“Lord Jesus, Receive My Spirit” Acts 7:57
This was the cry of Stephen as he was being pounded by stones from his fellow countrymen who were putting him to death by stoning. In a long speech, Stephen had outlined the history of their nation highlighting many lapses in their worship of the One true God. It is probable that these Jewish leaders objected most of all to Stephen’s declaration, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.” The Son of man, Jesus, was the man the rulers had had crucified quite recently. Here, then, was Stephen’s testimony to the resurrection of Jesus and his ascension into heaven.
The word ‘spirit’ used by Stephen in his dying prayer is in the Greek ‘pneuma’ from which we get our word pneumatic. It has to do with air or wind. Just as wind is a power that cannot be seen so spirit, also, cannot be seen but is nevertheless real. It is the word used for the power of God. As Jesus said, “Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Spirit is come upon you.” (Acts 1:8)
In order to understand what Stephen meant by his use of the word ‘spirit’ we need to remember the teaching of Jesus when he instructed Nicodemus as recorded in John ch 3. Jesus said, “…except a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God…except a man be born of water, and of the spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God: That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the spirit is spirit” (Jn.3:5-6).
The whole of the human race is born ‘flesh’ but to be born of ‘water and of the spirit’ it is necessary to be baptised in water, after understanding the spiritual meaning of the baptism. Immersion in water, in the act of baptism, is a symbolic death to the old life of the flesh. The rising out of the water is a symbolic birth to a new life vitalised by the spirit, the teaching of God and of Jesus. Jesus said, “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life” (Jn.6:63).
The birth of the spirit involves a new life to be lived by the person who has been baptised. At the beginning they are called ‘babes of Christ’, as Peter describes it “As newborn babes desire the sincere milk of the word that ye may grow thereby” (1Peter 2:2). Consequently, by feeding on the Word of God the one newly born of the spirit can develop the maturity of a spiritual stature.
This growth in spiritual maturity was later stimulated in the ecclesias by the gifts of the spirit, as described by the apostle Paul, he wrote, “And he gave some apostles…and some pastors and teachers for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ; till we all come in the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” (Eph.4:12-13)
Bro. Ralph Green (Torquay, UK.)