Background: Bob was a neighbor, who died right at Thanksgiving time. He was not a professing Christian and he never attended our church. As a neighbor, I was asked to conduct his funeral.
Bob's death comes during the Thanksgiving season. How is it that we can enter into a spirit of thanksgiving and worship, in the light of his death? The answer comes to us in many places in the Bible, but I would call your attention to the Old Testament account of Job.
Job 1--How can Job worship at a time like this?
The final chapters of the Book of Job explain. Job is not wise enough to grasp the purposes of God. What he can rest in is God's character.
There is an appointed time for all things.
There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven -- A time to give birth, and a time to die . . . (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2a).
This was God's time for Bob to leave this life.
Bob's death brings us face to face with the ugly reality of death, and the fear which it holds for mankind:
Since then the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil; and might deliver those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives (Hebrews 2:14-15).
The question is this: How can a person be delivered from the fear of death? When we come to honor Bob Smith, on the occasion of his death, we are faced with the certainty of our own death. What is the solution to this fear?
The passages which Bill read to us this afternoon turn our minds and hearts to the answer which God has provided for us.
Listen, for the answer as I read these words of hope and comfort, which are recorded in the Bible:
Even thou I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for Thou art with me . . . Psalm 23:4).
Nevertheless, I am continually with Thee; Thou has taken hold of my right hand. With Thy counsel Thou wilt guide me, And afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but Thee? And besides Thee, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail; But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. For, behold, those who are far from Thee will perish; Thou has destroyed all those who are unfaithful to Thee. But as for me, the nearnes of God is my good; I have made the Lord God my refuge, That I may tell of all Thy works (Psalm 73:23-28).
Where can I go from Thy Spirit? Or where can I flee from Thy presence? If I ascend to heaven, Thou art there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, Thou art there (Psalm 139:7-8).
All of these Old Testament texts speak of the true believer's faith in God and hope beyond the grave. In every case, their comfort comes from the fact that God is with them. They need not fear when they are in His presence, and when He is with them.
It is also very clear that not all have this hope, nor do they all await the same destiny after death. In the same passages which speak of the deliverance and salvation of the righteous, we read of the punishment of the wicked. How, then, can we enter into the presence of God, and thus have no fear of death?
God's answer is His provision of the Lord Jesus Christ. The coming of Jesus as the promised Savior was the coming of God Himself. Listen to these words, so closely associated with Christmas, and yet so very much related to one's hope of eternal life after death. When the angel spoke to Joseph concerning the miraculous birth of the Savior through Mary, he said,
"Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for that which has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins." Now all this took place that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, "BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD, AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL, which translated means, "GOD WITH US." (MATTHEW 1:20B-23).
Jesus is God's way to deliver us from the fear of death. He is not only "God with us," He died for us, for the forgiveness of our sins. He is also the One who rose from the dead, so that Satan can no longer employ death to hold us captive by the fear of death.
We can all give thanks to God for the life of Bob Smith. Those who know God can also give thanks for his death, knowing that it was in God's perfect plan, at His appointed time. Those who know Jesus Christ by faith can look death squarely in the eye, knowing that we need not fear if God is with us. May that hope and comfort be yours in this hour, as God grants you the faith to receive His provision in Christ.