Reader: “Lord Jesus,”
Response: “receive my spirit.”
Scripture: Acts 7:51-60
“You stubborn people! You are heathen at heart and deaf to the truth. Must you forever resist the Holy Spirit? That’s what your ancestors did, and so do you! Name one prophet your ancestors didn’t persecute! They even killed the ones who predicted the coming of the Righteous One—the Messiah whom you betrayed and murdered. You deliberately disobeyed God’s law, even though you received it from the hands of angels.”
The Jewish leaders were infuriated by Stephen’s accusation, and they shook their fists at him in rage. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand. And he told them, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand!”
Then they put their hands over their ears and began shouting. They rushed at him and dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. His accusers took off their coats and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul.
As they stoned him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” He fell to his knees, shouting, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!” And with that, he died.
Reader: “The word of the Lord.”
Response: “Thanks be to God.”
Traditionally, this passage has been read the day after Christmas. For those unfamiliar with this tradition, it may seem like an odd choice. But there is a reason. Stephen was the first adult martyr of the faith. This passage occurs at the end of a powerful message and challenge he gave to the Jewish leaders. He chided them for resisting the testimony of the Holy Spirit, reminding them of their long history of killing the prophets who predicted the coming of the Messiah. When he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand!” that pushed them over the edge. When he identified Jesus as the divine Son of Man spoken of in the book of Daniel, it was akin to blasphemy, deserving of stoning to death under the law, which they did.
In his dying moments, Stephen prayed words similar to those of Jesus on the cross, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin.” Already following Christ brought persecution and sorrow as Saul, a consenting witness to the death of Stephen, was to learn. The soul of Mary, the mother of Jesus, was indeed pierced as Simeon had prophesied at Jesus’ dedication forty days after his birth (Lk.2:35). From the beginning, following Jesus was not without cost, then or now.
Music: “Angels We Have Heard on High” Robert Shaw Chorale gorgeous choral singing. Terrific arrangement!
Bonus: “I Wonder as I Wander” The King Singers and London Symphony
Prayer: Lord God, I am no longer my own, but Thine. Put me to what Thou wilt, rank me with whom Thou wilt; put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for Thee or laid aside for Thee. Let me be full, let me be empty; let me have all things, let me have nothing; I freely and heartily yield all things to Thy pleasure and disposal. And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Thou art mine, and I am Thine. So be it. And the covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen. ―The Methodist Covenant Prayer, Celtic Daily Prayer, p30