Oh God, have mercy


“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.” (Acts 7:59-60a)

The precedent was set for the response to the persecution and martyrdom of Christians. Jesus began this precedent on the Cross when He said, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” Here Stephen followed that attitude. Those involved in any persecution or martyrdom of Christians are prayed for, with the believers calling for God’s mercy and forgiveness of their persecutors. In this case the prayer would be specifically answered, and Saul would be forgiven his approval of Stephen’s death, enabling him to become the great Apostle Paul.

This early precedent faded away in the Church of the fourth and fifth centuries. Early Church fathers began a reverse discrimination against the Jews. They began many types of persecutions because they held political and religious power. This antisemitism grew and grew with a total disregard to the early precedent set by Jesus and Stephen. In their writings it is clearly noted that “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing,” and “Lord, do not hold this sin against them,’ were absent. This led to the Church going off the narrow path for centuries and condemning the foundation of their faith, Judaism, as a heresy. This was a very shameful and evil period of Church history. A history that even continues among some, so called Christians, to this day.

Heavenly Father, our history of service for You has been shameful, if not evil much of the time. We have disrespected Your chosen people. We have disrespected clear guidance from Your Son and Stephen. We have no excuse. We are guilty. Oh God, have mercy, forgive us, for we do not know what we are doing.

In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Pastor Robert Forsberg is retired from Light of Christ Lutheran Church in Fairborn.

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