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Dead Men Do Tell Tales

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By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks.
Hebrews 11:4

Jim Elliot, the missionary who was brutally murdered by the Auca Indians on January 8th, 1956, did not pray for a long life but a full one. As it turned out, his life was not long, but it was full; full of love for Christ, love for the people of Ecuador, and a desire to make an eternal impact with his life, whether short or long. Although Jim was only in his twenties when he died along with four other missionaries his impact has continued to ripple across the years. In her account of his martyrdom, Through the Gates of Splendor, his wife Elizabeth Elliot wrote, "Off the coast of Italy, an American naval officer was involved in an accident at sea. As he floated alone on a raft, he recalled Jim Elliot's words (which he had read in a news report), ‘When it comes time to die, make sure that all you have to do is die.' He prayed that he might be saved, knowing that he had more to do than die. He was not ready. God answered his prayer, and he was rescued. In Des Moines, Iowa, an eighteen-year-old boy prayed for a week in his room, then announced to his parents: ‘I am turning my life over to God completely. I want to try to take the place of those five."

The point that Elizabeth Elliot is making is that death did not kill the impact of her husband's life, nor did it silence his witness. In fact she herself would live to see one of the murderers of those five missionaries come to Christ. Jim Elliot is proof that dead men do tell tales. Mercifully, the impact of a good life is not buried with the corpse. In fact the reality of this is underlined and underscored in Hebrews chapter eleven when the Bible says of Abel's faith, "he being dead still speaks" (Heb. 11:4). Abel would remind us that we speak with our lives as well as our lips, and when our poor, lisping, and stammering tongues lie silent in the grave, the body of work, which is our lives, will echo out across the years (Mark 14:8-9; Luke 1:48).

The language of Hebrews 11:4, that of Abel speaking though dead, may have been suggested by the words of Genesis 4:10 where we read of Abel's murder at the hands of His brother Cain, and his blood crying out to heaven from the ground. While there seems to be a similarity, there is real dissimilarity. One is the voice of accusation; the other is the voice of attestation. In Genesis Abel's blood cried out to God for vengeance and justice. In Hebrews Abel's life (not his death) speaks to us about the vital nature of faith in God. By faith he brought a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by faith he was approved as righteous, and by faith he is still speaking. Abel is still speaking in the sense that his life and legacy gives voice to the fact that without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6). Abel is an exemplar of faith to succeeding generations!

As you and I go about our daily lives we need to remember that our words and witness will live beyond our deaths. Our influence will not be buried with us. Therefore, let us remember that our example will be a signpost for the next generation, our prayers might not be answered until the next generation, and that the full fruit of our labors may not sprout until after our deaths. Let us not forget that dead men do tell tales!