, the testimony of Stephen continues. A martyr’s death continues the work of God.
On the sidelines in this story we meet someone else whose life will be changed by an encounter with Jesus. Saul, a young leader who approves of this stoning, will one day understand how Stephen’s prayer, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them,” was answered that day.