Untimely Death of God's Servants - Prof. Jacob Abraham


Today we are discussing an important question: Why many God’s faithful servants die untimely?
These days, the number of God’s saints dying early in their young age has been increasing in number.
The number of God’s servants dying in accidents and by acute diseases has increased a tenfold since the last decade.
We have no logical explanation to it and so we often depend on philosophical explanations in the name of religion.
A major part of religion is philosophy and hence it is easy for us to formulate a theory that looks near to the scripture.

I do not want to disturb the comfort that philosophy and religion give us.
In fact, no man in this world can explain why God’s saints die early in their young age.
All what we says in this regard are words of comfort to the dear ones of the departed soul and to ourselves.
Bible does not offer us a direct answer to the question we asked above.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:13 says: “But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope.”
From here Apostle Paul goes on to speak of the resurrection of the dead and the catching up of those who are alive by our Lord in the clouds.
He concludes the passage with these words: “Therefore comfort one another with these words.”
His advice is to comfort each other with the hope of resurrection and rapture.
He is not presenting any other philosophy of God calling back the saints early in their life.
In fact, here he is not attending the question why God’s servants die early.

St. Stephen and St. James were murdered at an early age.
But Apostles never gave an explanation, why they were killed so early.
So it is very difficult for us to find a direct answer to the question.

Usually, we assume and proclaim that, God’s servants those who have died early have completed their service to the Lord in this world and hence God has taken away their life through martyrdom, accident or through acute illness.
These are good words to comfort those who remain alive, but they are not true to the Bible.
Apostles and the early church never comforted themselves with this thought at the death of Stephen or James.
In Acts 8:2, we read: “And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him.” (NKJV)
That means they did not comfort themselves saying that Stephen completed his service to the Lord and hence the Lord has taken him back.

Book of Job

Let us go to the Book of Job for more light on this matter.
The Book of Job is said to be an old story and is the first written book in the Bible.
The time in which Job lived is uncertain.
It is most generally accepted that Moses wrote the book while he was among the Midianites, about one thousand five hundred and twenty years (1520) before the commencement of the Christian era.
That means, the revelations about God during the time of Job was limited and hence we must be careful to draw theological conclusions.
The story is written in an age where material possessions were considered to be a sign of God’s blessing and righteous standing before God.
But theological concept on material possessions have changed now.

In the Book, we find satan standing before God, with an intention to accuse the saints of God.
When God asked him where he has been, satan replied that he has been on earth.
Suddenly God asked him whether he has put his eyes on Job.
This is a simple proof that satan is always aiming at destroying the saints of God and for that he does not need any permission from God.
But here satan confessed that he could do nothing to Job, because God has made a hedge around him.
Satan continued to accuse Job saying that his fidelity to God is due to his material blessings.
God was sure that Job worshiped Yahweh the Lord not for any material blessings and even if all the material possessions were taken away, Job would continue to worship Yahweh.
It is not written in the Bible that God removed the hedge around Job.
And God, Himself did not do any harm to Job but God let Satan to take away his material possessions.

When the first test failed, Satan came to God again repeating the same accusation.
Satan asked God to “touch his bone and his flesh” so that Job may curse God.
But God Himself never did Job any harm, only permitted Satan to do some harm upon Job.
In Chapter 2:6, God specifically commands Satan, “but spare his life.”

Now the question here is that, why God specifically told satan to spare the life of Job?
What would happen if God did not give this command to satan.
Surely, Satan will touch the life of Job and he will die untimely.
That is why though God permitted satan to take away his material possessions and afflict his flesh, He commanded satan not to take away his life.
And all these permissions are given while the hedge around Job is not lifted by God.

That means, satan can take away the life of a person.
The first century Christians knew that Stephen and James were killed by satan.
They did not console themselves with the philosophy of God taking away the life of these saints, untimely.
They comforted themselves by the hope to meet them again in the clouds with Christ.

Death of Abel

Now let us move to the first book in the Bible, Genesis.
Abel is killed by his brother Cain, after a blessed sacrifice to God by Abel.
God was not taking away the life of Abel because he completed his service to God on this earth; Abel was killed by his brother.
Abel worshiped Yahweh according to the example shown by God in Genesis 3; and he is first martyr for worshiping Yahweh.
In Genesis 4:10, we read God telling Cain that: “The voice of your brother's blood cries out to Me from the ground.”
It is the voice for vengeance not a voice glorifying the untimely and unexpected death.

Old Testament rebellious people

Israelites of the Old Testament were rebellious people.
They disliked God’s message pointing out their backsliding from His ways.
So, instead of correcting their ways and returning back to God, they tortured and killed God’s prophets.
In Luke Jesus makes a striking statement on these incidents:

Luke 11:50, 51
50   "that the blood of all the prophets which was shed from the foundation of the world may be required of this generation,
51   "from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah who perished between the altar and the temple. Yes, I say to you, it shall be required of this generation. (NKJV)

Jesus did not present a philosophy that God called back the life of prophets as and when they completed their service to God on this earth.
Jesus made it clear that they were killed and Israelites are responsible to their death.

Apostle Paul’s ministry

Here I do remember Apostle Paul’s famous words:

2 Timothy 4: 6, 7
6     For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand.
7     I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  (NKJV)

Apostle Paul’s death was a martyrdom; he died at the age of 64 or 65.
He was willing to die and ready to die.
He himself declared that he has finished the race.
In Acts 21 we read that Paul, on his way to Jerusalem, stayed in Tyre with disciples for seven days.
In verse 4, we read that his disciples, “… told Paul through the Spirit not to go up to Jerusalem.”
Please note that the disciples told Paul “through the Spirit” of God not to go to Jerusalem.
It was a warning and an instruction from the Spirit of God.
But Paul continued his journey.

On the way from Tyre to Jerusalem,  Paul came to Caesarea and he stayed in the house of Philip the evangelist for many days.
One day a prophet named Agabus came from Judea, or rather God sent the prophet from Judea.
And he prophesied, saying, “Thus says the Holy Spirit” that, at Jerusalem, Jews would bind Paul and deliver him to the Roman rulers.
By hearing this, once again those who were present there requested Paul not to go to Jerusalem.
Let us read Paul’s reply carefully:

Acts 21:13 Then Paul answered, "What do you mean by weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus."

Paul was willing to die and ready to die.
When we study all the closing words of Paul in the book of Acts and in the epistles, we feel that apostle Paul wished to end his ministry and life.
He has developed such a mindset.
Paul declared himself that he is willing to die, when none prophesied his death.
Paul declared himself that his departure is at hand, fight is over and his course is finished.
He was warned and asked by the Holy Spirit not to go to Jerusalem.
But Paul went to Jerusalem, there he was arrested and taken to Rome and according to the tradition, he was murdered there.

In Philippians 1:21, Paul says: “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (NKJV).
What does Paul says here?
In verse 23 he says that he has a desire to depart from this world and be with Christ.
He considers death better for him.
But in verse 24, he acknowledges that if he lives for more years, it will be a blessing to the Church at Philippians and useful for Christ and the Kingdom of God.
That means, Paul confesses that if he live longer, he could do more things for God’s Kingdom; but he has developed a mindset to finish his ministry on this earth and die.
When we consider the 90 years of Apostle John and 65 years Apostle Paul, we wish that Paul could live and serve Christ in this world for another 25 years more.

Dying for Christ’s sake is a great thing; no one can belittle it.
An untimely death for the sake of the Kingdom of God is a martyrdom.
God values martyrdom greatly.
But all martyrdom are not God calling back the life because an anointed servant of God has completed his service on this earth.
At the same time, a long life of a God’s servant is indeed a blessing to the church in this world.
Paul has not presented a different perspective.

What did Jesus said about martyrdom?

Matthew 24:9 "Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name's sake.  (NKJV)

Read carefully what Jesus says here; “they will deliver you to tribulation and kill you.”
Jesus did not say that God will kill you or take away your life.
There is no proof in the Bible that says that God will untimely take away the life of an anointed servant of God.
Jesus told us that “they” the enemies of the gospel of the Kingdom of God, will kill you.

Elijah and his commissions

Can a person die before he finish his ministry?
The popular philosophy is that a servant of God would not die before he finishes his ministry.
Respecting all faithful servants who support this view, I am sorry to say that the scripture has a different perspective.

Elijah was a respected and popular prophet of Yahweh in the Old Testament.
In 1 Kings, chapter 19, we read of Jezebel threatening Elijah to kill him on the next day.
So Elijah ran for his life into the wilderness and sat down under a broom tree.
There he prayed to God that he might die; and after that he slept under the tree.
From there again he ran to the mountain Horeb and spent the night in a cave.
And there the word of the Lord came to him, asking: What are you doing here, Elijah?”
There, instead of taking away his life, God assigned three commissions to him.

1.      Anoint Hazael as king over Syria.
2.      Anoint Jehu the son Nimshi as king over Israel
3.      Anoint Elisha as prophet in his place.

But the sad thing is that Elijah could complete only one of these three commissions in his life.
He anointed Elisha as prophet in his place.
And afterwards, he was taken to heaven alive, without death.
Though Elisha fulfilled the other two commissions, Elijah left the world without completing his commissions by God.
That means, it is not a must that God’s servants fulfill all their services assigned by God before they leave this world.
It is not necessary that God’s servants will live in this world until their commission is completed.
The untimely death of God’s anointed servants is not a sign that they have completed their service.

God assigned three commissions to Elijah and God took away Elijah alive before he completed two of them.
Why? We do not know exactly, because no reason is recorded in the Bible.
But we may surmise that, during their last days, Elijah and Apostle Paul developed a mindset ready for death.
This is an important thing that we may learn from their life.

Free Will and God’s protection

To continue our discussion, let us read a verse from 1 Samuel 25.
When King David reached the wilderness of Paran, he sent his servants for food and shelter to Nabal.
Nabal was a wealthy person but an uncouth person.
He rejected David’s request and spoke ill of him.
So David decided to take revenge on him.
But Abigail, the wife of Nabal heard that David is coming against them with 400 armed men, suddenly acted wise.
Abigail met him on the way and she offered David gifts of wine, grain, prepared meat, and cakes of figs.
Then she fell down in front of David, pleading with him to show mercy to her husband.
In verse 29, in order to pacify David, she says: "Yet a man has risen to pursue you and seek your life, but the life of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of the living with the LORD your God”.

To be bound in the bundle of life is that you are protected and cared for deeply.
When valuable items were transported during Biblical times, they were wrapped in cloth, cotton and other soft materials for protection.
They were then wrapped again and again to ensure safe arrival.
So, our life is bound in the bundle of God is surly great protection.

Does that mean that whatever we do, where ever we go and how ever we live, we have special protection of God?
It is not like that.
We are surly protected by God whenever we live under His Lordship obeying all his directions in our life.
In another way, God’s special protection in our life is subjected to our Free Will.

Now what is Free Will?
Free Will means that God gives humans the opportunity to make choices that genuinely affect their destiny.
However, our choices are limited to what is in keeping with our human nature.
Every human has Free Will that is limited by nature.
The world’s current sinful state is directly linked to the choices made by Adam and Eve.
God created mankind in His own image, and that included the ability to choose.

We have the freedom of choice and we are accountable for all our choices.
That means, we not only have the ability to choose, we also have the responsibility to choose wisely.
In the Old Testament, God chose Israel as a nation, but individuals within that nation still were obliged to choose obedience to God.
And individuals outside of Israel were able to choose to believe and follow God as well.
Thus Rahab and Ruth entered into the fold of Israel.
All our motives, desires, and actions are voluntary, and we are rightly held responsible for them.

In order to exercise our Free Will according to the desires of God about us, we should always communicate with God for every word and action.

But the unfortunate fact is that, human beings are always influenced by the environment in which he lives.
Biblical scholars like William Barclay supports the view that no human being can rise above his environment beyond a certain limit.
Man is always influenced and to an extent controlled by the demands of his environment.
Thus a working person must go to his office on time, a student should go to school, a priest or a pastor should conduct worship sessions regularly and punctually.
God’s servants know that many a time we have said excuses to God and obey the instincts of the environment.
I do not call it a crime or sin; it is natural; but it is not God’s way.
The human environment is a better communicator than God so that we listen to it more often than we listen to God.

It is true that there is a communication gap between God and humans.
We expect God to forcefully interfere in our life; but God respects our Free Will and often speaks softly.
God cannot but respect our Free Will.
God says no to go, but our environment demands us to go; God says not to do, but our environment demands us to do.
God is not worried about our future because he has taken care of it, but we are worried about our future because our environment does not assure us a good future.
And so finally we obey the demands of our environment.
There is always a communication gap between God and humans; God always does not interfere in our life as we wish Him to do.
We feel that God’s voice and actions are not always forceful enough to keep us in His own path.
But God is never silent.

We have already seen that the disciples at Tyre “told Paul through the Spirit not to go up to Jerusalem.”
It was God speaking to Paul to postpone his journey to Jerusalem.
Again, God sent the prophet Agabus from Judea and he prophesied to Paul, saying, “Thus says the Holy Spirit” that, Jews would bind Paul and deliver him to the Roman rulers.
Once again those who were present there requested Paul not to go to Jerusalem.
But Paul did not change his plan to go to Jerusalem.

Though Prophet Elijah had more commissions to complete, he prayed to God for death.
They were acting according to the demands of human environment.
God spoke, man moved away to another path; and calamity happened.
Paul died and Elijah left the world leaving behind his commissions to his disciple.

Please do not misunderstand me, I am not condemning anyone in this matter.
Because humans are always influenced by their environment.
None lives above it.
Since this is not our topic of discussion in this message, let me leave it here.

Every blessing, protection and provision we receive from God is subjected to our Free Will.
Free Will is a gift from God; God never violates volition.
We are free to accept or reject anything from God.
Though it is humane, it is unfortunate to yield to the demands of our environment than God’s voice.
A wrong choice that we make, yielding to the demands of our environment, may lead to a calamity.

Three probabilities

We are constrained by a limited of time over a television program.
So let us move to the last part of the message.

The history of Israelites in the Old Testament is of continuous struggle and war.
From the time of inheriting the Promised Land, Israelites live a life of war with their enemies.
While the Old Testament believers were in a physical war against their enemies, the New Testament believers are in a spiritual war against the enemy and his wicked army.
Apostle Paul speaks about it in Ephesians.

Ephesians 6:12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. (NKJV)

We are in a spiritual war against principalities, powers, rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the spirit realm.
God’s anointed servants are not mere soldiers, they are those who stand in the fore front of the army.
God’s servants are warriors who stand face to face with the army of satan.
They are always in war, in the deadly places of war.

With all above thoughts we have been discussing, I have come to an understanding about the untimely death of God’s servants.
I call the untimely death of God’s anointed servants as “Die in harness”.
“Die in harness” means to die with armor on; to die while actively engaged in work or duty.
All these kind of deaths are martyrdom.

How we see martyrdom and how God sees it may be different.
Usually the people of this world call the death of person if he or she is killed, for sake of a cause, purposefully by another person.
But believers like us are not fighting against flesh and blood, not against any human being.
For the people of the world, Stephen, James, Peter, Paul and many others were killed by the order of an earthly wicked king and by a hangman or an executioner.
But for the believers who are in the spiritual warfare, they were killed by satan and his wicked army.
They were killed by evil principalities, powers, rulers of the darkness and spiritual hosts of wickedness in the spirit realm.
Evil powers plotted against God’s anointed people and influenced humans who lived in this physical realm to execute the murder.

This is the principle of the scripture; this is the ultimate explanation we derive from the Bible.
This is how every martyrdom happened in the Old Testament, in the New Testament era and in these present days.
Man is only a tool in the hands of satan and his wicked kingdom.
And every death caused by the dark kingdom is a martyrdom.
A God’s servant may be killed on cross, by stoning to death, by sword, by natural calamity or in an accident.
Accidents can be purposeful or unintentional, in human perspective.
But the law of all nations call it murder; purposeful murder or unintentional murder.
Whatever adjective we give, the law of nations call both of it murder.
And when it happens to God’s anointed servants, we should doubt the influence of the wicked kingdom.

So all those who die for the sake of the Kingdom of God, through the wicked schemes of the kingdom of darkness, are martyrs, whether they are killed by sword or in an intentional or unintentional accident.
The means of death is not the factor which decides whether the death of a saint is a martyrdom; the scheming devil behind the incident decides it as a martyrdom.
Since the scripture do not support the philosophy that God takes away the life of His servant untimely, every untimely death of God’s servants are martyrdoms.

With all these understandings about the scripture, I would like to present three observations to explain the untimely death of God’s anointed servants.
With a discussion on these three observations, let us conclude this message.

1. Lack of support from the soldiers those stand at the back of a warrior.

My first observation is that an anointed servant of God may meet untimely death or injury, because of the lack of support from the infantry or the supporting foot soldiers.
In a war there are ferocious warriors who stand at the front row of the army fighting against the enemy.
The aim of the enemy is not the infantry or the foot soldier, but the warriors.
But no warrior can win the war alone without the support of the infantry on foot, because no war is a one man’s business.
Infantry gives the support and necessary protection to the warrior.
And all soldiers in the infantry know that without ferocious warriors no army can defeat the enemy.

God’s anointed people are warriors who fight against the enemy standing at the fore front of the army.
They are ferocious and zealous and without them we cannot win this spiritual war.
Their safety is very important and all the believers should uphold them in prayer creating a brass wall of prayer around them.
They fight and we support them.

Let me ask you a question: Do you used to pray regularly and fervently for the safety of God’s anointed servants in our land.
I humbly state that I have failed at many occasions, in praying for God’s chosen people.
We have been failing to support the fore front warriors in the war.
And when they are killed by the enemy, we come up with philosophical theories to console ourselves and others.

The solution to this problem is not philosophy, but prayer.
Let us realize, accept and confess our short coming in praying and protecting God’s servants.
Let us pray for the anointed servants from today; let no fore front warriors of God die untimely at the hand of the enemy.

2. Unintentional lapses on the part of the warrior

My second observation on the untimely death of God’s servants is that, even unintentional lapses on the part of a warrior is disastrous.
 Warriors in the war always concentrate their attention on the enemy.
They watch carefully every small and big movements of the enemy.
Any distraction, even for a millisecond of time, may be fatal to their life.

Learning the schemes of the enemy is important for victory in war.
Moses and Joshua in the Old Testament send spies to learn the strength and the weakness of the enemy.
Learning the strength, the weakness and the schemes of the enemy is an accepted practice in a war.
Because the enemy knows our strength and weakness, and he has planned the war accordingly.
Our enemy is not a gentleman, he is a wicked enemy; he will strike us at our weakness.
Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 2:11, advices us not to be ignorant of satan’s devices.
Otherwise, satan will take advantage of us.

A God’s anointed servant should always watch at every movements of the enemy.
He should also, listen to his King’s voice for orders and directions.
The war belongs to our King and so let Him decide where we should go and what we should do.

So close observance on the enemy and careful listening to the orders of the King is a must for victory in the spiritual war.
Even an unintentional lapse on our part is dangerous.
When the King asks us to preach, let us preach; when the King commands to be silent, be silent; if the King asks to go, let us go, if He commands to stay, let us not go.

But as we discussed earlier, human beings, including me, are influenced by the environment in which we live.
And so we often take the wrong choice and fall into danger.
We obey the pressure of the environment, giving the enemy an opportunity to injure or kill us.
It is not God taking away the life untimely; the untimely death of a warrior is not a gain for our Lord.
Still it is a martyrdom.

We often used to argue that God knows everything and nothing happens in our life without the knowledge of God.
It is true that God, in His fore knowledge about us, knows everything.
But that does not mean that God violate our Free Will and intervene in our life always.
God never violates volition.

3. Injury and death are probable in war.

My third observation on this matter is that, injury and even death are probable in a war.
Spiritual war is not a myth, it is more true than a physical war.
It is a fierce war between the kingdom of God and the Kingdom of darkness.
It is a war for dominion and power.
God’s anointed servants are commissioned warriors who always position themselves in the war front.

And in a war, injury and death are probable.
Warriors go to the war front for defeating and destroying the enemy.
None goes to war to get injured or to meet death.
But everyone knows that injury and death are probable in a war.

We have accepted the commission from God to stand against the enemy, expecting the worst.
We are ready to die for Christ and the Kingdom of God.
So injury or death is not a threat to a servant of God; he has dedicated his life for the cause of the Kingdom of God.
Every spiritual warrior hopes beyond this world and the rewards waiting for him
That is his motivation.

Let us accept this truth as the truth of a war.
Let us not philosophies it; death is death.
Let us still declare our willingness to die for Christ and proclaim our hope for eternal life and rewards awaiting for us.
Life is not more valuable for us than the cause of the Kingdom of God.
Let us console ourselves with the thought that all kinds of death in the spiritual warfare is martyrdom.
To live is for the glory of the Kingdom and to die is gain for us.

1 Thessalonians 4: 16 - 18
16   For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.
 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.
 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words. (NKJV)

Let me wind up this message.
May God strengthen you in live with this comfort and hoping for the eternal life and rewards! Amen!






 






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