Fifth Sunday of Easter: Acts 7:55-60; Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16 or Proverbs 4:10-18; Psalm 119:9-32; 1 Peter 2:2-10; John 14:1-14
Stephen’s Prayer: An echo of Christ’s words from the Cross
In life and death, Stephen was Christlike. In life and death, he made a great impact.
In life, we see him, ‘full of grace and power’, doing ‘great wonders and signs among the people’. People noticed that ‘his face was like the face of an angel’. Even his enemies took notice of him. Unable to ‘withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke’, they decided that he needed to be silenced. (Acts 6:8, 15, 10-11).
In death, we hear him praying, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit... Lord, do not hold this sin against them’ (Acts 7:59-60). In Stephen’s words, we hear an echo of Christ’s words from the Cross (Luke 23:34,46).
Stephen was dying. Stephen was praying. Saul was watching. Saul was listening (Acts 7:58). God was working. The seeds were being sown. Saul would be born again as the Apostle Paul (Acts 9:4-6)!
David’s Prayer: A foretaste of Christ’s words from the Cross
‘Into Thy hand, I commit my spirit’ (Psalm 31:5).
These words were spoken by Christ as, in death, He gave Himself for our sins (Luke 23:46).
For Christ, there was suffering - ‘I am the scorn of all my adversaries’ (Psalm 31:11). His suffering was followed by rejoicing, the joy of the resurrection - ‘I will be glad and rejoice in Your love, for You saw my affliction and knew the anguish of my soul. You have not handed me over to the enemy but have set my feet in a spacious place’ (Psalm 31:7-8).
God answered the prayer of His Son - He brought Him into the ‘spacious place’ of the resurrection, the ‘spacious place’ which is, for us, ‘eternal salvation’ (Hebrews 5:7-9).
We look to the crucified Christ and we say, ‘Praise be to the Lord, for He showed His wonderful love to me’ (Psalm 31:21). In the risen Christ, we are ‘strong and our hearts take courage’ (Psalm 31:24).
Beyond the Cross, there is Christ’s Resurrection.
‘The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day’ (Proverbs 4:18).
Face the risen Son. His life in us is like the rising sun. It begins with ‘the first gleam of dawn’. It ‘shines ever brighter until the full light of day’'. Christ ‘dawns on us like the morning light’ (2 Samuel 23:4).
In a moment of discovery, we say, ‘It’s just dawned on me’. It is very wonderful when Christ reveals Himself, when He brings us out of our darkness and into His light.
This is just the beginning. There is so much more: ‘No eye has seen, nor ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him’ (1 Corinthians 2:9).
‘Light has dawned that ever shall blaze... Light a flame within my heart... Let my flame begin to spread’ (Mission Praise, 422; Songs of Fellowship, 339).
Look at Christ. See His love. Drawn by His love, let us follow Him.
The way of blessing is the way of obedience (Psalm 119:1, 9, 11, 17).
Many will choose the way of disobedience - ‘influential people sit together and slander me’.
We must choose the way of obedience - ‘Your servant will meditate on Your teachings’ (Psalm 119:23).
Following Jesus Christ will not be easy. We see many people turning back from following Him. We are tempted to join them. We feel the pull of the world. We must not take our eyes off Jesus. We must not return to the world’s way of living. We must remember all that Jesus has done for us - ‘He loved us and gave Himself for us’ (Galatians 2:20) - and recommit ourselves to following Him: ‘I have decided to follow Jesus... The world behind me, the Cross before me... Though none go with me, I still will follow... No turning back, no turning back’ (Mission Praise, 272).
We follow Christ when we are revived according to God’s Word.
‘Revive me according to Your Word’ (Psalm 119:25).
How does God revive us according to His Word?
He gives us His salvation: ‘Let Your unfailing love come to me, O Lord - Your salvation according to Your Word’ (Psalm 119:41).
He gives us His strength: ‘My soul is weary with sorrow. Strengthen me according to Your Word’ (Psalm 119:28).
He gives us a change of heart: ‘I have chosen the way of truth; I have set my heart on Your laws... I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free... Give me understanding, and I will keep Your law and obey it with my whole heart... Turn my heart to Your testimonies...’ (Psalm 119:30, 32, 34, 36).
He gives us ‘new life’: ‘When someone becomes a Christian he becomes a brand new person inside. He is not the same anymore. A new life has begun!’ (Psalm 119:40; 2 Corinthians 5:17).
A life revived by God’s Word: this is our privilege and responsibility.
Being ‘God’s own people’ is a great privilege - ‘you have received mercy’. It is also a great responsibility - ‘declare the wonderful deeds of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvellous light’ (1 Peter 2:9-10).
God’s people are described as ‘strangers in the world’ (1 Peter 2:11). We must not think of ourselves as ‘superior’- ‘a cut above the rest’. We are not! In ourselves, we are ‘strangers’- ‘without God in the world’. There’s nothing ‘special’ about us, There’s something very special about what God has done for us: ‘In Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ’ (Ephesians 2:12-13).
As those who ‘have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of our souls’, let’s point others to Him who ‘bore our sins...that we might die to sin and live to righteousness’ (1 Peter 2:24-25).
Revived by God’s Word, we look forward to His glorious future.
Difficult times lay ahead for Jesus.
He would be betrayed by Judas Iscariot (John 13:21-30).
He would be denied by Peter (John 13:36-38).
For Jesus, there was His departure (John 13:31-33).
It would be a difficult time for His followers. He tells them to ‘love one another’: ‘By this all men shall know that they are His disciples’ (John 13:34-35).
Jesus points them beyond the difficult times. He speaks of His glorious future. He assures them that the best is yet to be.
He is preparing a place in His ‘Father’s House’ for us. He will come again to take us to Himself (John 14:1-3).
He is the Way to this place, the true and living way (John 14:6).
Now, He reveals the Father to us (John 14:9).
Now, He is working in and through us (John 14:12-14).
He is preparing us for His place: ‘Lord Jesus... fit us for heaven, to live with Thee there’(Church Hymnary, 195).