And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.” — Acts 7: 59–60
Love for Jesus prompts us to forgive our neighbour.
We believe that human beings live on after physical death: soul and spirit do not die. Human personhood continues (Catechism 3.3.4). We also believe that the departed are able to take the sacraments (1 Corinthians 15: 29).
The power to forgive
Our Bible text, which is taken from the account of the martyrdom of Deacon Stephen, is to serve as an occasion for us to pray for all Christians who are persecuted in our day.
Stephen found the power to forgive his tormenters by looking up to Jesus and seeing the glory of God.
On several occasions, Jesus spoke of the necessity of forgiveness (Matthew 6:14–15). This applies both here and in the beyond.
Among other things, to forgive one’s neighbour means to
- Abstain from avenging oneself on him, and instead trust in divine righteousness.
- Refrain from expecting God to punish those who sin against us.
- Refrain from making reproaches and accusations.
- Wish that he too may attain salvation in Christ.
Jesus makes it clear that our willingness to forgive is a requirement if we ourselves desire to obtain forgiveness (Matthew 18: 35). This is not to be understood as a threat, but is intended to create awareness within us
- that we are dependent on the grace of God and in need of forgiveness.
- of the magnitude of the grace that is granted us. What could we do in order to erase even the most insignificant of our sins?
Forgiving out of love for Jesus
Our motivation to forgive is our love for the Lord Jesus (Luke 7: 47).
- By forgiving our neighbour, we attest to our gratitude toward Jesus.
- For as long as we persist in accusing our neighbour, we are at odds with Jesus, who also loves our neighbour and desires to save him.
Willingness to forgive—in the beyond as well
As is the case here, the willingness to forgive is just as much a requirement in the beyond. But how difficult must it be for souls to forgive those at whose hand they had perhaps experienced many evil deeds!
We cannot redeem anyone through our prayers—only the triune God can redeem. However, through our intercessions we can attest to our love for these souls as a counterweight to the hatred to which they may have been victim. May this also help them to arrive at the point where they too are prepared to forgive! This is a prerequisite for them to receive forgiveness at the altar of God, and to receive the sacraments to their salvation.
* Thoughts from the Chief Apostle adapted for the divine service held on Sunday, 05 July 2015 at Midrand Congregation for Departed Service.