Judges 16:29-30 “Then Samson reached toward the two central pillars on which the temple stood. Bracing himself against them, his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other, Samson said, ‘Let me die with the Philistines!’ Then he pushed with all his might, and down came the temple on the rulers and all the people in it. Thus he killed many more when he died than while he lived.”
At the end of his life, Samson performed one last act of great strength. He didn’t do this for himself. He didn’t ask for his sight back. He didn’t ask to go free and continue to lead Israel after he’s was done. He realized that what he was about to do would take his own life. But he was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice–as Lincoln described the soldiers at Gettysburg, “to give the last full measure of devotion”– to defend his nation and deliver a crushing blow to the enemies of Israel.
You see, the Christian faith is not a scheme to make our earthly lives easier, a way to manipulate God into giving us whatever we want here and now. Sometimes it actually makes our lives harder. Wherever the gospel renews faith and restores spiritual strength, it frees us from our attachment to this world and its treasures. It releases us from our petty, selfish concerns. It inspires us to serve, to sacrifice, for the one who made the ultimate sacrifice for you and me.
And when weak servants find the faith to lean on God’s strength and live sacrificially, the Lord produces success. “Thus he killed many more when he died than while he lived.”
Does this seem like a sad ending to the story–the death of Samson with his Philistine enemies? Is it a strange measure of success to say that this life ended in success–a blind prisoner who died with 3000 people when a building collapsed? Sounds more like a tragedy, doesn’t it?
In order to see the success, we have to see death from God’s point of view. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints,” states Psalm 116. “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain,” is the faith that Paul expresses in Philippians chapter 1. “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on,” the voice from heaven says in Revelation 14. When the Lord has brought someone all the way through life to die in faith, as he did with Samson, that’s success. That means heaven and never ending life for those who believe. That’s why our Christian funerals are about victory and celebration of life even more than they are about grief and loss.
But most of all they are about the gracious work of God. A highly decorated life that ends without faith is a tragedy. An unsteady and disappointing life that ends clutching to faith in God rates an ultimate success.