The young genius at the keyboard was dazzling the audience with his mastery of music. On numerous occasions throughout the concert everyone was on their feet applauding, except for one old man sitting in the corner of the balcony who remained seated as he thoughtfully stared at the stage. Someone noticed that the young pianist kept looking for the reaction of the old man in the balcony. The applause called the young artist back to his piano for an encore. At the last crescendo when the phenom had given his best performance, the audience was applauding as the young man stared at the old man in the balcony. Finally, the old man stood to his feet and applauded. On the stage, the virtuoso smiled and bowed, for the old man in the balcony was his tutor. Throughout the concert the young man was playing to please the one who trained him.
The death of Stephen, the first martyr of the Christian faith, had a similar theme. Acts 7:55 reported that as he was being attacked by ferocious accusers, Stephen gazed into the heavens and saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God. That description, the “right hand of God,” was used throughout scripture to denote a place of power and glory. Usually Jesus was described as “sitting at the right hand of God,” as if on a throne. But only at the death of Stephen was he described as standing, as if he were applauding his faithful witness. As stones rained death upon him, Stephen could smile and bow at the applause of heaven. He could leave the “stage” now because his master was pleased at his performance.
Have you considered the idea of leaving the “stage of life” to the applause of heaven? In John 21:19, Jesus gave Simon Peter a glimpse of the future where he would “glorify God” in his death. Several times in his writings, Paul mentioned an “honorable” death where a Christian can depart this life in a manner that pleases the Lord (Romans 14:7-8; 2 Corinthians 5:1-10). In Philippians 1:20, when facing the specter of execution, Paul wanted Christ to be honored in his life and possible death. When reading his valedictory salute in 2 Timothy 4:6-8, this missionary was basking in the smile of his Savior even though the Roman government considered him a criminal worthy of death.
Some people try to avoid the thought of their death, but the avoidance only detracts from their quality of life. Since no one is certain of their last performance on the “stage” of life, careless living assumes there will always be a premonition, a forewarning of a curtain call, when all the mistakes are corrected. People who live with their head down never even consider looking into the balcony to see the reaction of their creator about how they are treating his gift of life. Only those committed to living honorably in the present are prepared for the applause of heaven if the curtain of life falls unexpectedly.
We do not have to allow yesterday’s sins and miscues to dictate the rest of our lives. We will be remembered, not for being pure in history, but pure in heart. It is possible to be forgiven, so our next “performance” will be better than the past. Even the young phenom at the keyboard had to learn from his mistakes. In Philippians 3:13, Paul confessed that he learned to close the door on his past through a surrender to Jesus as savior. Only in that manner could he possibly venture into the future with hope of heaven’s applause.
So, give it all you’ve got while you can, because you never know when your act is up! The reward of the faithful is to hear the “maestro” in the balcony say, “Well done, you good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:21) at your curtain call.
The Idaho Statesman’s weekly faith column features a rotation of writers from many different faiths and perspectives.