Background: This is the funeral I conducted for my next door neighbor. He and I talked about the gospel on several occasions, but I have no confidence that he ever trusted in Christ. I struggled over what I should preach, until I remember a conversation we had over a sermon I had written on Luke chapter 8, faith and the stilling of the storm. I used this as my text.
Joe knew well that I was a preacher. He loved to tell me "preacher jokes" and I liked to hear them and laugh with him. Joe was not a member of our church. Our church, in Joe's words, was the church he would attend if he ever went to church. On one occasion I took a collection of some of my sermon manuscripts to Joe to pass on to his son. Joe read at least one of those sermons. It was a sermon on faith. Some time later, Joe came over to see what progress I was making on a particularly difficult automotive project--one that had drug on for months. I was discouraged. Joe, in his own unique way told me, with a twinkle in his eye, that he had recently read my sermon on faith and then suggested that this was probably what I needed to practice. Of course, he was right.
This is a very sad occasion for me, but I think Joe's words to me that day are appropriate here, too. This is a time for faith. And so I would like to share with you some words from the Bible which give us a basis for the faith which can enable us to find comfort and hope at the time of sorrow and death. I wish to share with the lesson which Joe read and of which he reminded me. If there is ever a time when faith is necessary, it is at a time when we must come face to face with death, and with the loss of one we love. Let us look then at this brief account which is found in the Gospel of Luke:
Luke 8:22-25 One day Jesus said to his disciples, "Let's go over to the other side of the lake." So they got into a boat and set out. 23 As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger. 24 The disciples went and woke him, saying, "Master, Master, we're going to drown!" He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. 25 "Where is your faith?" he asked his disciples. In fear and amazement they asked one another, "Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him."
Jesus was in the boat with His disciples, heading for the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Suddenly, a storm swept across that lake, known also as the Sea of Galilee. The disciples, some of whom were seasoned sailors, were terrified. They had weathered many storms, but they were convinced on this occasion that they were finished. Frantically, the disciples tried to keep the boat afloat, but it was no use. The water was coming in faster than they could bail it out. While the disciples desperately sought to save themselves, Jesus slept. They were irritated, and finally awakened Jesus. They told Him, "We're going to drown!" Undaunted, Jesus spoke to the winds and the sea and they were instantly calmed.
There are three dramatic changes that Luke records in this short text. The first is the change from storm to stillness, in but a moment of time. This was surely a miracle. It was a miracle to still any storm, but it was a greater miracle to still one instantly, so that the waves and the wind suddenly ceased, making the sea like glass.
The second change is that which took place in the outlook of the disciples toward their circumstances. They were initially frightened, panic stricken, thinking only of themselves and of what seemed to be imminent death. Inwardly, they were as troubled as the sea. And suddenly, they were stilled in their souls.
The third change in the disciples is their change in attitude toward Jesus. While the text cannot convey the tone of voice of the disciples, I think we can surmise that they were initially perturbed with Jesus. Here they were, in grave danger, trying as best they could to bail out the water and to keep the ship afloat, and there Jesus was, in the stern of the boat, sound asleep, aloof to their plight, and uninvolved. I think that whoever spoke to Jesus spoke with irritation in his voice. I think that someone may well have shaken Him to arouse Him, and probably not too gently. Their initial attitude toward Jesus was agitation. And suddenly this, too, changed. In the same time it took for the storm to be calmed, the disciples, who were once overcome with worry, fell to their knees in worship. And rather than being mad at Him for not acting as they did, they marveled among themselves as to who He really was.
Jesus very quickly exposed the problem, and the solution. Their problem was fear, and the solution was faith. Jesus rebuked His disciples for their fear and for their lack of faith? Why? I think that the answer is simple and very relevant. The disciples were fearful because their focus was on what was going on around them. There was a storm, and the waters were coming over the side of their ship. They were about to go under. All of this was true. But what they had not taken into account was even more important, and that was Who it was who was with them in that storm. When Jesus stilled that storm, the disciples were reminded once again of something which was evident throughout the life of Jesus, something which He Himself claimed -- He was no ordinary man; He was the Son of God.
There is a very important truth imbedded in these few verses, which, if we understand and live by it, will transform our lives and our outlook on life. Put simply, the truth is this: WE NEED NOT FEAR WHAT GOES ON AROUND US WHEN GOD IS WITH US
Simple, isn't it? Once the disciples understood that it was the Son of God who was with them in the boat, it did not matter how bad the storm was. He who created the land and the seas was in that ship. As the apostle Paul would later put it, "IF GOD IS FOR US, WHO [OR WHAT] IS AGAINST US?" (Romans 8:31)
Applied more specifically to the circumstances of the disciples in that stormy sea, and to our own, we could say this: WE NEED NOT FEAR DEATH WHEN WE KNOW THAT GOD IS WITH US
Throughout the Bible I find passage after passage where those who have faith in God find confidence and assurance in knowing that God was with them in life, and that they would eternally be with Him after death. Notice these examples:
Psalm 16:7-11 I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. 8 I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. 9 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, 10 because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. 11 You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
Psalm 23:1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, 3 he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Psalm 73:21-28 When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, 22 I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you. 23 Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. 24 You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. 25 Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. 26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. 27 Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you. 28 But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.
Joe's death confronts us with two distressing realities. The first is the loss of his friendship, of his absence from us. There is a great sense of loss in this for me, and I believe for you as well. Thus, we grieve because of this sense of loss. The second reality is that of death itself. Joe's death reminds us of our own destiny, and that this life is short and uncertain. We know that some day our time will come. Death is for us, an enemy, a foe, and also a certainty.
Yet in spite of the fact that death is normally the occasion for fear (after all, the disciples were afraid in the storm because they thought they were going to die), David can write in the 23rd Psalm that even when he walks through the valley of the shadow of death he will fear no evil. How can this be? He tells us. It is because he is assured that God is with him. The valley of the shadow of death is the most frightening thing life holds, and yet for David it held no fear because of his faith in God, and specifically that when he passed through that valley, God would be with him. Put in nautical terms, in terms of those disciples who were frightened in that boat in the midst of the storm, we need not fear the storm when the Master is with us in the ship.
It is a certainty of the presence of God with us that is the basis for our fear, and is the solution to our fears. This is a truth found throughout the Bible. And that is why these words of our Lord Jesus are most assuring to those who know Him: "I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU" (Hebrews 13:5, quoting from Deuteronomy 31:6 and Joshua 1:5).
There is a problem, however, and that is that men are separated from God by sin. The presence of God is the basis for our faith, and it calms our fears. But we are all sinners, and our sins separate us from God. Not only can a Holy God not dwell among sinners, but we who are sinners will flee from God, just as Adam hid from God after his sin (cf. Genesis 3:7-10). Peter, in another account when he realized the greatness of the Lord who was in the ship, besought the Lord to "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!" (Luke 5:8). The apostle Paul, in Romans chapter three, reminds us that we are all sinners, who have turned away from God and who are not seeking Him. Again, Paul writes that we are born in a state of opposition to God (Ephesians 2:1-3).
If man's sin is that which separates him from God, it is also that condition which drew the heart of God toward men. While we do not seek God, God has sought us. God came to the earth in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. He came, as He often said, to save sinners. He came to draw men to God who were fleeing from Him. When Jesus died on the cross of Calvary, He suffered the punishment we deserve, He suffered the separation from God that is the result of sin. That is why Jesus cried out from the cross, "MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAST THOU FORSAKEN ME?" (Psalm 22:1; Matthew 27:46).
The problem of sin and of separation from God was solved on the cross of Calvary. All we must do is to acknowledge our sin, our separation from God, and our need of the Savior. Once we have trusted in the Lord Jesus, then we can be assured that God is with us, as His name "Immanuel" indicates (cf. Matthew 1:23).
You and I stand, as it were, looking on into the valley of the shadow of death this afternoon, shaken by its reality by the death of our friend, Joe Johnson. We can, like the disciples and David, fear no evil, if we but know that God is with us. And the presence of God with us is that which Jesus provided and offers to all who will but believe in Him. May each of you have the comfort that David found in the presence of God.
We are facing one of the storms of life. And we all know that we shall die, too, perhaps not today, but someday. Man has devised many ways of dealing with the fear of death, but the Bible gives us but one way. Some look at the storms of life and hope that things will get better. There are few of such people today, for their is little basis for optimism. Joe and I frequently talked of the miserable condition our world is in. There are others who try to look within themselves for hope, but this, too, is ultimately futile. God's way is not to look without, or to look within, for hope, but to look to the Lord Jesus Christ. When God is with us, there is no need to fear anything, including death.
Joe was right to remind me of my need for faith. I need fear no evil when God is with me, no matter how bad my circumstances may be. God is near all those who have placed their faith in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. My prayer is that you, perhaps for the first time, may experience the nearness of God, especially at this time of sorrow.
Heavenly Father, I thank you for Joe, for his friendship, and for the many fond memories which I have of him. I thank you for the comfort of knowing that the time of Joe's death was not just "his time", but that it was "Your time" for him. I thank you for knowing that our times are in your hands. I pray that each of those of us here who mourn Joe's loss will find comfort and hope by experiencing Your presence, so that the fear of death may never again grip us. We ask this in the name of the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who endured the separation from You that we deserve, so that we may, like David, be able to say, "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me." In Jesus name we pray. Amen.
1 A Psalm of David. The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. 3 He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name's sake. 4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the LORD Forever (NKJV).
Many have turned to the 23rd Psalm as a source of comfort at times like this. And a comfort it is, for some. The question which must be raised is whether or not you can claim the comfort of this Psalm for yourself. In other words, can you say, “The Lord is my Shepherd. . .?”
Death should cause every one of us to give thought to our eternal destiny, and so I would like to honor this departed loved one by calling your attention to the 23rd Psalm, along with two New Testament texts. These texts will help to clarify who it is who can claim the comfort of Psalm 23, knowing with certainty that the Lord is their Shepherd.
I know that all of us are familiar with the words of this psalm. Let me call your attention first to the structure of this psalm. I believe that the Psalm falls into three parts. The first section includes verses 1-3. I believe that these verses describe the present, earthly blessings of those who can truly call the Lord their Shepherd. The imagery is that of a flock of sheep, and all that constitutes the “good life” for a sheep: green grass, abundant water, and a good shepherd, who leads and guides and vitalizes in this life.
The second section consists of one verse, verse 4. This verse deals specifically with the subject that is most in our minds at this time, and what men fear most of all – death (see Hebrews 2:14-15). God does care for His sheep during this life, but His care does not end here. He also cares for His sheep when one faces death. Specifically, He cares for His sheep when they die. But surely this comfort is also available at times like this, when we come to terms with the death of a friend or loved one.
The third section is found in verses 5 and 6. It was not until recently that I came to understand this Psalm in this way, but I now see verses 5 and 6 as a poetic description of the blessings of heaven and of eternal life. Earthly life was wonderful for His sheep, but it was a sheep’s life, so to speak. Heaven is so much more. Now, the blessings of heaven are described in terms of a dwelling in a palace, and of sitting at a sumptuous meal, in the most intimate fellowship of the One who has chosen to greatly honor His guest.
While everyone would like to think that the blessings of this Psalm are theirs, the Psalm itself suggests otherwise. These blessings are for the one who has the Lord as their Shepherd. The Psalm also speaks of enemies – those who obviously do not partake of these blessings. And so how do we know for certain that these blessings are ours. As we “walk through the valley of the shadow of death” today, what is it that enables us to “fear no evil”? What is it that assures us that “Thou art with me”? This Psalm alone does not give us the full story, and so I would like to turn your attention to two New Testament passages, which give us a very clear answer to these questions.
19 "There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. 20 But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, 21 desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. 24 Then he cried and said, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.' 25 But Abraham said, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. 26 'And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us'” (Luke 16:19-26, NKJV).
There are two lessons which I wish to underscore from this story which Jesus told, which address a popular misconception that was held by the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. The Pharisees “loved money” Luke tells us in Luke 16:14, just before recording this story. They believed that since God blesses the righteous materially, anyone who was rich must be pious, and anyone who was poor must be a heathen. To put it in the simplest of terms, they believed that the rich went to heaven while the poor went to hell.
This story about the rich man and Lazarus must have really shocked the Pharisees. In our Lord’s story the poor man, Lazarus, went to heaven. The rich man – whose name is not even mentioned – went to hell.
The first lesson I wish to point out from this passage is that God truly is with His saints as they “pass through the valley of the shadow of death”. The rich man died and was buried, and went to hell. I’m sure that he had an expensive funeral, but in the end it did not affect his eternal destiny one way or the other. The poor man – Lazarus – lived all of his life in misery. His death, too, was surely a miserable one. We are not even told that he was given a burial. The poor may not have been given a funeral, and at times they may not even have been buried, but simply thrown into the valley outside Jerusalem. Nevertheless, we are not just told that Lazarus went to heaven, we are given more specific information as to how he got there: he was “carried there by the angels” (verse 22).
No matter how much pain, or how much misery Lazarus experienced in his final hours, the appearance was not the reality. The external circumstances of his death did not accurately reflect the eternal, heavenly reality of his angelic transport into eternal bliss. Your loved one’s final hours will probably not be the memories you will want to dwell upon. But I can tell you that for the Christian, no matter what the circumstances of their death, the reality is that God employs His angels to transport them from this life into eternity. You and I know that great men of old – men like Elijah and Elisha – experienced a miraculous transport from earth to heaven. But Jesus tells us that every Christian, rich or poor, is transported to heaven first class. What a way to pass through the “valley of the shadow of death”, with an angelic escort!
There is a second lesson for us in this story of the rich man and Lazarus. It is not so comforting. Indeed, it is most distressing. The lesson is that THERE ARE MANY WHO ASSUME THEY ARE GOING TO HEAVEN WHO ARE NOT. In terms of Psalm 23, they assume that the comfort of this Psalm is theirs, when it is not, because the Lord is not their Shepherd. Luke 16 does not tell us what it is that distinguished Lazarus from the rich man. Luke does not tell us here what it is that one must have to get to heaven, and if one does not possess it he will spend eternity in hell. What it does tell us is what will not get us to heaven. Here, we are told that money won’t get anyone to heaven. And the lack of money won’t keep anyone from heaven.
I must go on to say that there are many other things which will not get us to heaven, either. The best way to sum them all up is to put it this way: “No amount of effort on our part, and none of our good works will be sufficient to earn us a place in heaven.” The Apostle Paul summed it up this way:
19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. 20 Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. 21 But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:19-23).
Let me be even more specific. Religion will not get you to heaven, either. No one was more religious, more devout, than the Apostle Paul, before he became a Christian. In the third chapter of Philippians, Paul claimed that he was as religious as any Jew could get, and then he went on to appraise all of his religious fervor as “dung”. Paul was a Pharisee, and no one was more devout as a Jew than were the Pharisees. And yet Jesus said of the Pharisees:
“For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).
The bottom line is that there is NOTHING WE CAN DO TO EARN ETERNAL LIFE. How, then, can one be assured of eternal life? How can one walk through the valley of the shadow of death and not fear? The answer is very simple and very clear in the Bible: by TRUSTING IN THE GOOD SHEPHERD. It is not we who save ourselves, it is the Good Shepherd who leads us through the valley of the shadow of death, and into the eternal delights of heaven. Our final text, taken from John 10, is the key:
7 Then Jesus said to them again, “Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep” (John 10:7-11).
The key to passing safely through the valley of the shadow of death is to be following the Lord as your Shepherd. In the New Testament, we are told that Jesus Christ is that Shepherd. He is the One who is the key to eternal life. He is the deciding factor. In John 10, Jesus identifies Himself as the Good Shepherd. He is the “door”, and those who enter through Him will be saved, or in “sheep terms” they will “go in and out and find pasture” (verse 9). In other words, those who trust in Jesus are those who will experience the benefits and blessings of Psalm 23.
Jesus is not just “with us” as we pass through the valley of the shadow of death. He has gone before us. There is a very real sense in which He has already passed through death. Jesus experienced death, suffered the penalty for our sins, and then rose from the dead. In this way Jesus not only leads us in the way, He became the way. Those who may confidently claim the comfort and the blessings of Psalm 23 are those who acknowledge that they are not worthy of these blessings; indeed, they acknowledge that because of their sins they are worthy of death. They understand that because they could do nothing to save themselves, Jesus Christ did it all, by coming to this earth, dying on the cross for their sins, and then rising from the dead.
The words of Psalm 23 are some of the most beautiful and most comforting words in all of the Bible. But they are not words that you can claim unless you have come to trust in Him who is the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. The death that we dread is the necessary result of our sin. Every funeral is a reminder of this. The only cure for our condition is the work of Jesus Christ. He became the Lamb of God. He bore the penalty for our sins. He died and rose from the dead. And in so doing, He became the Good Shepherd.
The assurance God gives to those who are His sheep is not a license to live any way you want in this life, and then feel assured that you will go to heaven when you die. The eternal life which the Good Shepherd gives is not a “fire escape.” Some people misinterpret and misapply the grace of God. They want to live their lives as they wish, not following Christ, but pursuing their own selfish desires. And then, when life is over, they want to escape hell and enter heaven. The 23rd Psalm is written by David, and it speaks of the his life as one that was characterized by following Christ as his earthly Shepherd, and then spending eternity with him. Salvation is not a license to live as you like in this life, and then to go to heaven when you die. Eternal life is a life in which your fellowship and service to God begins now, and continues for all eternity.
I hope and pray that you can truly claim the comfort of Psalm 23. And if you have come to see that the Lord is not truly your Shepherd, then I pray that you may trust in Him as the Lamb of God, and as the Good Shepherd, so that you may walk through the valley of the shadow of death without fear. For the Christian, the valley of the shadow of death is the way to eternal glory.
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.
1. Sorrow and grief are never easy.
2. We discover in the gospel of John that even our Lord wept at times.
3. But though sorrow and grief are real to us we dare not miss the lessons God is trying to teach us through sorrow.
1. The Bible responds by telling us that it is God's very nature to be loving
2. The problem isn't that God doesn't love us but that our perspective is limited
3. It is to this loving God that we can turn and know that He judges rightly and correctly.
4. Yes, in this time of sorrow it may seem as if God's love is not to be found.
5. In sorrow, God wants us to know He still loves us.
(But God not only wants us to learn something of His love while we sorrow, but)
1. God would remind us at a time like this that life is a gift.
Yes, a time like this reminds us of the shortness of life; a life that is a gift, a life that is only one heart beat from eternity.
2. But God would also teach us something else about life.
(But God also would teach us another lesson through sorrow and that is . . .)
1. It is at a time sickness and sorrow in death such as we've experienced with out friend (Name) that we realize our utter helplessness and dependence on God.
2. God doesn't always choose to heal the sick but He does promise life eternal to those who accept the gift of His son.
3. If one thing is perfectly clear in the Bible it is that the love of God (which we talked about earlier) prompted Him to send His son Jesus to earth. - To die on the cross in your place and in my place.
4. The Bible reveals, and our experience confirms that we are sinners.
5. He asks that we accept that gift by faith.
a. To believe that He died for you, in your place.
b. To trust Him as your Savior and in return He promises life eternal.
6. John 3:16 summarizes God's provision "for God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whosoever believeth on Him, should not perish, but have eternal life." (You can do this right now.)
7. This is God's provision.
1. Through the sorrow and grief, God is teaching us lessons:
2. These lessons if heeded can provide:
Background: I am not sure this man was a professing Christian.
As I talked with the family yesterday I was reminded of the biblical proverb which says, "A good man leaves an inheritance to his children's children" (13:22).
Joe Smith has certainly left a great heritage to his family, his friends, and to his city. Many knew him as like a father and as friend. There is for all of you, a great heritage in the fond memories which Joe Smith has left you.
It is because of such a heritage that there is such sorrow at the death of Joe for their is much we might have wished to have said or done, and there is so much more of his friendship and fellowship we would have wished to have enjoyed.
It is good and proper for us to reflect on the good things which Joe Smith has done for family, friends, and city, let us be careful to distinguish his good works from that which assures us that he is now in the presence of God. The comfort which we can find regarding Joe's eternal future is not the result of Joe's works, but of his personal faith in Jesus Christ, who died in his place and has forgiven his sins.
When Russian interceptors shoot down a civilian airliner we were justly irate. While we do protest the evil of such an act, we are not surprised, for we know that although Russia is great, it is not good. When a loved on like Joe Smith passes away it is a different matter. We know that God, unlike the communist regime of Russia, is both great and good. The question which we must ask is why a God who is good and great allows men to die.
A few have explained suffering, death, and tragedy by insisting that God is not good, but evil. He uses His power, they tell us, to entertain Himself at our expense. Most have sought consolation in the idea that while God is good, He is not so great as to be able to keep evil from making men miserable. This solution is not acceptable because the Bible insists that God is both good and great.
The Bible helps us to accept the tragedy of death by teaching us what we would never have expected to hear--that death is good, a gracious gift from God.
To say that death is good and gracious is not to deny the evils associated with death. Death, the Bible teaches, is the consequence of sin (Romans 6:23). Death brings separation and sorrow. Our Lord did not look forward to His death, even when He was confident that He would be raised from the grave (cf. John 10:17-18). The Bible does teach us that God is able to use what is, in and of itself, evil, in order to bring about what is good. So it was that God could use the sin of Joseph's brothers, who sought to do him harm, to bring about the deliverance of a the nation Israel (cf. Gen. 50:20).
Let us consider, then, how death can be called a good and gracious thing in our lives.
1. Death is a reminder to man of the seriousness of sin in God's sight.
When God created Adam and Eve and put them in the garden of Eden, He warned them that if they ate of the fruit of the forbidden tree, they would surely die (Gen. 2:17). While our society has taken a casual attitude toward sin, God never has and never will. Death is a reminder of the seriousness of sin.
2. Death is a reminder of the certainty of God's promises.
Not only does death instruct us that God takes sin seriously, but that God takes His promises seriously. God told Adam that eating of the forbidden fruit would bring death. No man has ever avoided death, which strongly underscores that God always keeps His word. And if this is true of the warnings concerning His judgment, it is just as true of His promise of salvation.
3. Death is good because it gives us the opportunity to glorify God by believing in Him.
In the portion of Scripture in the 11th chapter of the gospel of John which I read to you, our Lord made some startling statements about the death of Lazarus, which our Lord brought about by His delay in going to him while he was still ill. In verse 11 our Lord told His disciples that the Son of God was to be glorified by the death of Lazarus. In verse 15, He told the disciples that He was glad he was not present when Lazarus died, so that they might believe. When our Lord arrived, He spoke to both Mary and Martha about the necessity of belief in Him as the Resurrection and the Life (vss. 25-27, 40). In verse 40 our Lord said that His glory was to be seen only by their belief. It is clear that many believed on the occasion of the raising of Lazarus, while many others did not (vss. 45-46).
Death is an occasion which God has designed to bring men to faith in Himself and thus to bring glory to the Lord Jesus Christ.
4. For those of us who remain, the death of Joe Smith is an investment in heaven.
In the sermon on the Mount our Lord taught that "where our treasure is, there our heart will be also" (Matt. 6:21). Knowing the Joe Smith is in heaven loosens our grasp on the things of this life and makes us hunger for heaven.
5. If death is a result of sin, it is also a remedy for sin, for those who are in Christ.
It was gracious of God to terminate the life of Adam, and of all his offspring, for had man not been subject to death, he would have to live eternally as a sinner.
In the Book of II Corinthians we find these words from the inspired pen of the apostle Paul: "Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day."
All of us who have left our youth behind can agree with Paul's words. We do find our bodies slowly deteriorating. Death is already at work in us. But while this is the result of sin, it is also the remedy. While the body is undergoing deterioration, the spirit of the saint is being renewed. The process of physical death cannot hinder the progress of spiritual renewal.
Rather than keeping us from glory, death brings us to it. In the next verses in the Book of II Corinthians Paul speaks of the joys of heaven which await the Christian:
For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven . . . . 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 Cor. 5:1-2, 6-8).
For the Christian, death is the remedy for sin. First and foremost, it is the death of our Lord Jesus Christ, which frees us from sin and its consequences:
Knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin, once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God (Rom. 6:6-10).
When we come to trust in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross, we become a participant in His death, thus being freed from the penalty and power of death.
And when we die physically, we are freed from the presence and power of sin and enter into the totality of the life which is in Christ. Death for the Christian is therefore not to be dreaded, for it looses us from sin and its consequences.
I have said that Joe's Smith has left each of us a heritage of wonderful memories. He has also left behind a heritage in his example of personal faith. We can all find comfort in the teaching of the Scriptures that his death was both good and gracious. We can also find comfort in the assurance that because of his faith he is now with the Lord, delivered forever from the consequences of sin. While we can be comforted at the time of Joe's death because of his faith, we will only find comfort regarding our own death in our own personal relationship to Jesus Christ as our Savior.
I am convinced from the teaching of the Scriptures that the one thing which presently concerns Joe Smith is what will happen to you at your death. The one heritage which no man can leave to another, no matter how good or how godly his life, is a personal faith for each of his family and friends. That is something which each of us must decide for ourselves.