A Good Death
In a silly movie of several years ago, an old American Indian narrates the story of a father and three sons living in the wild west. Late in the saga, the Indian tells how the middle son’s wild life came to an end in hand to paw conflict with a grizzly bear. He commented, “It was a good death.” The phrase stuck with me. That concept has inspired many cultures down the centuries, though the meaning of a “good death” was variously defined. But it’s neither the movie nor the cultures of various nations that really set me to thinking about a good death. It was Jesus’ words to a heart-broken, penitent Peter who had now affirmed three times the opposite of what he had denied the night of Jesus’ betrayal and arrest (John 21:15ff). Near the end of the encounter, Jesus provides Peter with an indication of how his life will come to an end. It’s as though Jesus is telling Peter, “I know you regret that you did not stand with Me through My trials, but all that has changed now. Remember…before Satan sifted you like wheat…when I told you I had prayed for you that your faith not fail. It surely wavered. Fear kept you from acting in faith on that dark night. But now faith has won. The next time, and anytime after that, you are called upon to face down death for Me, you will not fail. In fact, you will keep your trust until the very end of your life, when someone will take you where you would rather not go…but where you will go, just the same, for My sake. This is the kind of death by which you will glorify Me.” And so the day came, after a life of faithful service to his Lord Jesus Christ, when Peter died a “good death.” A good death has nothing to do with being painless or easy or quick. It has everything to do with being faithful no matter what.
In the Old Testament, the prophet who was out for his own profit, Balaam, spoke words of which he proved unworthy when he said through the Spirit of God, for Whom he no longer had a true heart, “Let me die the death of the righteous and let my last end be like his (Numbers 23:10b).” He was speaking of a “good death.” Unfortunately for the greedy prophet God couldn’t honor his request because he didn’t die a good death. So what is required for us to “die the death of the righteous?” The first, simple, but not easy, answer is that we must begin living the life of the righteous. Peter underwent a change of heart that issued in a change of life. He went from being a denier to being a defender of Jesus. It was the grace of the Lord that brought this about. And Peter responded not only in deep gratitude for such grace, but with a complete turn around in his life. We must undergo such a transformation of grace too. Another thing necessary, if we are to die a “good death” that glorifies our God, is that we not rely on ourselves. Balaam’s plea, though it was empty of heart, was right. He asked God to permit him to die the death of the righteous. We also must live in communion with our Father God and rely on His power at work in us. We must, like Peter, continually accept His forgiveness and make a sincere response in order to not allow God’s grace to have been bestowed upon us in vain. And then, we must not get off track. In order to die the death of the righteous, we must still be living by faith when death comes for us.. The Bible tells us that death is not our friend, but an enemy. But our Lord’s victory over death is our victory too…if we meet death by faith. I don’t look forward to the dying…its various forms and pains. But I believe, because of Jesus, that it’s possible for Christians to die a good death! I know because I have seen them do it! They may have burned with pain…with fear…with the sorrow of leaving their beloved behind…but though they burned with such things (and who wouldn’t), they were not consumed! Praise God…and pray God…that He might allow us the exalted privilege of dying the, precious-in-His-sight, death of the righteous. That’s the only good death!