I am looking out of my window this morning watching leaves fall to the ground. It is raining leaves. These leaves have died. Some see this process as a useless nuisance. People often go through a lot of work and trouble to rake up these leaves, and then bag them up, burn them, or discard them. These falling leaves, however, have a natural function. They are a natural fertilizer — that's why they end up in mulch piles. We may be interrupting God's process of recycling because of our own desire for a clean, neat looking, leaf-free lawn. I fear we often look at death in a similar way.
We recently watched the movie "End of the Spear" at our church. The story is about the five missionaries who were killed in Ecuador years ago trying to share the Gospel of Jesus with native tribesmen. At the time, their deaths could have been seen as a senseless waste of human life. The rest of the story, however, proved to be an amazing example of God using their deaths for His purposes.
The natives who killed the missionaries said that they saw angelic beings at the time of their deaths. Later on, some of the women related to the men who were killed, went back to try to reach the natives. This courageous and loving act yielded much fruit for the Kingdom of God. After many years, many of the natives have become Christians. The Bible has been translated into their language. And because of the selfless sacrifice of the slain missionaries, their loved ones were able to communicate the Gospel in a way that these tribesmen could understand. Another result was that a cycle of violence among themselves, the killing with spears, was stopped.
We usually look at death as something to be avoided at all costs. This is natural and normal. Death is part of our fallen world and is an enemy Jesus will ultimately destroy (1 Corinthians 15:26). There are times, however, that God is doing something powerful through death that we don't understand. The way Stephen died, being stoned to death, was a powerful witness to Saul (Acts 7:57-60; 1 Timothy 1:12-17). I have seen Christians die in such a way that brought God a great deal of glory. These individuals showed great courage and love to those around them. Some have even, like Stephen, been blessed with a glimpse of heaven and spoken about it as they have gone to be with the Lord.
There are seasons to our year and a time for leaves to fall. There is also a time for death. As the wise man put it long ago:
To everything there is a season,
A time for every purpose under heaven:
A time to be born,
And a time to die;
A time to plant,
And a time to pluck what is planted ...
(Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 NKJV).