Background: Death of a believer.
28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. 29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren; 30 and whom He predestined, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. 31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? 33 Who will bring a charge against God's elect? God is the one who justifies; 34 who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 Just as it is written, "For Thy sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered." 37 But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:28-39).
33 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 34 For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? 35 Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? 36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen (Romans 11:33-36).
As we have sought to honor the memory of Sue Smith, so also we wish to focus on her faith, a faith which some of you share, and which I know she desired all of you to share with her. The texts which I have read from the Bible come from the Book of Romans. Sue's favorite text comes from the 8th chapter of Romans, and the second passage which I have read comes from the 11th chapter of this same epistle. Both texts speak of what preachers refer to as the sovereignty of God. Basically, the doctrine of the sovereignty of God maintains that God is in complete control. It is only a God who is in control who can "cause all things to work together for good" (Romans 8:28), and of whom it can be said, "all things are from Him and through Him and to Him" (Romans 11:36).
This truth gave Sue great comfort, and it is a truth which can give you great comfort here and now, as you come to grips not only with Sue's death, but with the inevitability of your own death, whether that be sooner or later.
For just a few moments, I would like to focus your attention on three men in the Bible, all of whom lived in Old Testament times, and all of whom are said to have worshiped God in the face of death.
Job, we are told, worshiped God at the time of the tragic death of his children.
20 Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and worshiped. 21 And he said, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, And naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord." 22 Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God (Job 1:20-22).
Jacob worshiped God at the time of his own death:
By faith Jacob, as he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff (Hebrews 11:21).
David worshiped God at the time of the death of his son, a son who was born as a result of David's immorality, and who died as a result of his immorality:
18 Then it happened on the seventh day that the child died. And the servants of David were afraid to tell him that the child was dead, for they said, "Behold, while the child was still alive, we spoke to him and he did not listen to our voice. How then can we tell him that the child is dead, since he might do himself harm!" 19 But when David saw that his servants were whispering together, David perceived that the child was dead; so David said to his servants, "Is the child dead?" And they said, "He is dead." 20 So David arose from the ground, washed, anointed himself, and changed his clothes; and he came into the house of the Lord and worshiped. Then he came to his own house, and when he requested, they set food before him and he ate (2 Samuel 12:18-20).
I would like to point out that each of these men worshiped God in the face of death, and I would like to suggest that in each case, the sovereignty of God was a significant factor in their worship.
Job was a righteous man, whom God chose as an example of faithfulness to point out to Satan. By divine permission, Satan was able to strike Job's family, so that all of his children died from what appeared to be a natural calamity. When word reached Job that all of his children were dead, we are told that he worshiped God, saying,
"Naked I came from my mother's womb, And naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord."
Job was able to worship after hearing that all of his children had perished in a tornado (a wind storm), because he was assured of the truth of the sovereignty of God. He knew that it was a sovereign God who gave life, just as it was the same sovereign God who took it. The sovereignty of God in the death of his loved ones was Job's comfort, because Job knew that the God who is sovereign is also the God who is all--wise and good. Job did not know the reason for the death of his children, but He did know God, and that was enough. Those of us who believe in the sovereignty of God can say, with Job, regarding Sue's death: "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord."
Jacob was not a model for all to imitate or emulate, as those who have studied his life well know. Jacob was a deceiver and a manipulator. All of his life he was trying to get ahead at the expense of someone else. He deceived his brother and his father, and he sought to out maneuver his uncle, Laban. Most of what Jacob did in his life would not be what we would wish to teach our children. When the writer to the Hebrews seeks to find an incident in Jacob's life which evidences faith, he calls our attention to the actions and words of this patriarch at the time of his death. It was as he was dying, leaning upon his staff, that he worshiped God, blessing the two sons of Joseph. If you remember the story, we are told by Moses in Genesis chapter 48 (verses 8-22) that Jacob purposely gave the greater blessing to the younger son of Joseph, rather than to the older son. When Joseph first saw what his father was doing, he was irritated and tried to correct his father. But Jacob knew exactly what he was doing. He was acknowledging the sovereignty of God. He was, at the hour of his death, finally coming to grips with the sovereignty of God. All of his life Jacob had tried to manipulate God, and his life was filled with heartache and his life with trouble because of it. But in the end Jacob not only acknowledged the sovereignty of God, he submitted to it, worshiping God. It seems that only on his death bed did Jacob come to grasp the hand of the sovereign God through all of the events of his life. And when he did, he worshiped the God as sovereign. Those of us who trust in God as a sovereign God, can find comfort in the fact that all of the events of Sue's life and death, were a part of his plan, a plan which is certain to bring about her good, and our own, while at the same time bringing glory to God.
David was a man who worshiped God at the time of the death of his son, as we are told in 2 Samuel chapter 12. David had sinned by committing adultery with Bathsheba, and then committed murder to cover up his sin when he learned she had become pregnant by him. When the son of David and Bathsheba was born he became ill. David fasted and lay on the ground, petitioning God to restore the child to health. When the child died, his servants were afraid to tell him, fearing that he would become despondent. David sensed that the child had died and inquired of his servants. When he learned that the child had died, David washed his face, changed his clothes, and went into the house of the Lord and worshiped. His servants asked him how this could be. His response is instructive to us.
David hoped that God would spare that child from death, but his hope and comfort was not destroyed by the death of the child. Why not? Because, David tells us, he was assured that both he and the child would be together once again. David believed that he and the child would be together in heaven. The God who is sovereign, who could spare that child from death, is also the God who is able to turn sorrow to joy, and death to life. David expected to see the child in heaven because He knew that the God who is sovereign is also the God who forgives sin. The child died because of David's sin, but he was not doomed to eternal torment. Through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the salvation of infants is secured. David knew God would provide a way for this infant to be saved, a fact which should bring great comfort to those of us who agonize over the murder of innocent children by a mad bomber in Oklahoma City. And through faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ, the conscious and willful sins of adults can be forgiven as well. That is why David, an adulterer and a murderer, could be assured of being with that son in heaven.
What a comfort it is for Christians to come to this funeral, knowing that Sue was a Christian, and that she is forever with her Lord. What a comfort it is for us to know that before we were even created, God had numbered our days (Psalm 139:13-16). And what a comfort it is for Christians to be assured that when we die, we will be with Him as well, not because we deserve it, but because the God who is Sovereign is also the God who is forgiving. He who has purposed to save us is the One who will bring that good work to completion (Philippians 1:6). He who has chosen us, is He who can keep us, so that no one can snatch us from His saving hand (John 10:27-30).
There can be no real comfort for those who face death apart from faith in Jesus Christ. The writer to the Hebrews tells us that unbelievers dread death, as they well should. But the good news is that no one needs to dread death, because God has defeated death in the person of Jesus Christ:
14 Since then the children share in flesh and blood, He [Jesus Christ] 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; 15 and might deliver those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives. 16 For assuredly He does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the descendant of Abraham. 17 Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted (Hebrews 2:14-18).
The Bible declares all men to be sinners, deserving of the eternal wrath of God. We have rejected His Word and have broken His commandment. All have sinned (Romans 3:23), and the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). God knew that we could never save ourselves. We can not earn or merit salvation. God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to come to the earth to reveal Himself to us, and to bear our sins and their penalty on the cross of Calvary. Jesus overcame death and the grave, because God raised Him from the dead. The good news of the gospel is that although we are sinners, deserving of God's eternal wrath, we may be saved by simply trusting in Jesus Christ, and receiving the salvation which God has accomplished for us through His death, burial, and resurrection. This was the good news which was shared with Sue in 1974, and which she received. The same good news is for each of those gathered here today. The God who is sovereign, before whom every knee will someday bow, is the God who has provided forgiveness for sins and the certainty of eternal life, as you receive the gift of salvation in Jesus Christ. This is our hope and our joy and Christians. This is why we can worship God even in the face of death. The death of Sue Smith will work together for good, for those who love God, and it may be that God will cause her death to work for your good by drawing you to Himself, by faith.
There are certain texts which are traditionally read at the graveside, but I would like to read a text that is not often used as the body is committed to the ground. It is recorded in the 16th chapter of the Gospel of Luke:
19 "Now there was a certain rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, gaily living in splendor every day. 20 "And a certain poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, 21 and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man's table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. 22 "Now it came about that the poor man died and he was carried away by the angels to Abraham's bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. 23 "And in Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away, and Lazarus in his bosom. 24 "And he cried out and said, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue; for I am in agony in this flame'" (Luke 16:19-24).
As you know, the story goes on, and the rich man receives no comfort or privileges, but only eternal torment. The point which I wish to make from this text has to do with the dramatic contrast which our Lord makes in this story between appearances and reality. To some, the rich man appeared to be right with God, and assured of a place in heaven. His funeral must have been extravagant, in contrast with that of Lazarus. And yet while this man's body went into the ground, his eternal soul went into torment.
The poor man, Lazarus, did not look like a true saint. His clothing was ragged. He ate scraps from the rich man's garbage. The dogs licked his sores. His death and burial were surely ugly. In fact, he may not have had a funeral at all. His body may have been cast onto the garbage heap. But in spite of all the appearances to the contrary, we are told something which no one saw, but which we are to believe as true. When Lazarus died, "he was carried away to Abraham's bosom" (Luke 16:22a). Sue's death was probably more like that of Lazarus. It was not a pretty sight. But what we should find comfort in as we place her body in the ground is that her soul has already been escorted into the presence of God by the angels. This body, which we commit to the ground, is going to be raised up, transformed, and joined once again to her spirit.
We who are Christian should look at the burial of this earthly body as Paul instructs us in 1 Corinthians chapter 15--as the planting of a seed. Sue's body will be raised, but it will not be a body like the one we leave here today. We should gladly set this body aside, looking forward to that day when our bodies will be transformed, like the body of our Lord. What a comfort! What hope! May this comfort and hope be yours as you trust in Jesus Christ.