This was the funeral of a very lovely 94-year-old woman in our church, who was a believer. I sought to point out that our comfort (and hers) in the face of death was not based upon her age and physical condition, but rather in Christ.
The Difference Between Assumption and Assurance
13 Now we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, so also we believe that God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep as Christians. 15 For we tell you this by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will surely not go ahead of those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a shout of command, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be suddenly caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord always. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, NET Bible).
This well-known text in 1 Thessalonians chapter 4 is one that gives the Christian great encouragement when dealing with the death of a Christian. Paul makes it very clear that those who have died as Christians will be raised from the dead, to be united with Christ and with other saints. It is a verse that gives us great comfort as we commit our friend's body to this grave.
But in this passage Paul also reminds us that it is not to be misunderstood or misrepresented as a comfort to everyone. Paul distinguishes between those who grieve in hope and those who grieve without hope. As we reflect on the life and death of our friend, we must also reflect on our own death. The most dangerous thing a person can do is to assume that he or she is going to heaven when their assumption is without proper basis. I want to draw your attention to a story Jesus told which warns us about assuming that we are going to heaven. It is found in Luke chapter 16:
19 "There was a rich man who dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 But at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus whose body was covered with sores, 21 who longed to eat what fell from the rich man's table. In addition, the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 "Now the poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 And in hell, as he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far off with Lazarus at his side. 24 So he called out, `Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in anguish in this fire.' 25 But Abraham said, `Child, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things and Lazarus likewise bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in anguish. 26 Besides all this, a great chasm has been fixed between us, so that those who want to cross over from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.' 27 So the rich man said, `Then I beg you, father-send Lazarus to my father's house 28 (for I have five brothers) to warn them so that they don't come into this place of torment.' 29 But Abraham said, `They have Moses and the prophets; they must respond to them.' 30 Then the rich man said, `No, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.' 31 He replied to him, `If they do not respond to Moses and the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead'" (Luke 16:19-31, NET Bible).
There is much that could be said about this parable, but I must only briefly call attention to the fate of the "rich man." While Lazarus the "poor man" went to heaven, the rich man went to hell. The Jews of Jesus' day made a number of false assumptions. They believed that those who were righteous were blessed, while those who were sinners suffered (compare John 9:1-3). They thought that piety could be measured in terms of one's bank account. Because of this, they assumed that this "rich man" would have 50 yard line tickets in the kingdom of God. And because Lazarus was poor, and he suffered in life, they assumed that he would be sent to hell. And yet just the opposite happened. The rich man made a very wrong assumption. He (and many others) assumed he was going to heaven because he was rich.
If the rich man had made certain assumptions, the Bible speaks of others who had great assurance of salvation. Let me read just three texts which reveal this kind of assurance.
25 As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and that as the last he will stand upon the earth. 26 And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God, 27 whom I will see for myself, and whom my own eyes will behold, and not another. My heart grows faint within me (Job 19:25-27, NET Bible).
4 Even when I must walk through a dark ravine,
I fear no danger, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff keep me calm.
5 You prepare a feast before me in plain sight of my enemies.
You refresh my head with oil; my cup is full of wine.
6 Surely your goodness and faithfulness will pursue me all the days of my life,
and I will live in the Lord's palace for the rest of my life (Psalm 23:4-6, NET Bible).
21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21, NET Bible).
What is the difference between "assumption" and "assurance"? I can sum it up very simply. Assumptions are made when men trust in themselves (their wealth, their good deeds) for salvation; assurance of eternal life is always based upon the work of Jesus Christ on our behalf. Assumption trusts in our righteousness; assurance rests in His righteousness.
As we have come face to face with death today, I urge you to reflect on your eternal destiny. Is it an assumption, which will surely prove false, or is it an assurance which rests on the sacrificial death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ? May you experience the same calm assurance that our friend had as she faced death.