A Voice in the Wilderness - Observations and Excursions of a Christian Zealot

Terry Walker's Weblog --- Occasional articles on the Christian Ethic

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

I Want To Die Like That

I have often wondered, even as a child, how I would die, how death would finally take me. I have seen the face of death so many times that I could fill a book with all the accounts. In my youth I was a fist shaking God blamer, who once dared Him to kill me and I gave Him plenty of opportunities. After He took me down with a bolt of lightning I assumed another one would finish me off some other day. Then came the jet that implanted a fear in me that few have ever known, I venture to say that no one on that plane thought they would arrive alive. And before that was the day that I got my first set of keys, I was a responsible driver for a short time, but I kept getting hit, so I started to speed. I discovered that they can’t hit what they can’t catch. Soon my entire existence centered around speed, not the drug, but the kind you get from driving 700 miles from Charlotte to Chicago in 7 hours. I lived to fill the hole in my heart with every form of vehicular thrill. Motorcycles, cars, I would race anything anywhere, on the track or on the street, it made no difference. Driving in Chicago made me feel like a shark in a guppy tank. When it came to driving fast there were none finer. By 1990 I had driven well over a million miles and left a wake of carnage behind me, dozens of tickets for speeds that would boggle your mind and easily over a dozen crashes. And this doesn’t count the race wrecks. By the grace of God alone, no one was ever hurt, not even me. Yet in all my life I have yet to see an accident, wrecks and crashes, yes, but never an accident. There is always a human cause, a human error. Recently God decided to change my errant ways so He detached a semi tractor-trailer and sent it through the median directly in front of my truck to get my attention. I got the message; I don’t speed anymore. But yet again, it is literally a miracle I am alive.

But seeing as He didn’t take me when He had the chance, as if He needed one, I am still left to ponder. If God gave me the choice how would I like to go? How ‘bout like Methuselah who lived 969 years? If that were me I would have been disappointed that I didn’t make it to an even 1000, but I definitely don’t have the patience to wait that long to die. How ‘bout like Elijah being taken up in a whirlwind, or Moses overlooking the Promised Land? Na, that’s not for me. How ‘bout like Samson who took out more Philistines in his death than in his life? Now we are talking! But Samson, like me, was a foolish man, and his life was marred by his weaknesses. He spent most of his life wasting his gifts with little regard for the God who gave them to him. Women played a large role in his undoing as he married from among the women of Canaan, which was against God’s law. And Samson certainly hadn’t learned the word of the Lord when God said, “Vengeance is Mine” (Deut. 32:35). Eventually he came to his senses and realized that God had given him his great strength to serve the Lord and his people. That one great act of faith cost Samson his life, but it won for him a place among the heroes of faith (Heb. 11:32). Out of weakness he was made strong by the power of the Lord (Heb. 11:34). Sounds good to me but a little too close to real life for comfort, after all this is my article, if I’m am going to die, I want to die better.

If I am going to die, I want to die like Stephen. Stephen was arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish council, where charges were placed against him. False witnesses testified against him. The high priest then asked Stephen if these things were true. Stephen was not dismayed. When he stood before them his face was “as the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15). The lengthy speech Stephen made in his own defense is reported in detail in Acts 7:2–53. Stephen summarized Old Testament teachings, showing how God had guided Israel toward a specific goal. He reviewed Israel’s history in such a way that he replied to all the charges made against him without actually denying anything. This amounted to a criticism of the Sanhedrin itself. Stephen denounced the council as “stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears” and accused them of resisting the Holy Spirit. Then he charged that they had killed Christ, just as their ancestors had killed the prophets. He accused them of failing to keep their own laws (Acts 7:51–53). Stephen’s speech enraged the Sanhedrin so that they were “cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth” (Acts 7:54). At this moment Stephen gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” Stephen’s fate was sealed when he reported this vision to his enemies. The crowd rushed upon him, dragged him out of the city, and stoned him to death (Acts 7:55–58). [1]

What a glorious way to die! But as incredible as that must have been, there is something I want far more than to see Jesus in heaven standing in observance of my death. I want to see Jesus stand up in observance of my life. Jesus didn’t stand up for Stephen because of his death, Jesus stood up for Stephen because, in death, he glorified God as he did in life. You see, to be able to die like Stephen, one must first live like Stephen! And that is what I want more than anything, to live as Stephen lived, with a heart that was so filled with the spirit that he asked God not to charge his executioners with the sin of his death (Acts 7:59–60). What kind of life must a man live to forgive as he dies? There is only one answer, “a life that is completely consumed by the love of God.”

Stephen lived such a life. Stephen was one of the first seven “good and worthy men”. Stephen assumed a place of prominence among these seven leaders as the church grew (Acts 6:7). Stephen was probably critical of the system of Old Testament laws, claiming they had already lost their effectiveness because they had reached fulfillment in Christ. This viewpoint, which Stephen argued very skillfully, brought him into conflict with powerful leaders among the Jewish people. Stephen became well known as a preacher and a miracle-worker (Acts 6:8). His work was so effective that renewed persecution of the Christians broke out. Members of certain Jewish synagogues felt that Stephen had blasphemed Moses and God. They accused him of being disloyal to the Temple and rejecting Moses. He was also accused of hostility toward Judaism—a charge that had never been made before against other disciples. In debates the Jews were no match for Stephen; even Saul was outwitted by him.

Thus, because of the way that Stephen lived, filled with the fruit of the spirit, living with wisdom in submission to the fear of God, no one could stand against him, and the truth that he preached divided the men he met. Because of the way he lived Stephen’s enemies had no legitimate recourse, so they resorted to unlawful force and stoned him to death. I want to live a life that glorifies God from morning to night. I want God to use me, a mere useless tool, to redeem the redeemable and offend the offensive with His truth. I want to live a life that leaves a wake, not of unjust carnage of my own understanding, but a wake that leaves the people I meet either further sanctified or cut to their heart, ripped wide open and their sin revealed by the truth of the scripture, leaving them gnashing their teeth at me.

The glory of God is not found in the way of a man’s death, it’s found in the way of living a life for God! So I do not seek to die a Godly death, but rather I seek to live a Godly life! I want to live like that!

Brother Terry Walker
Providence Baptist Church
Greer, South Carolina