Perhaps one of the truest marks of a prophet of God was that he would die before distorting or failing to proclaim the word of God to his generation. The prophet says with the spirit of the apostles,
“Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20).
As I read the biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, it strikes me that here was a man that would die for the things he believed. He would be hanged before he’d exclude converted Jews from the Church, realizing the gospel was central in the matter. The gospel was on the line in his Germany, and according to his biographer “he saw this clearly and would stake everything on it. But it would be a long and lonely road” (Bonhoeffer, Metaxas, 156).
So instead of fleeing Germany, he stayed to support the Jews and to oppose Hitler. In the end he chose martyrdom when he had a free ticket out of Nazism. So precious was the gospel of Jesus Christ, and so desperate was the need of the hour in his homeland, that he would die to defend it.
It reminds me of a conversation I had recently with a friend of Davin, who told me about the last few days he spent with his friend before he died. On the Thursday before Davin died in hospice at his home, Raleigh spoke to his friend about what lay ahead.
“I told him, ‘Listen, I want to bring you to Philippians 3.’ And I spoke to him about how the gospel motivates everything about our lives, to live well, to die well, and to serve well. We just went verse by verse through that section, and I told him, ‘I know this is the moment you rise to the occasion, to glorify the Lord, to die well for him. This is your moment.’ And when I was done I just held his hand and told him how proud I was of him. He nodded in agreement. I had no idea at the time, but I found out that was his favorite text, and God used it to strengthen him in the final hours of his life.”
We were all made to glorify God, each in our own way. For Davin, like Bonhoeffer, it was God’s will to glorify himself in death, that by him we as a church might feel some of the infinite measure of what is at stake with the kingdom of Christ. So precious was the truth of God, the intimate knowledge of Jesus, that Davin and Dietrich would sign their confessions with their own lives. There is no greater affirmation of the worth of Jesus than the man who dies to confess him.
I want to ask a question in all of this, and I hope you will think about it. Where does the courage to die like this come from? Do you know Davin and Dietrich’s joy? What kind of treasure compels and constrains your heart to say, gladly,
“Let goods and kindred go
This mortal life also.
The body they may kill,
God’s truth abideth still.” Luther
My prayer reflects Raleigh’s at the end of this post—I hope that when I die, when my time comes, I will be half the man Davin was in his death, that I will show only half the courage of our dear brother as he clung to Jesus and the eternal weight of joy set before him. I say again, Do you know this joy? Does it change the way you live today?