How many of you use your cell phones for text messaging?
Do you text a lot? A little?
Do you get any automatic text messages? For instance, do you…like me…get the weather every day on your handset? For instance today…
[ Read them this morning’s forecast. ]
Along with the weather at 8:30 each morning, around 7:30 every night my cell phone gets a message with a Bible verse. Sometimes the Scripture choice seems very random…a verse that appears meaningless within the limits of old-fashioned "Short Message Service" (SMS) messaging of 160 characters1.
Other times it appears spot-on…something the Lord Himself could have caused to be beamed from heaven, through Verizon’s cellular towards, and to my phone.
And if you do the quick mental math, the timing of the daily Scripture means that one came through as I was leading Bible study this past Wednesday…and everyone had the opportunity of hearing a rather disconcerting…but cool…"Droid" as it arrived (since I didn’t turn the ringer off).
After we wrapped up our study, I read the message to those who were hanging around:
Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his. — Numbers 23:10
[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the “extras” that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]
Well…although that makes a good amount of sense as is…it definitely was a bit surprising…and intriguing…so we opened up the Bible and read it in context:
And Balaam took up his discourse and said,
"From Aram Balak has brought me,
the king of Moab from the eastern mountains:
‘Come, curse Jacob for me,
and come, denounce Israel!’
8 How can I curse whom God has not cursed?
How can I denounce whom the LORD has not denounced?
9 For from the top of the crags I see him,
from the hills I behold him;
behold, a people dwelling alone,
and not counting itself among the nations!
10 Who can count the dust of Jacob
or number the fourth part of Israel?
Let me die the death of the upright,
and let my end be like his!" (Numbers 23:7-10)
Well…I suppose even that longer reference doesn’t give the entire context…so a short version of how we got here…
On the way to Canaan the Israelites were having a lot of success defeating any nation that stood in their way…enough that as they got close to the Moabites the Bible records that "Moab was in great dread of the people, because they were many. Moab was overcome with fear of the people of Israel" (Numbers 22:3). Moab’s king, Balak, sent for Balaam the prophet to curse the Israelites. Balaam made it clear that all he could do was speak the words that the Lord gives him…but ended up (due to greed) going to Balak anyway (making God quite unhappy and leading to, of all things, a talking donkey).
What we just read was Balaam’s first attempt at cursing the Isrealites…and Balak definitely had it right when he reacted, "What have you done to me? I took you to curse my enemies, and behold, you have done nothing but bless them" (Numbers 23:11).
This little episode…including how, unable to curse the nation for Balak, Balaam "taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality" (Revelation 2:14)…could fill a whole sermon…
How do you want to die?
But the subject for today is, "How do you want to die?"
Have you ever had someone ask you if you would rather drown or die in a fire?
Which one did you choose?
Personally I would go with drowning…but I really hate the question because…ultimately…no way of dying appeals to me.
However, I suspect we’ve all spent time thinking of the way we might leave this world…perhaps even fantasized of a way of going out "with a bang."
Friday night Mikey and I watched a movie where…facing imminent death…the doomed person shot a few holes in his minivan before handing his pistol to the assassin. That way it would at least like he went out with a fight (since it was all being set-up to look like a carjacking gone bad). No matter how he actually he died, he didn’t want it to appear he did so as a wimp trapped in his wheelchair.
A famous "going out with a bang" scene is in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" where, surrounded in a train car by the Bolivian military, Robert Redford and Paul Newman end their characters’ lives by sprinting out, guns blazing, into a torrent of bullets.
Now that’s a way to go!
However, if you think about it, the scripture in the SMS message I received wasn’t really talking about exiting life with a bang instead of a whimper. Reading it again:
Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his.
Instead it is talking about dying righteously…or perhaps one could say…honorably.
Again turning to movies…when I think of honorable deaths I think of films like "Armageddon," where Bruce Willis’ character, Harry Stamper, stays back on the asteroid to detonate it and save the earth.
Or how about in "Space Cowboys" where Tommy Lee Jones’ persona, Haw Hawkins, gives his life to send a dangerous Russian satellite laden with nuclear missiles to the moon instead of it crashing into our planet thanks to a deteriorating orbit.
Those are honorable deaths…and…at least to the world…the "death of the righteous"…no?
Whether either of those examples fits the definition of the "death of the righteous" in Numbers 23:10, I think we could all agree on some "unrighteous" deaths. For instance, if you get shot by the police as your rob a liquor store…that would be a dishonorable death, wouldn’t it?
How about dropping dead after lying to the church and the Apostles about whether you donated all the money you got for land you sold? In a book describing deaths through the ages, you wouldn’t want to be in the same chapter as Ananias and Sapphira, would you? (See Acts 5:1-11)
How about having the ground open up under you and your family because you rebelled against the Lord? Would you ever want to have Moses say of you?:
If these men die as all men die, or if they are visited by the fate of all mankind, then the LORD has not sent me. 30 But if the LORD creates something new, and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol, then you shall know that these men have despised the LORD (Numbers 16:29-30).
No…I can’t imagine you would want to "become like Korah and his company" (Numbers 16:40).
Blaze of glory
The title of the sermon comes from the chorus of a song by Bon Jovi, "Blaze of Glory." Jon Bon Jovi sings:
I’m going down in a blaze of glory
Take me now but know the truth
I’m going out in a blaze of glory
Lord I never drew first
But I drew first blood
I’m no one’s son
Call me young gun
That romanticized version of a old west outlaw sort of has the combination of going out with a bang and a righteous death, doesn’t it? The "going out with a bang" part is pretty obvious in "blaze of glory"…and no matter how rough and bad this cowboy is he "never drew first." Drawing first would be dishonorable…
The Bible’s "blaze of glory" deaths
The Bible records some "blaze of glory" deaths…for instance if we read the entire story of "Korah and his company" we would have also heard how "fire came out from the Lord and consumed the 250 men offering incense" (Numbers 16:35). That isn’t the only time rebellious incense led to a blaze, for instance:
Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them. 2 And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. 3 Then Moses said to Aaron, "This is what the LORD has said, ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’ " And Aaron held his peace (Leviticus 10:1-3).
Now…whether those deaths would fit a Bon Jovi definition of "blaze of glory"…they definitely weren’t deaths of the righteous…or honorable deaths, were they?
So…let’s look for a "blaze of glory" death that doesn’t indicate the wrath of God:
When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, "Ask what I shall do for you, before I am taken from you." And Elisha said, "Please let there be a double portion of your spirit on me." 10 And he said, "You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it shall be so for you, but if you do not see me, it shall not be so." 11 And as they still went on and talked, behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. 12 And Elisha saw it and he cried, "My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!" And he saw him no more (2 Kings 2:9-12).
Now…I don’t know about you…but if the reason I hand over the pulpit of this church is because God has called me home…it sure would be neat if some chariots of fire pulled up front, I got to climb aboard, and next stop was Jesus!
That truly would be a glorious way to go out with a blaze!
What is "Glory"?
At this point I am kind of hoping that some of you are mentally scratching your heads over the use of the word "glory" in "blaze of glory." Elijah definitely died the death of a righteous man…but when you think of biblical glory what stands out most?
Do you remember the quick discussion of glory in last week’s sermon? Jesus, as recorded in John 17:4, says He glorified His Father on earth. Did He do that with chariots of fire?
Later in verse 6 Jesus says He "manifested" God. Did He do that with divine pyrotechnics?
How about His death? Did He rush out with some type of fancy kung fu and take out a whole bunch of gun and sword yielding ruffians before succumbing to their number? Did He press a button and blow up an asteroid and spare the earth?
No…instead He "humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:8). Additionally, we know in the eyes of the world it wasn’t even an honorable death…as Paul notes, "[I]t is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’" (Galatians 3:13).
Yet we know that Jesus glorified and manifested God…
Which definition of glory is more important?
There is no question that God can exhibit the "blaze of glory" type of glory…where we would be knocked out of our socks if we saw it. (Well, actually we would be consumed by God’s glory if He didn’t protect us.)
However, we know from watching God on earth…"God with us"…the god-man…that it is far from the only type of glory. His was a glory of selflessness…a glory of trustworthiness…a glory of love…
And "chariot of fire" glory isn’t the type we should shoot for, no matter how exciting the thought of going out with a bang would be.
If hanging on a cross…quietly dying an ignoble death…is good enough for our Savior…shouldn’t it be good enough for us?
It doesn’t matter
Having said all this…and please don’t slap me for saying this after making you consider all kinds of exciting ways of departing this earth…
How you die does not matter.
How you die does not matter.
Maybe God will call you to dive on a hand grenade, run unabashedly into a torrent of bullets for the Gospel, or otherwise give your life for someone else…
Or maybe He’ll call you home with a heart attack, an ice fishing accident, or…just quietly in your sleep.
It really doesn’t matter how you die.
What matters is who you will be spending eternity with.
The second time Bon Jovi sings the chorus to "Blaze of Glory," he changes one simple line. Instead of saying, "I’m no one’s son" he croons, "I’m the devil’s son."
If so, he will not die a Numbers 23:10 kind of death…and instead he will join his father in a place no one wants to go:
And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, 10 and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever (Revelation 20:9-10).
14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14-15)
Ultimately there is no "blaze of glory" kind of death.
You will either go out with a "blaze" or you will go out with "glory."
You will either go out with a "blaze" or you will go out with "glory."
You must choose.
If you refuse to choose, that is a choice.
The default is "blaze."
Stick with the glorious cross.
1Milian, M. (2009, May 3). Why text messages are limited to 160 characters. Retrieved January 29, 2011, from http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/technology/2009/05/invented-text-messaging.html