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.
We have said many good things about our friend today, and to the best of my knowledge they are all true. It would be wrong to leave anyone with the mistaken idea that our friend's good works are the basis for our confidence that she is now with our Lord. Our works are never able to win God's favor or to earn eternal life.
6 For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away (Isaiah 64:6, NASB, emphasis mine).
19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For no one is declared righteous before him by the works of the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin (Romans 3:19-20, NET Bible, emphasis mine).
For the next few moments I would like to draw your attention to the basis for our comfort and joy in the face of death. Listen to these words, spoken by Simeon when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple:
25 Now there was in Jerusalem a man named Simeon who was righteous and devout, looking for the restoration of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ. 27 So directed by the Spirit Simeon came into the temple courts, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what was customary according to the law, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and blessed God, saying, 29 "Now, according to your word, Sovereign Lord, permit your servant to depart in peace. 30 For my eyes have seen your salvation 31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples: 32 a light, for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel" (Luke 2:25-32, NET Bible)
You may be thinking, "What a strange funeral text. This is a Christmas text, not a funeral text." As strange as it may seem, it is an appropriate funeral text. The occasion is the presentation of our Lord by Mary and Joseph as their firstborn son in the temple. Mary and Joseph were there to present their son and to offer a sacrifice as the Law of Moses prescribed.
While Mary and Joseph and their first-born son were in the temple two people recognized the baby Jesus as Israel's long awaited Messiah. The names of these two people are Simeon and Anna. We know that Anna was an old woman because Luke tells us so:
36 There was also a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old, having been married to her husband for seven years until his death. 37 She had lived as a widow since then for eighty-four years. She never left the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 At that moment, she came up to them and began to give thanks to God and to speak about the child to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem (Luke 2:36-38, NET Bible).
Here was a woman who, in Luke's words, was "very old" (verse 36). While we cannot be absolutely certain about Anna's age, she had to have been at least 84 years old. (She was either a widow for 84 years, or she was a widow who was now 84.) Either way, Luke has committed the unpardonable sin - he has given us a woman's age. Thanks to Luke the whole world knows that Anna is old -- ancient!
We are focusing on Simeon, however. Nearly everyone assumes that he, too, is elderly. He may very well have been old. But it is noteworthy that while Anna's age is given to us, Simeon's age is not. Why not? I think we must reason that it is because Simeon's age was not important to Luke. What is important is what Luke does clearly communicate. Luke tells us that Simeon was ready to die, now that he has seen Jesus. Simeon had been waiting to see the Savior. God's Spirit had informed him that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah. As soon as Simeon sees Jesus, he says that he is ready to die.
Luke wants his readers to know that Simeon is ready to die, not because he is old, but because he has seen the Savior. Simeon is now ready to die, no matter what his age might be. Being ready to die is not a matter of one's age, but is rather a matter of one's relationship to Jesus Christ, by faith.
Those who knew our friend know that she was ready to die. She was not ready to die because she was old, and her health was failing; she was ready to die because she had come to know Jesus Christ by faith. In this sense, our friend's age has no more to do with her faith than Simeon's age had to do with his faith. Our friend, like Simeon, was ready to die because she had seen the Lord Jesus as her Savior, by faith.
How can this be? How can trusting in Jesus Christ cause one to welcome death, rather than to dread it? The answer to this question is found in the Bible. When God created Adam and Eve, He placed them in the Garden of Eden. God warned Adam that they must not eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God said that if they did eat of it they would certainly die (Genesis 2:16-17). Adam and Eve disobeyed God, and the result was both physical and spiritual death.
But God in His grace promised them that He would provide a cure. For her role in the fall of mankind God pronounced a curse upon Eve. She (and all women after her) would bring forth children in pain (Genesis 3:16). But through the curse of pain in childbirth Eve would bring forth a child who would save men from their sins and the curse of death. One of Eve's offspring would be the cure for the curse of death. This coming One would strike a fatal blow to Satan, while Satan would only bruise the Savior's heel (Genesis 3:15). This coming "seed of the woman" is the Savior for whom every Old Testament saint expectantly waited. This coming Savior was the Messiah whom Simeon longed to see. This coming Savior was Jesus Christ.
God provided a remedy for the curse of death by making death the cure, as well as a curse. The coming Savior was the perfect, sinless, Son of God. He had no sin of His own, yet He took our sins upon Himself on the cross. He died in the sinner's place, bearing the penalty for sin, the curse of death. But God also raised Jesus from the dead. He is now in heaven, sitting at the Father's right hand. All those who trust in Jesus as their Savior have the forgiveness of sins, and the assurance of eternal life. They no longer need to fear death:
14 Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he [Jesus] likewise shared in their humanity, so that through death he could destroy the one who holds the power of death (that is, the devil), 15 and set free those who were held in slavery all their lives by their fear of death (Hebrews 2:14-15, NET Bible).
All those who have placed their trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior no longer fear death, as we see in many different biblical texts:
31 What then shall we say about these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 Indeed, he who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all-how will he not also, along with him, freely give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is the one who will condemn? Christ is the one who died (and more than that, he was raised), who is at the right hand of God, and who also is interceding for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will trouble, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, "For your sake we encounter death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered." 37 No, in all these things we have complete victory through him who loved us! 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things that are present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:31-39, NET Bible).
50 Now this is what I am saying, brothers and sisters: Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I will tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed- 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 Now when this perishable puts on the imperishable, and this mortal puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will happen, "Death has been swallowed up in victory." 55 "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! 58 So then, dear brothers and sisters, be firm. Do not be moved! Always be outstanding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:50-58, NET Bible).
This final passage (though one could cite others) is one that our friend designated to be a part of her funeral service:
1 For we know that if our earthly house, the tent we live in, is dismantled, we have a building from God, a house not built by human hands, that is eternal in the heavens. 2 For in this earthly house we groan, because we desire to put on our heavenly dwelling, 3 if indeed, after we have put on our heavenly house, we will not be found naked. 4 For indeed we groan while we are in this tent, since we are weighed down, because we do not want to be unclothed, but clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 Now the one who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave us the Spirit as a down payment. 6 Therefore we are always full of courage, and we know that as long as we are alive here on earth we are absent from the Lord- 7 for we live by faith, not by sight. 8 Thus we are full of courage and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9 So then whether we are alive or away, we make it our ambition to please him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be paid back according to what he has done while in the body, whether good or evil (2 Corinthians 5:1-10, NET Bible).
It was her faith in Jesus Christ which assured our friend of her salvation, so that she was able to welcome her own death. It is not old age, or sickness, which enables one to live joyfully and be confident of eternal life; it is trusting in Jesus Christ as the One who bore the curse of death, in order to provide the cure for the dread of death as the penalty for our sins. That is why we can rejoice in our friend's death, because we know she has gone to be with our Lord.
As you consider your own death, do you do so with fear, or in faith? If death causes you to fear, I urge you, like Simeon and our friend, to place your trust in Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins, and the assurance of eternal life. Just as God raised Jesus Christ from the dead, He will also raise us to eternal life. Death need no longer be viewed as something we dread, but rather can be welcomed as our deliverance. May you experience the calm assurance of Simeon, of all the saints, and of our friend this very day. To God be the Glory!