Many Godly People Have Died Violent Deaths
It took me three months after Amanda was killed before I could go back into my house. I couldn’t bring myself to face the scene where I found her. I couldn’t muster up the courage to willingly walk back into those horrific memories. I write more about why I eventually decided to return to the house in this post. But I want you to know something that happened while I was in the house. I want you to see how, if you’ll let it, God’s Word can direct you in truth to comfort your unknowns.
At one point the morning I returned to the house, I walked up the stairs that led to Weston’s room on the second floor. Our living room had an open balcony just outside the nursery that overlooked the living room. The resulting vaulted ceilings in the living room drastically opened-up the floorpan, and from the balcony I had an areal view of the whole scene. Almost as if I were having an out of body experience, my mind began imagining what everything looked like the morning I found her, me crouched by her side, a lamp turned over near her feet and shattered over the ground, the ladder she had propped against the wall for decoration now laying beside her body. I remembered how that morning Weston’s door was still shut. I remembered sitting downstairs on the floor of our living room pleading with Amanda to stay with me as she struggled for every breath. I remembered I could hear Weston's soft coos from his room upstairs. I remembered looking up at the balcony just above me.
Now, I stood there on that balcony just outside of Weston’s bedroom and amidst all the traumatic memories that flooded my mind, I felt the Lord whisper to my heart, “I was standing here the whole time, Davey. And she knew it . . . She saw me.”
In that moment I imagined, somewhat involuntarily, her kneeling on the floor and looking up to see her Savior standing in the spot where I now stood, clothed in radiance and splendor, arms open to receive her homecoming. As tears began to well up in my eyes, my thoughts almost immediately redirected to Stephen in the Bible, the first Christian martyr.
I need you to know that this seemed weird to me too. It seemed bizarre that in this moment what would pop into my mind is the story of Stephen, or any martyr for that matter. But now, as I reflect on the healing power of Jesus, I believe whole-heartedly that for the next three and a half minutes I stood on that balcony, God led me on an expedited journey through the history of the death of His saints:
In Western Christianity we tend to live under the auspice that the closer you’re following Jesus the more comfortable and pleasant your life is going to be. Consequently, rather than praying dangerous, monumental, earth-shattering, eternity shaking prayers, our prayers become “hedges of protection,” “close parking spots at the grocery store,” and “relief for our mild headache before our next meeting.” Truly, I’m not diminishing God’s intervening hand in these situations. I’m merely commentating on how safety has become the life prayer for most Christians in the United States.
But when I read the Bible I see a different mindset in the followers of Jesus. It seems that those closest to Jesus actually suffered more . . . and they were almost happy about it! James, the half-brother of Jesus, tells us to count it all joy when we endure trials and suffer for the sake of Christ (James 1:2).
James, of all people, had the credibility to write this. You see James is one of countless Christians who suffered terrible, horrific, hellish deaths at the hands of evil men simply because they followed Jesus unswervingly. These people are called martyrs. During the Protestant Reformation a historian named John Foxe wrote a book chronicling the bravery of such men and women. He notes that each of these men and women demonstrated magnificent bravery in the face of torture and death.
The very first Christian martyr was a guy named Stephen. You can read his story in Acts 6 and 7. When we first encounter Stephen we only know a few things about him. (1) He was a man of good reputation, (2) he radiated with the love and power of the Holy Spirit, and (3) he was very wise. He stepped up and volunteered to serve the early Church by helping with the distribution of food for the needy. Shortly after Amanda went to Heaven, I read Stephen’s story and was amazed at how much his description reminded me of Amanda (perhaps this is the reason he came to mind again while I stood on that balcony that morning).
One day this simple, humble servant of Christ becomes filled with “grace and power and [begins] doing great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8). The religious leaders grew so angry with him they argued with him. The dispute grew to such a raucous, they maliciously drug him out of the city and began throwing stones at him to kill him as well.
Now, one of the things that strikes me about the account of Stephen is that it is written by the same guy who wrote the book of Luke - Luke the historian and physician. Luke was known to be a very descriptive narrator, particularly when it came to anatomy. But for some reason he doesn’t go into much description of the brutality of Stephen’s death. In fact the way Luke writes, it seems to be a peaceful scene covered in Jesus’ protection, hardly any mention of brutality, even though we know it must have been gruesome:
But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him . . . While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.
This blows my mind! He begs God for mercy . . . but not mercy for himself, for his perpetrators! He looked up and saw Jesus, our shield, our defender, our deliverer. The One that is strong enough to surround and protect, even in the midst of of the gravest danger. Even in the midst of death. Stephen walked into death in triumph and peace! How? Why? Because like James, He saw the risen Jesus.
“I was standing here the whole time, Davey. And she knew it . . . . She saw me.”
Now do you see why this prompting was so powerful in my heart. As I stood there imagining Amanda looking up and seeing her Savior, I envisioned her spirit being filled with a powerful rush of courage, a torrent of bravery and confidence that her Deliverer was going to pull her from death’s clutches at just the right moment. That she wouldn’t taste the sting of death even as death swallowed her up, because in Amanda’s life, death had been swallowed up in Victory (1 Corinthians 15:54-58). I don’t think it’s coincidence that Amanda’s most frequent prayer for her life was 1 Corinthians 15:58, that God would make her “steadfast and immovable” in any and all situations.
A couple weeks after Amanda died I read this verse from the Psalms.
"PRECIOUS IN THE SIGHT OF THE LORD IS THE DEATH OF HIS SAINTS."
I remember writing in my journal, God help me to see Amanda’s death as you see it, a precious thing. I really struggled with this verse, trying to wrap my mind around how her death could be precious. On this side of eternity it looks quite the opposite. Senseless! . . . Just like so many other martyrs.
I’ve been criticized for this, but I believe whole-heartedly Amanda died a martyrs death. Webster’s defines a martyr as someone who is killed or suffers greatly for a religion or a cause. No, I don’t believe the men demanded Amanda recant her faith in Jesus that morning, but 4 years to the day, before those men took her life, she and I packed up a moving van, left jobs and a life of comfort to venture into the unknown and start a church in a city that needs to hear a message of Hope, Healing and Salvation. 4 years early she decided she wasn’t going to settle in to the comfortable life. She was going to follow God’s call to be a missionary to Indianapolis, taking the Gospel to people who haven’t heard it or yet been changed by it. And as a result of following God’s call on her life, her life was taken from her. That’s martyrdom. And in God’s eyes, martyrdom is PRECIOUS!
And then on the balcony that morning I understood! Death for the Christian, isn’t just a departure, it’s more so an arrival into a truer world. Death isn’t just a tearing, it’s more so a mending, a restoring, a healing! Death isn’t just a divorce, it’s a marriage to our one true groom, Jesus. It’s not leaving the party, it’s the portal to the real party. As Amanda stepped through the gates of Heaven that morning, the great cloud of witnesses erupted in applause. A party greater than any of us have ever seen or can imagine was thrown in honor of this girl, who stood steadfast and immovable in the face of danger, fear and trepidation.
Lord, help me to see what You see. Give me Your perspective. Help me to see Amanda’s death as precious. Help me to see Your heart when You held her in Your arms that day, like when I held Weston the day he was born and whispered over him, “you’re beautiful." Help me to be steadfast and immovable. And whether You call me to die, or call me to live and carry this beautiful burden, help me to do it with the faithfulness of your saint and daughter, Amanda Grace Blackburn.