But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” Acts 7:55-56
Don’t you love to hear someone speak who is passionate about Jesus? I do. There is fire in their words, love in their eyes, and an infectious quality in their faith. A new convert who once fit this description was the young man, Stephen. Included in his public testimony was also a rebuke to the Sanhedrin for murdering Jesus, God’s prophet. His words cut across the landscape of their pride and they picked up stones to end His life. As they began hurling them at Stephen, and as his life began to ebb away, he did something reminiscent of what Jesus did on the cross. He prayed and asked God to not hold their sins against them but to forgive them. At the moment of Stephen’s prayer, today’s scripture follows. Stephen looked up into heaven and saw Jesus standing, not sitting, at God’s right hand.
Every other mention of Jesus’ position at God’s right hand in heaven has Him sitting. Why the difference here? There are many who offer a guess at the significance but this text doesn’t tell us the reason. Some believe that because Jesus stood at His trial when He was accused, He stands in heaven vindicated. Others have said that Jesus stands besides those who will witness on His behalf. I believe there could be something additional going on here. Could it be that forgiveness is so rare among Jesus’ disciples that when Stephen prayed for God to forgive His murderers, Jesus stood up – to look down – to behold the scene? In my spirit, I believe this could be true.
Many of you started washing the feet of your offenders yesterday. As you did, perhaps Jesus stood up to look down at you. Did He say to His Father, “Look at what she is doing because she loves me!” He was surprised because those who choose to forgive and follow in the footsteps of Jesus are the minority. I can tell you that from 50 years in ministry. The greatest stronghold in God’s family is bitterness and unforgiveness. The greatest strongholds in my life have been bitterness and unforgiveness.
As you and I review our own salvation, and as we look up into Jesus’ face with unspeakable gratitude, let’s make a vow to follow in His footsteps by forgiving those who hurt us. It will be a lifestyle. It will be a moment by moment decision. It will be steep and require God’s grace. But as we wash the feet of our Judas, we just might cause the celebrations of heaven to still for a moment as Jesus stands to behold His faithful disciples like you and like me.
This series ends but it is just the beginning of a new way of life for many who are reading this. Grace them to finish what You started in their hearts so many weeks ago. Amen