“Now when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep”
Epitaphs written on the graves of famous people can reveal important things about their lives. Spike Milligan, the comedian, requested an Irish inscription which translates, “I told you I was ill”. Nelson Mandela wanted, "I would like it to be said, here lies the man who has done his duty on Earth. That is all". John Wesley’s tomb victoriously proclaims, “After having languished a few days, he at length finished his course and his life together, gloriously triumphing over death”. Billy Graham’s epitaph will simply read, "Billy Graham. Preacher of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ" accompanied by a single Bible verse, “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” (John 14:6)
These words tell us what mattered to these men. One of the most poignant epitaphs, however, is that of Alexander the Great. It reads, “A tomb now suffices him for whom the world was not enough”. This powerfully reminds us that the tomb swallows up and discards even the greatest human conquests. The legacy of a man is not what he leaves in a tomb on earth but how he has lived for God. “After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it.” (1 Timothy 6:7)
Every person has a God-given purpose and the greatest tragedy is ending life without having found this, whether it is big, small, public or never to be seen. Ultimately the earth’s riches and trophies have no meaning or value. The only thing that matters is being right with God through Jesus Christ. This is the perspective needed for living and dying in peace. Dreams may or may not be fulfilled but serving the purpose of God in our generation is the key to looking back on life with peace.
David was Israel’s greatest leader. There has never been a king in Israel like him. He led the people into the favour of God, bringing unprecedented blessings and victories. Yet in his preach that we read in Acts 13, the apostle Paul highlights none of his military or political victories. Instead, he gives David the ultimate epitaph, “he had served the purpose of God in his own generation”.
Even David had unfulfilled dreams of building the temple, “The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors…” (2 Samuel 7:11-12) but his focus was not on this; it was on what God had allowed him to do. With no regret or bitterness, he accepted God’s purpose and died thankful and at peace.
Author: Chris Staples - Elder, Living Hope Church, Isle of Man