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Blessed Assurance

Acts 7:59-8:1a
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. And Saul approved of their killing him. (NIVUK)

Stephen's life on this earth was over. The high ranking religious leaders had decided that he was too great a threat to their religious control. So they took matters into their own hands and personally stoned him to death. Despite the violent hostility of the Sanhedrin Council, Stephen was at peace before he died. Indeed, he did not seem at all worried throughout the whole of his trial; his face was serene (Acts 6:15). Why should he be anxious: he knew that he was telling the truth from God and so Stephen was merely God's messenger.

Having had a wonderful vision of the Lord Jesus standing at God's side (Acts 7:55-56), Stephen trusted in the Lord to protect him or take him. As the stones began to rain down on his body, he was eagerly anticipating meeting the Lord. When he was still standing, he prayed that the Lord Jesus would receive his spirit. When more stones hit him, he cried out asking forgiveness for his murderers.

Stephen was blessed with a powerful assurance that he belonged to the Lord Jesus. That is why he repeated two of the Lord's great statements on the cross (Luke 23:34, 46). Meanwhile, Saul had a wicked anger inside him, but dressed up in holy clothing. In his religion of works, he believed that God wanted him to exterminate the people who followed Jesus. He was sincere, but not at peace. Self-assured but not God-assured. As we shall see in Acts 8:1-3, Stephen's death seemed to Saul to give him permission to persecute as many Christians as possible. But God was still in command.

The assurance that the Lord has everything under His command brings peace of mind, rest of heart and bodily composure. It enables us to deal with opposition of every kind. We do not have to fake well-being: we know that all is well with our souls. We do not have to assert our own agenda because we are confident that the Lord has set the pathway ahead for us, and all that is contained in it is under His control. Most of us will not be tested by a violent death, but we will all be tested. The Lord allows these tests to give us the opportunity to trust Him for strength and peace. But do pray for all our brothers and sisters who face ultimate challenges; may they be content that the Lord is in command.

God of peace. Thank You for the blessed assurance You give to Your servants who love You and are unashamed of belonging to You. Forgive me for my fear and self-protective habits which I use to keep myself safe. Help me to trust You to protect me or to welcome me. And the same I pray for my brothers and sisters who are undergoing persecution at this time. In Jesus' Name. Amen.
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© Dr Paul Adams