Chapter 1. Overcoming the Fear of Death

Jim Elliot was unsure of what to do after graduating from Wheaton College in 1949. He spent the summer praying for guidance from the Lord. He received a letter about the need for workers in Ecuador. On July 4th, Jim set aside ten days for prayer and on the 14th he wrote, "I asked for some word from God ten days ago, which would encourage my going to Ecuador. It came this morning in an unexpected place.

I was reading in Exodus 23, when verse 20 came out vividly: “Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared.”

Jim Elliot was ready to jump in with both feet. He believed in giving 100% to any task that he would adopt. This verse in Exodus 23 sent Jim Elliot eventually to his death, and to his glory. It also brought the Auca Indians, in God's timing, to saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

God's Word gave Jim Elliot guidance and direction to do His will, even though His will meant his death. God was leading Jim and four of his friends into the pit of Hell on earth because that is where they were desperately needed. It was one of the most violent group of people on the planet and these five missionary families knew it. In fact, in this region, Shell Oil Company had to halt construction of its base called Shell Mera, because the construction workers were being speared by the natives in spearing raids.

The people of these jungles believed that killing others gave them a sense of self control. It was the main way they resolved their problems. This part of Ecuador was truly an area that revealed the wickedness of men without any restraint to their sinful hearts.

Yet, it was their wickedness that created the burden in the hearts of these missionaries. It was their desire to reach these folks with the Gospel no matter what the cost. That desire and the burden of reaching these lost souls helped them to conquer any fear of death they may have entertained.

These missionaries had guns to protect themselves, but they all agreed and insisted they would not use them to defend themselves if attacked. They considered themselves already dead if need be. They said, "They are not ready for Heaven, but we are!" They overcame their fear of death.

In the effort to reach these Indians, they all five were massacred by the people they were trying to save. In their deaths, however, God was glorified. God opened the door for their wives and children to enter the village and reach the people for Jesus Christ at a later time. All these missionaries, including their wives, overcame the fear of death.

For some, the thought of death terrifies them. Woody Allen put it this way, "I'm not afraid to die. I just don't want to be there when it happens!" Some folks are too preoccupied to think about death. George Burns said, "I can't die. I'm too busy!" Others are prepared and ready to die. Winston Churchill said, "I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the ordeal of meeting me is another matter."

The fear of death is a battle that every Christian has to face because of the fears that are attached to death.

All these thoughts tend to run through the minds of most people. If you have them, don’t feel dismayed or ashamed. This is why God addresses the issue of fear so much in the Bible. The question we want to address in this message is this, “Is there a way to overcome the fear of death? Can a person get to a point where they have boldness, courage, and peace to face it head on and take the ‘bull of death’ by the horns?”

The answer is “Yes” and it will come from the attitudes and actions of people in the Bible who overcame the fear of death. Their attitudes and actions we will carefully examine and hopefully they will provide strength for us to help us overcome the fear of death.

I. Fear of Death is Conquered by Immense Devotion and Dedication to the Lord

Tremendous dedication and devotion for God can smother the fear of death. Those who are deeply devoted to God would rather die than betray or disappoint the Lord. This was the attitude of Polycarp, the pastor at Smyrna who was to be executed for his faith in Jesus Christ. The Proconsul demanded that he deny the Lord Jesus or be burned alive.

This was his reply, "Eighty-six years I have served Him. Never once has He wronged me. How shall I blaspheme my king who saved me?" At the stake, the flames encircled Polycarp like an arch without touching him. The executioner then pierced him with a sword. Polycarp’s devotion to Jesus helped him to overcome his fear of death.