Last Saturday my family and I traveled to Indiana to celebrate my Great Aunt June’s life and to be with her children as they buried her. After living a rich, full life, she died at 91 years of age. Of course death is a great enemy that must be vanquished (see 1 Corinthians 15:26), but there can be beauty at death. Do you believe that?
This morning as I was pondering the question “Can there be beauty in death?” The Holy Spirit brought to my mind the following words from Psalm 116
Really?! Precious? Yes, the Hebrew word that is translated “precious” in the New King James Version means costly or rare like highly valued gems. How can this be? The answer may be more simple than it seems. To an extent, physical death seals either spiritual death or spiritual life. When the death of a person’s body finalizes spiritual life, it is possible for there to be a measure of beauty in that moment.
One of the most clear Biblical examples of beauty at death, is the stoning of Stephen in Acts 6-7. As one of the first deacons in the early church, Stephen was working The Lord’s work, performing miracles, defending the faith and preaching in The Spirit when some wicked Jews stirred up the crowd and set up false witnesses causing Stephen to brought to trial at the council. The Word tells us that on the day that Stephen selflessly faced death his countenance looked “as the face of an angel (Acts 6:15)." But the beauty in Stephen’s final moments wasn’t complete yet! He then preached a masterful sermon about Israel’s heritage and how over and over Israel had rejected God and His prophets. Even as the crowd was whipped in a froth against him, Stephen peacefully looked up to his Eternal Father and then into heaven.
From the text it is clear that Stephen met his end with anticipation and enthusiasm! Stephen’s final expressions are especially lovely because his words focus upon others, not the pain and physical defeat that he was experiencing. His final requests are
You may ask, was Stephen’s death unjust? Yes. Was it brutal and violent? Absolutely. Did Stephen suffer pain? Most likely. And yet, you say his death was beautiful? How can I say it was not beautiful?! As his life was fading, he experienced peace, spoke words of love, had spiritual vision and offered to extend forgiveness. Stephen’s everlasting life was plainly evident at his death and that is marvelous.
Another example of spiritual courage and strength in death is the sacrifice of Jephthah’s daughter in Judges 11. Although, for us as Westerners it is difficult to comprehend, there is beauty in how Jephthah’s daughter honored her father’s vow and voluntarily allowed herself to be sacrificed. As Jephthah’s only begotten child, her life and sacrifice are a foreshadowing of Jesus’ death — she was like Christ. What an incredible example!
Of course Christ’s death also has a measure of loveliness and glory. Jesus Himself spoke to Philip and Andrew of the unmatched glory that would come through His death. He said
Jesus voluntarily allowed His body to be murdered so that His life could produce much fruit and the bounty that has sprouted from His selfless gift is magnificent and eternal. If you’re in The Way to everlasting life today, it’s because of Jesus' beautiful death!
Death is certainly our enemy...but leave it to The Almighty God to turn the work of this ancient foe into something beautiful.
Speaking of death, Ecclesiastes 9:2 says that ‘one event happens to all.’ We cannot escape physical death, but we can hear, receive and live The Word of Life. When we do this, death isn’t the end of life, rather it’s the continuation of eternal life!
If today was your last day on earth...
- Could the end of your physical existence be lovely?
- Would your relationships be left in good order?
- What legacy would you leave behind?
- What would you be known for?
My preference is to be taken directly into heaven like Enoch or Elijah, but if I don't receive my desire, then I want a beautiful death — just like my Aunt June had!
Additional verses: Genesis 49:33-50:13, Genesis 50:24-26, 1 Kings 2:1-12, 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, 1 Corinthians 15:22-58, Hebrews 11:4, Hebrews 11:13 and Hebrews 11:22.