Tuesday, April 14. Acts 7:54-8:1.
(this is a repost from the Acts study)
One of the greatest killers in our world is not cancer or AIDS. It is bitterness. Through bitterness the enemy can get hold of our souls and inflict a spiritual cancer that will imprison us in the dark cell of ourselves. This spiritual cancer will bubble up in emotional and physical maladies of all kinds and wreak havoc on our lives and the lives of everyone we contact.
When Jesus came to His people, Israel, they were deeply infected with this spiritual cancer. Israel had been oppressed by many nations over the centuries and had grown bitter and arrogant as a result. One of the greatest aspects of Jesus’ ministry was to deliver his people from this dark place of hatred and bitterness. He taught them about it with words like, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” But, the greatest demonstration of this teaching was when Jesus hung on the cross and uttered the astonishing words, “Father, forgive them.”
Jesus demonstrated God’s Absolute Love by giving himself up, into the hands of the Sovereign God, and into the hands of those who hated him and falsely accused him. Instead of retaliating and “getting even” he loved them, to the point of death. Jesus’ desire was for his disciples to follow in his footsteps and carry this message of God’s Absolute Love to the world. Unfortunately, as is the case with most transformation stories, this kind of change is a slow process. Jesus’ first disciples were Jewish and were raised with these same deep-seated, cancerous prejudices. If they were to fulfill Jesus’ mission of going to the ends of the Earth, they had to be set free from their bitterness and prejudice.
The story of Stephen serves as a model to the church (both then and now) of the message that Jesus came to bring to the world. Here Peter, James, and John – all Hebraic Jews – watched as a Grecian Jew was filled with the same power of the Holy Spirit that they had, and wonderfully reflected the love of Jesus as he gave his life for Him. As we will find in the rest of Acts, this act of martyrdom ignited the spread of the gospel through an outbreak of persecution on the church. You can be assured that every believer had the image of the angel-faced Stephen at the forefront of their mind whenever they were tempted to become discouraged or embittered because of hard times.
Ask God to search your heart right now and expose to you someone against whom you may be harboring bitterness. Ask God to make real to you the vision of Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father. He is bigger than any wrong that may have been done to you. Let it go, forgive the offender, and let the love and power of God heal you from the inside out.