Artwork by Doug Kallerson.
Sunday, 5 June 2022
Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep. Acts 7:60
Note: You can listen to today’s commentary courtesy of our friends at “Bible in Ten” podcast. (Click Here to listen).
You can also read this commentary, with music, courtesy of our friends at “Discern the Bible” on YouTube. (Click Here to listen), or at Rumble (Click Here to listen).
The previous verse spoke of Stephen being stoned and calling out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” With that, the first recorded martyr of the church age is prepared to yield up his spirit, but he has one more thing to say while under the inspiration of the Spirit (Matthew 10:19, 20). And so, Luke records, “Then he knelt down.”
This is something Luke carefully records five times in Luke and Acts. The act of kneeling while praying is found here and in Luke 22:41, Acts 9:40, Acts 20:36, and Acts 21:5. Such a position of humility goes back to the Old Testament where Solomon knelt down before the assembly when praying at the dedication of the temple and when Daniel was said to kneel three times a day when he prayed and gave thanks before his God.
The act is then one that defines a particular communication between man and his Creator. The other instances of kneeling for prayer that have been recorded make this perfectly clear. With this noted, it next says, “and cried out with a loud voice.”
This would otherwise be perfectly unnecessary. If he had something to say to the Lord in his final moments before death, unless it was to make two points, he would have simply breathed it out to God alone. But the prayer is not for his benefit. It is for those stoning him. First, it is to once again impress upon their minds that he accepts Christ Jesus as being fully God. Secondly, it is to ask Jesus for mercy upon those set on his destruction. He had just called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” He now calls out, “Lord.”
He uses the same word, Κύριε [Kurie], that he just used when he said “Lord Jesus.” Thus, it is without any doubt that the address is to Jesus. And in his final petition, he calls out, “do not charge them with this sin.”
First, he acknowledges that Jesus is God through his kneeling to Him in prayer. Secondly, he reaffirms that by using the term Kurie, thus tying “Lord” with the glory of God described in verse 7:56. Thirdly, he does this by acknowledging that Jesus can, in fact, impute sin or withhold the imputation of sin – something only God can do.
But there is a fourth display of the deity of the Lord to be found here. Even if Stephen knew this or not, the Holy Spirit who was inspiring him to speak did. The reason for this is that with the coming of Christ, there is a new dispensation and a more perfect means of seeking God and of obtaining His pardon.
If anyone there stoning him reflected on their own Scriptures, they would remember the last martyr recorded there, which defined the dispensation of the law. In this, they would take to heart his words then and the contrasting words of Stephen now –
“Then the Spirit of God came upon Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest, who stood above the people, and said to them, ‘Thus says God: “Why do you transgress the commandments of the Lord, so that you cannot prosper? Because you have forsaken the Lord, He also has forsaken you.”’ 21 So they conspired against him, and at the command of the king they stoned him with stones in the court of the house of the Lord. 22 Thus Joash the king did not remember the kindness which Jehoiada his father had done to him, but killed his son; and as he died, he said, ‘The Lord look on it, and repay!’” 2 Chronicles 24:20-22
Jesus referred to this in Matthew and Luke, reminding these same leaders of this exact event –
“And He said, ‘Woe to you also, lawyers! For you load men with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers. 47 Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets, and your fathers killed them. 48 In fact, you bear witness that you approve the deeds of your fathers; for they indeed killed them, and you build their tombs. 49 Therefore the wisdom of God also said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them they will kill and persecute,’ 50 that the blood of all the prophets which was shed from the foundation of the world may be required of this generation, 51 from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah who perished between the altar and the temple. Yes, I say to you, it shall be required of this generation.’” Luke 11:46-51
The order of the Hebrew Bible is different than how we have it. Their books go from Genesis to 2 Chronicles. As such, Abel was the first martyr recorded in their Scriptures while Zechariah was the last.
Jesus was saying that the blood of all of these would be required of all of them. The reason for this is that they rejected the word that recorded these things and continued down the same perverse path. Jesus would come to take the guilt for all sin if the one committing it would simply receive His pardon. But in not doing so, the blood guilt would remain.
Stephen now contrasts the appeal of Zechariah by asking for their sin to not be imputed to them. The Holy Spirit was telling them that this was possible because 1) Jesus had died for their sins, and 2) Jesus had risen, proving He is God. In His rising, He ascended to His rightful position of authority and had the ability to forgive any who would come to Him. And 3) it is thus a lesson concerning the law versus grace.
When the law was given, three thousand died in the first rebellion under that law (Exodus 32:28). When the Holy Spirit was given, three thousand were saved on that first day (Acts 2:41). When the law was in effect, the call was for justice against the offenders. When the dispensation of grace came into effect, the call is for mercy and pardon against the offender.
The clear and unambiguous lesson in this final verse of Acts Chapter 7 is that Jesus is God, and that through Him alone can come the forgiveness of sins. With this understood, Luke finishes the verse and the chapter with, “And when he had said this, he fell asleep.”
Rest well, Stephen, the call will not be long, and you shall be raised to receive your crown.
Life application: We need to be careful to not take the words of Stephen too far and assume that everyone is automatically forgiven since the coming of Christ. This is not taught in Scripture. Rather, all sins can be forgiven in Christ, but the offender must be willing to acknowledge his offense against God, and also acknowledge that the forgiveness can only come through the sacrifice of Jesus.
This is clearly demonstrated both here and in Jesus’ words on the cross –
“Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.’” Luke 23:34
Before running ahead with Jesus’ words and saying that 1) everyone must forgive everyone of their wrongdoings, and 2) God in Christ automatically forgives everyone for all of their sins (both teachings are to be found in various degrees throughout Christian churches), one needs to ask the simple question, “Were the Jews collectively forgiven of their rejection of Christ Jesus or not?”
The answer is clear. Their temple was destroyed, the people fell under the promised punishments of Deuteronomy 28, and they were beaten down, exiled, and pursued exactly as the law indicated they would be. No, they were not forgiven. Nor are any others forgiven who do not come to Christ acknowledging that they have sinned.
Stephen’s call was not a call to automatically forgive them. Rather, it was the call of the Holy Spirit, through Stephen conveying a witness that Jesus is God; that He is the full, final, and forever means of obtaining forgiveness; and that grace can be bestowed, even when the attack is personally against Jesus. To attack His church is to attack Him (see Acts 9:3-5).
The forgiveness that Israel still needs, even to this day, is available. It will come someday when they call out to Jesus for it. When they do, and only when they do, will it be poured out on them. For now, any individual person – Jew or Gentile – can be forgiven by placing his faith in the gospel (the one and only gospel). For Israel the nation, they will be placed in a right standing when they acknowledge Jesus as Lord –
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing! 35 See! Your house is left to you desolate; and assuredly, I say to you, you shall not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’” Luke 13:34, 35
When they do, the fountain of forgiveness will be poured out on them –
“In that day a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness.” Zechariah 13:1
Pray for the lost around you. Pray for Israel. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. These things can come about when Jesus is added to the equation. And be ready to open your mouth and speak out the gospel when the opportunity arises.
Heavenly Father, thank You for the forgiveness that comes through the shed blood of Christ. May many eyes be opened to their need to call out today for it. Amen.