Background: Here is the funeral for a young woman who was a close friend of one of my daughters. She had struggled in her Christian life and just returned to fellowship with Him. She was killed in a car accident on her way to a Christian college.
The death of this lovely young woman, at the prime of her life, may seem to some to be untimely. In the sense that it catches us unprepared and overcomes us with grief, this is no doubt true. But from a biblical perspective Mary's death is not untimely at all. I would like to share the Scriptural truths which can bring us great comfort as we see the timeliness of Mary's death. If believed, these biblical truths will enable us to grieve as those who have the hope which God alone can place in our hearts at a time like this.
First, the Bible assures us that Mary's death was not untimely, because this was God's appointed time for her to die.
When Job was informed of the tragic death of his children, he responded, "The Lord Gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord" (Job 1:21).
Even when faced with the tragic news of the death of his children, Job knew that their death did not take God by surprise. Job was comforted in knowing that just as God had given him his children in birth, so it was God who had taken them in death.
Job's theology is also that of David, who wrote, "Thine eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Thy book they were all written, The days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them" (Ps. 139:16).
This passage informs us that from eternity past, the number of Mary's days, like yours and mine, were foreordained. Her death came earlier than we would have expected, but it was God's appointed time, and therefore it cannot be untimely, for God does all things well.
Second, Mary's death was not untimely because she was ready to die.
The timeliness of death has nothing to do with one's age, but it has everything to do with one's relationship to the God who made them, and who takes them in death at His appointed time.
The most significant event in her life came at the age of five, when Mary personally entrusted her soul to Jesus Christ, believing in Him as her Savior. In these last few weeks God has also worked in Mary's life in such a way as to bring her to the point where she desired to be obedient to God's call and committed her life to serve Him. She gave up a good job and at the moment of her death was on her way to a Christian college where she had planned to prepare for a life of service to God by serving others. God chose to call Mary home before she reached that school and before she could begin her anticipated ministry, but the important thing is that she had chosen to be obedient to His will. What better time to be called home than at a time of dedication and commitment to Him. Such a home-going is never untimely.
Third, Mary's death cannot be called untimely because she was not only ready to die, she was eager to be with her Lord, in whose presence she now abides forever.
When a person does not have a saving faith in Christ, death is a dreaded foe to be avoided as long as possible. For the Christian, death is not a dreaded foe, but a defeated enemy (cf. I Corinthians 15:50-58). The Christian's only dread is to die in a condition for which we will be ashamed as we stand in the presence of God (I Cor. 3:12-15; 4:5). Death is actually a way of life for the Christian, for we are told by our Lord that we must daily "take up our cross" (Luke 9:23), an instrument of death, to follow Him.
In one sense, death is a welcomed deliverer to the Christian, for it is a means of gaining immediate entrance into the presence of Christ. Paul wrote,
Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord--for we walk by faith, not by sight--we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord (II Corinthians 5:6-8).
When faced with the possibility of death for his faith in Christ, Paul found himself torn between his desire to live, and thus to give his life in service to others, or to die, and to be with Christ:
For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But I am hard- pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake (Phil. 1:21-24).
For the Christian there is not greater hope or joy than that of being in the presence of the Lord. Mary's desire was to prepare to serve God by attending a Christian college in California, but when faced with the choice of serving Him here or in His presence, there is no doubt what that choice would be. There is a sense in which every Christian here at this funeral service envies Mary, as she now stands in His presence.
Finally, Mary's death should not be considered untimely because of the timeliness of the message God is speaking to us through her death.
When the apostle Paul considered the options of life or death, he believed that God would give him added years of life because it was through his life that he could minister to the saints. Paul left the matter of his life or death in God's hands, knowing that He would do what was best.
While God chose to spare Paul's life, at least for a time, He has chosen to take Mary home to be in His presence. This strongly suggests to me that God has chosen to speak to us through Mary's death, rather than through her life. Let me suggest some of the things which her life and death should teach us.
We were all shocked by the news of Mary's death because we assumed that she had many more years of life to live. The Bible reminds us, however, that life is uncertain and fleeting. James writes,
Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow, we shall go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit." Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away (James 4:13-14).
Mary's death reminds us that we dare not presume on the future. We have only the present moment to serve God and our neighbors. The future is uncertain and life is fleeting.
We must be prepared to stand before a Righteous God, who will be either our judge or our Savior. We have already seen how God worked in Mary's life, not only in saving her at an early age, but also in bringing her to a place of submission and obedience to His will. How joyful it is for her to now stand in the presence of God. But what if it were you, my friend, who had died? What would be your response to God?
Mary can stand confidently before God because she trusted in the death of Jesus Christ for her sins, and in His resurrection from the grave for her resurrection. I pray that Mary's death may be the instrument which God uses to prepare some of you for the day on which you will stand before God.
Mary's death also faces us with the reality that the work which she might have done, God will have others of us do. One of the most significant events in my life was the funeral service of a young minister who died in an automobile accident, while he was working with the young people at our church. I want to challenge you young people to consider the possibility that God may want you to do some of the work which Mary was willing and eager to do.
My prayer is that as God has spoken through Mary's life, and now, through her death, you and I might be attentive to that message as it applies to each of us.