Background: This funeral was for the brother of one of our church members. He had lived a wild life, and none of the family even knew where he had been living for some time. Then he re-appeared with a wife and family, and shortly thereafter learned that his lifestyle had resulted in his infection with AIDS. I did not meet Bill until a couple days before his death. He had believed in God since his childhood, but expressed his need and desire to be saved. I spoke to Bill from the Scriptures about the hope of eternal life. When I finished, he said, "Then I don't need to be afraid to die." I told him that was exactly right. He then prayed a very brief prayer, expressing his response to the offer of salvation. I then conducted this service a few days later, which was attended by many young people, for whom he was a soccer coach.
This message is the hope of salvation and eternal life which I shared with Bill. It is not only the message which he received, and in which he found hope and comfort; it is the only message which can give each of you comfort and hope in the face of death.
1. There is no righteousness any man can produce which is good enough to obtain God's approval and eternal life.
2. There is no sinner so bad that God's grace in Christ cannot forgive him and make him righteous in Christ.
3. There is but one way by which God has made it possible for men to be forgiven, and to have the assurance of eternal life -- Jesus Christ.
Because Bill expressed His need for salvation, and his faith in Jesus Christ, I shared these verses with him, which give great comfort to the Christian as he faces the reality of death:
As we come here this morning, to honor the memory of Bill Smith, we come face to face with the ugly reality of death. The words of comfort, which I shared with Bill, can also be the basis of your comfort as well. I urge you to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as the remedy for your sin, and as the only basis for righteousness and eternal life.
Background: This gentleman was my friend and neighbor for over 20 years. He had no spiritual interest until after he learned that he was dying of cancer. He made a profession of faith in his last days and began to speak openly with me about his relationship with God. He was not only reading the Scriptures I printed out for him, he was trying to memorize them. The words which I will share with you in my funeral message in just a few moments, are the words of hope which I shared with him, and in which he found comfort. I pray that they will bring comfort to you as well. The funeral was a presentation of the gospel.
The Bible makes it clear that death is a certainty for us all:
And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment (Hebrews 9:27).
If this text of Scripture is true, death is especially frightening, because it does not end it all, it precedes judgment. Death is a terrifying reality for those who are outside the Christian faith:
14 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; 15 and might deliver those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives (Hebrews 2:14-15).
When I was growing up, my grandparents lived near a cemetery. This meant that whenever we went to visit them, we had to pass by that cemetery. As a child, I did not want to see that cemetery or to think about death. I tried to look the other way, and to pretend it wasn't there. Death is a reality we cannot ignore. Both funerals and cemeteries are here to remind us that we all face death as a certainty.
Why is death such a dreaded thing (Hebrews 2)?
1. Death is our enemy. In 1 Corinthians 15:26, Paul calls it Athe last enemy.
2. Death is appointed to all men (Hebrews 9:27).
3. Death holds men in fear (Hebrews 2:14-15).
How can a God who is good allow men to die?
1. He is a good God, who because He is righteous, hates sin.
2. He is a good God who must take sin seriously, but punishing it. Death tells us how seriously God takes sin. Death tells us how seriously we should take our own sin.
3. He is a God whose Word is always true, and this God has told us that the wages of sin is death (see Genesis 2:16-17; Romans 6:23).
4. He is a good God, who has not only made death a curse, but a cure for sin.
Who would want to live eternally as a sinner?
For Joe, death became a solution to his suffering and pain.
God provided the cure for sin by the death of His Son, Jesus Christ.
Eve's seed (Jesus) will crush the head of Satan; Satan to bruise His heel.
Sacrificial animals died for the sins of Israelites.
Isaiah spoke of Him who would die to save His people (Isaiah 52:13-53:12).
John the Baptist--ABehold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.
Jesus spoke often of His death, much to the distress of the disciples.
5. He is a good God, who not only sent His Son to die on the cross for sinners; He raised Him from the dead.
6. God is good, and He has given us His Word, the Bible, and Christians who proclaim the good news that death can be defeated through faith in Jesus Christ. The good news of the gospel is that Jesus died for sinners, bearing their penalty for sin. And not only did He die for sin, He was raised from the dead, so that He and all who have trusted in Him may live forever in the joy of His salvation (Romans 3:21-26).
21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:21-26).
For our Scripture reading, I read a portion from the 3rd chapter of the Gospel of John. There, John tells us about a conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus. Jesus tells this man that he must be born again. And this man is a very well known teacher of the Old Testament. He is a very religious man. We are not shocked in the next chapter (4) that Jesus would tell a Samaritan woman (who was living immorally) that she needed to be saved. But Jesus also told this religious man that he, too, must be Aborn again. Being born again is what happens when we confess that we are sinners, deserving of death, but trusting in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins and eternal life.
Faith in the Lord Jesus takes away the fear of death. Death is our last enemy, but a defeated enemy. It is my prayer that you will trust in Him for the forgiveness of your sins, for victory over death and the grave, and for eternal life.
I close with these words of triumph, in which everyone who trusts in Jesus Christ for salvation can rejoice (Romans 8:31-39):
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 8:31-39).
Background: This was indeed a tragic death. This young woman had been abused as a child by her natural father. She had diabetes and her body was beginning to deteriorate. She was 25. She had become very depressed and was admitted to the hospital psychiatric ward, and then placed in the suicide prevention unit, where she committed suicide.
Sue's death is an especially tragic one, in several regards. Death came to Sue at an early age of 25. Death came to her needlessly. Death came as her wish, but at a time when she was trying desperately to think clearly about her life, but could not. Some of you mourn the death of Sue Smith as a beloved relative. Others, as a friend. Still others, as a teacher. Sue was, in many ways, an example to follow. In the manner of her death, she must not be our example, but in her life and faith, we can learn much from her, and would do well to imitate her. Sue's death presents us with the opportunity to view death through the perspective and principles of the Word of God. I wish to focus on several areas which concern Sue's death, and on the way God's Word instructs us to view them.
Sue's death needs to be viewed biblically, but it must also be understood in the light of her physical and emotional condition. Sue was a young woman, 25 years old, but life was quickly coming to a close for her, and she knew it. Her body was already beginning to fail. She had suffered much already. Even greater pain and suffering lay ahead, and she knew it. She had bravely chosen to fight her disease, and yet the very means that were determined to help her, seemed to produce the opposite effect. Much of her depression and mental state of mind may well have been attributable to her physical condition, and not to her spiritual condition. Let us remember that her death was but a piece of a larger whole, one that we will never really fathom.
Sue's life and death must be viewed biblically, but it must also be understood in the light of her personal faith in Jesus Christ. She understood, as did Moses--as reflected in the 90th Psalm, which was read this morning--that we live in a fallen world, a world of sin, of suffering, and death. She also knew that the only solution was for Jesus Christ to come to the earth and to reign as its King. Because of her faith in Christ, and because of the promise of the Bible that death ushers the saint into the eternal presence of Christ, death was a temptation, both because of what it would end, and because of what it would begin. It was a temptation which was, for her, too great. It does not justify her death, but it does make it easier to understand.
It is my desire to speak candidly to you this morning, first and foremost because I am obligated to faithfully proclaim the truths of God's Word, without diluting or distorting it. I am also confident that this is what Sue would desire, and it is the desire of her family as well. Sue's life has made an impact on many of your lives, and her death can do likewise.
If we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that Sue's death poses some unpleasant problems for us, which we must face squarely. I would like to turn your attention now to the Word of God, and to share with you some of its truths which shed both light and hope on the death of Sue Smith. There are several things about the circumstances of Sue's death which could cause us to think or act in a way that is inconsistent with God's Truth, as communicated in His Word, the Bible. I wish to briefly address three of these this morning.
Allowing the circumstances of Sue's death to cause doubts about her eternal destiny.
I was told of a day--14 years ago--when Sue, independently chose to place her trust in Jesus Christ as her Savior. Sue's eternal destiny is not to be viewed in terms of the events of this past week, but rather in terms of a decision made years ago. Every one of us must face the same decision, this very hour, if never before. God's Word declares that we are all sinners, deserving of eternal punishment and destined for hell. The good news is that Jesus Christ came to the earth to bear our punishment and to give us eternal life. His death was a death for our sins. His resurrection is the basis for our eternal life, and a guarantee of the power which we need to live according to His Word.
Some, perhaps with sincere motives, have suggested that those who have taken their own life will forfeit eternal life. This is simply not true. All who are born again, all who have trusted in Jesus Christ for salvation, will enter into His heaven, into His eternal rest. Many Bible passages affirm this, but allow me to mention a few.
The Lord Jesus said,
"I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand" (John 10:28-29).
The Lord Jesus Himself taught that once we are in His hands, our future is also in His hands. No one--not even we ourselves--can rob us of the certainty and security of eternal life, once we have placed our eternal destiny in His hands. Our eternal life is in His hands, not ours. We may take our own physical life in our hands, but not our eternal life.
Three other texts give us great comfort concerning the eternal security of one who has trusted in Christ, regardless of the circumstances of their death, even though they should, in a moment of doubt or fear or despair, take their own life:
It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him; If we endure, we shall also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us; If we are faithless, He remains faithful; for He cannot deny Himself (2 Timothy 2:11-12).
In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus (1 Corinthians 5:4-5).
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? . . . But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 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 8:35, 37-39).
In the first passage (2 Timothy 2:11-12), we find that even when we are faithless, when our faith fails, His faithfulness endures. Our security is not contingent upon our faithfulness, but in His. Thus, we are eternally secure. In the second text (1 Corinthians 5:4-5), Paul is dealing with a wayward saint. In the context, Paul has indicated that this individual, a true Christian, is guilty of sin which even shocked the wicked Corinthians. And yet, Paul conceives of the worst possible case being the destruction of the individual's body--his physical death, but not the destruction of his soul. In fact, Paul speaks of physical destruction as the means by which God delivers that person's soul from eternal torment. The worst form that divine judgment can take in the life of a Christian is physical death, but never the eternal torment of hell.
In the last text (Romans 8:35, 37-39), Paul specifically names death as that which cannot separate us from the love of God. This is because Christ died for us. He has already died, and if we have trusted in Him by faith, so have we (in Christ). Thus, death no longer has the sting it holds for the unbeliever (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:55).
May I say it once again, with all of the conviction which the Word of God gives us, SUE'S ETERNAL DESTINY IS ASSURED BY A PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS CHRIST, AND NOT WITH HER FAITHFULNESS, PERFECT OBEDIENCE, OR SINLESS LIFE. This may sound strange to your ears, but it is not sin that keeps anyone from heaven, for all of those who go to heaven are sinners. What keeps us from heaven is the rejection of God's grace, of His provision of forgiveness through Jesus Christ. Jesus is both our salvation and our security. He is the author of our faith, and its finisher (Hebrews 12:2).
Wrongly responding to Sue's death, due to its circumstances and its seeming untimeliness.
There are many wrong responses to Sue's death which are possible, but I would like to focus on two of them.
The first wrong response to Sue's death might be anger. This anger may be focused either toward Sue, for leaving us prematurely, or toward God, for allowing her desire for death to be realized. Job could easily have been angry toward God for the innocent death of his children, who perished not because of his sins, nor for their own, but because of Job's righteousness. As we read through the first chapter of the Old Testament book of Job, we seen that God was using Job as an object lesson of faith. God permitted Satan to take the life of Job's children, all of whom perished in a windstorm (Job 1:18-19). And yet Job responded in worship, not in anger:
Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and worshiped. 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" (Job 1:20-21).
Job's comfort was not to be found in his understanding of the reason for his children's death, for it was a mystery to him. Job's comfort came in knowing the character of the God whom he served. His God was a God who was both good and powerful. His God was both strong and loving. Thus he could accept what happened as coming from the hand of his God and worship even in a time of grief and loss.
The second wrong response to Sue's death could be guilt. Some here may be guilt-ridden due to something that was said or done, or perhaps due to something that was not said or done. Now it is too late to undue the wrong we have done. This guilt, rooted in our own sin, is genuine, but there is a solution for it nonetheless. There is also a false guilt that can often plague us. We may wonder if something we might have said or done could have prevented her death. There is a solution for false guilt, too.
The Bible describes a terrible sin, committed by one of the great Old Testament saints--David. In 2 Samuel chapter 11 we read of David's sexual sin with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah. Uriah had gone to war, to fight for David, but David had stayed home, and in the process had committed adultery with Bathsheba. Bathsheba became pregnant and David sought to cover his sin with deceit. Ultimately, he resorted to murder. The child that resulted from this act of sin was seriously ill for 7 days, and then the child died. During the time of the child's sickness, David refused to eat, laying on the ground all night as he petitioned God for the life of the child. Nevertheless, the child died. David's servants were afraid to inform him, because of the way he had mourned during the child's illness. But, to their amazement, when he learned of the child's death, he washed his face, he ate, and he worshipped God. How could this be? How could David worship God when his sin, his guilt, had caused the death of an innocent child? David was truly guilty, but his guilt was somehow put aside.
How can we, like David, find a relief from our own guilt, whether false or true? The answer is two-fold. From 2 Samuel chapter 12, we learn that David was assured that even though his sin had cost the child its life, this child would spend eternity with him. In answer to the question of his servants, David responded,
"But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me" (2 Samuel 12:23).
David's sin had cost two lives, but not for eternity. David could rejoice that in heaven not only would he be there, but so would the child (and even Uriah, for that matter!).
Also, David found great comfort because he was assured of God's forgiveness of his sin. Psalm 51 is an inspired record of David's prayer of confession and repentance. Here we find David assured of His forgiveness, based upon the goodness and the grace of God. Our guilt, then, is removed by the grace of God, who has forgiven our sins through His Son, Jesus Christ, whom David elsewhere called his Lord, even though He was his own offspring (cf. Matthew 22:41-46). The same Christ, whose death on the cross of Calvary, assures us of the forgiveness of Sue's sins, offers us the same kind of forgiveness. All we must do is to acknowledge our need for it (our sin) and to receive it.
Dwelling too much on the tragic and sorrowful circumstances surrounding Sue's death, rather than on the heavenly realities of it.
Sue's final days were not glorious ones. They were often tragic, painful, and unpleasant. It is possible, even likely, that our minds will dwell on these unpleasant circumstances, rather than on the glory and joy which the Bible describes. Let me illustrate what I am saying with two examples.
Psalm 56 is a psalm written by David, praising God for delivering him from the hands of the Philistines. It is a marvelous psalm of praise. But when we read the background to this psalm in 1 Samuel 21:10-15, we discover that the circumstances were no so glorious as we might have thought. David feared for his life, when he learned that his identity was known to the Philistines. David escaped death by pretending to be insane. It was not nearly so glorious, in the outworking, in its outward appearance, as it was in reality.
The story of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16:19-31 contains a similar situation. There was a certain unnamed rich man whose life was one of luxury and ease. Even at his death, it would seem that he was given all of the help and comfort his money could buy. His funeral, we can assume, would have been elaborate and expensive. And yet, we are told, this man went to hell. Lazarus, on the other hand, was a very poor man. He was sick and unhealthy. He had to compete with the dogs for his meals. His death may have been one that could have been prevented by good medical care. He probably was not even attended or comforted at his death. We don't even know that he was given a funeral or a proper burial. The circumstances of his passing were far from glorious, and yet, at the point of death all of this changed. He was given an angelic escort into heaven, where he lived in eternal comfort. Thus, the eternal realities, the eternal glories of heaven are often the opposite of what earthly appearances would suggest.
I believe that this applies to Sue's death. It was not a glorious year and a half. There were unsuccessful medical and psychological treatments. There were days of depression and sorrow and suicidal thoughts. Here final days were spent in unconsciousness. But that, my friend, is the outward appearance. The heavenly reality is vastly different. The Christian, I believe, has an angelic escort to heaven, and a joyous reception. The Christian is, at death, absent from the body, but present with the Lord Jesus Christ. This, I believe, was Sue's experience. It can be yours as well.
Sue's death is not to serve as an example for you. We dare not suggest that you should imitate her in her death. There is much you could imitate in her life. But most of all, I urge you to imitate her in her faith in Jesus Christ. Here, my friend, is the assurance of the forgiveness of our sins--all of them, and the certainty of eternal life. Here is the guarantee of our eternal fate being in God's hands, not ours. It is in this that we can rejoice, and you can as well if you but receive the gift of salvation which Sue received in her youth. May the comfort of God's salvation be yours today. And may the Word of God give us comfort and joy in the death of Sue Smith this day, and in the days to follow.
Background: I think this man was a believer who may have been out of fellowship with the Lord and died in a senseless car accident. He was known as a loving son, a man of many friends, a young man with a positive outlook on life. He freely expressed his love for his mother and others. Most importantly he was known, by those closest to him, to be a man whose trust was placed in Jesus Christ for his salvation.
I will be reading several passages of Scripture, which express the faith and the hope of the child of God when confronted with the ugly reality of death. These passages reflect the faith of Mr. Smith's family, which they desire me to share with you.
The righteous perish, and no one ponders it in his heart; devout men are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death.
. . . another messenger came and said, "Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother's house, when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!" At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart." The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised." In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; Thou anointest my head with oil; My cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.
The words of the 23rd Psalm, which I read a few moments ago, are familiar to nearly everyone, even those who seldom attend church or read the Bible. This psalm speaks of the comfort and security of the child of God, even in the face of death. More specifically, this psalm bears testimony to the faith which those who knew Mr. Smith were assured that he possessed, and of which he spoke.
In the agriculturally oriented world of the ancient Near East, the literary imagery of a shepherd and his sheep was immediately grasped. David, who is the psalmist, spoke of His relationship with God as being like that of a sheep, who is comforted, guided, and protected by a faithful shepherd. He acknowledged that every blessing he experienced was the result of the leading of his shepherd. Following the imagery of the psalm, these blessings were "green pastures," "still waters," "restoration of his soul," and "guidance in the right path." In short, all blessings came from God.
David was a man who had experienced adversity as well as affluence and ease. Thus, this psalm also speaks of the comfort which David, as a sheep, experienced in the trials of life. Summing all adversity up in terms of the worst trial of life, David spoke of the ultimate enemy of man--death. He does not say that God has led him to the valley of death, for death is the consequence of man's rebellion against God. He does say that even in death, God is with Him, and thus he need not fear any evil. Indeed, death is referred to as "the valley of the shadow of death" for the shadow is but a reflection. For David, death was not the ultimate enemy, but only a shadow, something which one could pass through unharmed. You may not walk through a wall, but you can pass through its shadow unharmed.
David's hope and joy was not merely a matter of the present, but also of the future. After death David looked forward to spending eternity in God's presence. David changes his imagery and speaks of the joys of heaven as that of a great banquet, which God has prepared for him. His enemies will look on in wonder as God anoints his head with oil. Goodness and mercy will follow after David, as He will live forever in the house of the Lord.
This Old Testament psalm depicts in poetic form the hope of the child. It was a hope which saw the enemy of death as but a passing incident, and ultimately only an event which would only usher the child of God into the presence of God. No wonder men and women have found comfort in this psalm. Notice, however, that the comfort and joy of the psalmist is his because the LORD was his shepherd. David did not fear death and he delighted in the hope of living in God's presence for all eternity because he had come to trust in God as his shepherd.
IF WE WOULD EXPERIENCE THE COMFORT OF WHICH THIS PSALM SPEAKS, WE MUST UNDERSTAND WHAT IT MEANS TO HAVE GOD AS OUR SHEPHERD. This becomes more and more clear in the Old Testament, finally explained in the New.
In the Old Testament, God was spoken of as Israel's shepherd. The promise and hope of God's people was that someday God would come to the earth in human flesh to shepherd those who trusted in Him. Through the prophet Ezekiel, God promised,
"I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign LORD. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice" (Ezek. 34:15-16).
In addition to the figure of a shepherd, the coming Christ was also referred to as a lamb. This is because it was necessary for the Christ to take the place of His people, to bear their punishment, so that they could share in His blessings. Specifically, He would have to die in the place of the sinner, and then to be raised again. Thus, Isaiah the prophet wrote,
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth (Isa. 53:6-7).
In the New Testament, the writers of the gospels therefore speak of the Christ who came to the earth as a babe in the manger as both the "lamb of God" and the "shepherd." When John the Baptist introduced the Lord Jesus he said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29).
When Jesus referred to Himself as the "good shepherd" He was identifying Himself as the promised Messiah, the Christ for whom the Old Testament saints looked. Jesus said: "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep" (John 10:11).
The Lord Jesus did lay down His life. He was nailed to a cross. He was buried in a tomb that was sealed shut and guarded by Roman soldiers, and yet, in spite of this, He rose from the grave, appeared to hundreds, and then ascended to heaven, from which He will return.
Because of this, the apostle Peter could encourage his readers by telling them that the "Chief Shepherd" will someday appear and will reward those who are faithful (1 Pet. 5:4). In the book of Revelation, the apostle John spoke of those who suffer in the great tribulation period, yet to come, saying,
"These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore, they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes" (Rev. 7:14b-17).
The unnamed author of the epistle to the Hebrews concludes his epistle with this benediction:
May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen" (Heb. 13:20-21).
I do not in any way wish to minimize the sorrow and grief which the family and loved ones of Mr. Smith are experiencing. Nor will I attempt to explain the purposes of God in taking him home at such an early age. But what I do know, along with all those present who have come to know Jesus Christ as their Great Shepherd, that death is but a shadow, and that once we have passed through this valley, this shadow, we enter into the eternal presence of God. And because of this, we can find comfort in the assurance that those in Jesus who experience death have entered into the presence of God. This is not mere wishful thinking. It is the promise of the Word of God. It has been the source of comfort to all those who have faith in Christ.
Thus, the apostle Paul, when facing the possibility of his own execution as a martyr of the faith could write,
I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body (Phil. 1:20-24).
Again, in his second epistle to the Corinthian church, Paul wrote,
Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. . . We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:6, 8).
There is great sorrow for each of us at the passing of Mr. Smith, but for the Christian who knows Jesus Christ as the Great Shepherd, there is also joy and hope. This hope is based upon the Word of God, in which we read,
Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words (1 Thes. 4:13-18).
The only question which remains is this: IS THIS HOPE YOUR HOPE? IS JESUS CHRIST YOUR GREAT SHEPHERD? The faith and confidence in the face of death of which the Bible speaks is not the possession of all, but only of those who have personally trusted in Jesus Christ. The Bible tells us that all have sinned, and that the wages of sin is death. Jesus Christ, the Great Shepherd laid down His life for the sheep. He died in your place, bearing your punishment, so that your sins might be forgiven and you might live eternally in His presence.
The family and loved ones who knew Mr. Smith have indicated to me that they are assured of his faith in Jesus Christ as his shepherd. The promises of the Bible are promises in which we can find comfort regarding the present blessing which Mr. Smith has in the presence of God. Is the Lord Jesus Christ your shepherd? If He is, you need not fear the valley of the shadow of death, for He is with you.
Background: The king of Syria intended to put Elisha, the prophet of God to death. He surrounded the place where Elisha and his servant were staying. The servant was stricken with fear. Elisha, however, responded,
"Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them." Then Elisha prayed and said, 'O LORD, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.' And the LORD opened the servant's eyes, and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha (2 Ki. 6:15-17).
Background: Elijah, the prophet of God was about to depart, and Elisha, his servant who was to take his place, knew it, and so he would not leave him. Finally Elijah gave Elisha one last request, to which he responded,
"Please, let a double portion of your spirit be upon me." And he said, "You have asked a hard thing. Nevertheless, if you see me when I am taken from you, it shall be so for you; but if not, it shall not be so." Then it came about as they were going along and talking, that behold, there appeared a chariot of fire and horses of fire which separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind to heaven. And Elisha saw it and cried out, "My father, my father, the chariots of Israel and its horsemen!" And he saw him no more (2 Ki. 2:9b-12a).
These two passages remind us of a very important truth. There are things going on around us, which are normally not visible to us. In the case of the horsemen and chariots of fire which Elisha's servant was enabled to see, in answer to the prophet's prayer, these were angelic hosts, assigned to protect God's prophet. The servant's fear was based upon his lack of awareness of all that was taking place around him. We are thus all reminded that God's angels are all about us, and that nothing can harm us apart from the permission and will of God.
The chariot and horses of fire which took Elijah into heaven remind us of another fact. While it is not normally visible to us, I believe that the angels are also employed in "escorting" the spirits of those who have died "in the Lord" into God's presence. I know that apart from divine enablement, Mr. Smith's departure was not at all glorious. But I believe that this text assures us that there was much more to be seen, just as was the case with Elisha's servant in chapter 6.
We have come here to lay Mr. Smith's body in the ground, but his entrance into heaven took place on Sunday, in a much more glorious way than our eyes can behold. The apostle Paul reminds us in the New Testament that the depositing of the physical body in the ground is necessary, since mortal bodies must be exchanged for those which are immortal. He also tells us that placing this body in the soil is like the planting of a seed in the soil. Thus, we do so looking forward to the time of the resurrection and transformation of this body.
These are promises for the Christian, for those who have trusted in the Great Shepherd, Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of their sins. Let us find hope in them as those who trust in Him.
Background: Here is the funeral for a young woman who was a close friend of one of my daughters. She had struggled in her Christian life and just returned to fellowship with Him. She was killed in a car accident on her way to a Christian college.
The death of this lovely young woman, at the prime of her life, may seem to some to be untimely. In the sense that it catches us unprepared and overcomes us with grief, this is no doubt true. But from a biblical perspective Mary's death is not untimely at all. I would like to share the Scriptural truths which can bring us great comfort as we see the timeliness of Mary's death. If believed, these biblical truths will enable us to grieve as those who have the hope which God alone can place in our hearts at a time like this.
First, the Bible assures us that Mary's death was not untimely, because this was God's appointed time for her to die.
When Job was informed of the tragic death of his children, he responded, "The Lord Gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord" (Job 1:21).
Even when faced with the tragic news of the death of his children, Job knew that their death did not take God by surprise. Job was comforted in knowing that just as God had given him his children in birth, so it was God who had taken them in death.
Job's theology is also that of David, who wrote, "Thine eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Thy book they were all written, The days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them" (Ps. 139:16).
This passage informs us that from eternity past, the number of Mary's days, like yours and mine, were foreordained. Her death came earlier than we would have expected, but it was God's appointed time, and therefore it cannot be untimely, for God does all things well.
Second, Mary's death was not untimely because she was ready to die.
The timeliness of death has nothing to do with one's age, but it has everything to do with one's relationship to the God who made them, and who takes them in death at His appointed time.
The most significant event in her life came at the age of five, when Mary personally entrusted her soul to Jesus Christ, believing in Him as her Savior. In these last few weeks God has also worked in Mary's life in such a way as to bring her to the point where she desired to be obedient to God's call and committed her life to serve Him. She gave up a good job and at the moment of her death was on her way to a Christian college where she had planned to prepare for a life of service to God by serving others. God chose to call Mary home before she reached that school and before she could begin her anticipated ministry, but the important thing is that she had chosen to be obedient to His will. What better time to be called home than at a time of dedication and commitment to Him. Such a home-going is never untimely.
Third, Mary's death cannot be called untimely because she was not only ready to die, she was eager to be with her Lord, in whose presence she now abides forever.
When a person does not have a saving faith in Christ, death is a dreaded foe to be avoided as long as possible. For the Christian, death is not a dreaded foe, but a defeated enemy (cf. I Corinthians 15:50-58). The Christian's only dread is to die in a condition for which we will be ashamed as we stand in the presence of God (I Cor. 3:12-15; 4:5). Death is actually a way of life for the Christian, for we are told by our Lord that we must daily "take up our cross" (Luke 9:23), an instrument of death, to follow Him.
In one sense, death is a welcomed deliverer to the Christian, for it is a means of gaining immediate entrance into the presence of Christ. Paul wrote,
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 Corinthians 5:6-8).
When faced with the possibility of death for his faith in Christ, Paul found himself torn between his desire to live, and thus to give his life in service to others, or to die, and to be with Christ:
For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But I am hard- pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake (Phil. 1:21-24).
For the Christian there is not greater hope or joy than that of being in the presence of the Lord. Mary's desire was to prepare to serve God by attending a Christian college in California, but when faced with the choice of serving Him here or in His presence, there is no doubt what that choice would be. There is a sense in which every Christian here at this funeral service envies Mary, as she now stands in His presence.
Finally, Mary's death should not be considered untimely because of the timeliness of the message God is speaking to us through her death.
When the apostle Paul considered the options of life or death, he believed that God would give him added years of life because it was through his life that he could minister to the saints. Paul left the matter of his life or death in God's hands, knowing that He would do what was best.
While God chose to spare Paul's life, at least for a time, He has chosen to take Mary home to be in His presence. This strongly suggests to me that God has chosen to speak to us through Mary's death, rather than through her life. Let me suggest some of the things which her life and death should teach us.
We were all shocked by the news of Mary's death because we assumed that she had many more years of life to live. The Bible reminds us, however, that life is uncertain and fleeting. James writes,
Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow, we shall go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit." Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away (James 4:13-14).
Mary's death reminds us that we dare not presume on the future. We have only the present moment to serve God and our neighbors. The future is uncertain and life is fleeting.
We must be prepared to stand before a Righteous God, who will be either our judge or our Savior. We have already seen how God worked in Mary's life, not only in saving her at an early age, but also in bringing her to a place of submission and obedience to His will. How joyful it is for her to now stand in the presence of God. But what if it were you, my friend, who had died? What would be your response to God?
Mary can stand confidently before God because she trusted in the death of Jesus Christ for her sins, and in His resurrection from the grave for her resurrection. I pray that Mary's death may be the instrument which God uses to prepare some of you for the day on which you will stand before God.
Mary's death also faces us with the reality that the work which she might have done, God will have others of us do. One of the most significant events in my life was the funeral service of a young minister who died in an automobile accident, while he was working with the young people at our church. I want to challenge you young people to consider the possibility that God may want you to do some of the work which Mary was willing and eager to do.
My prayer is that as God has spoken through Mary's life, and now, through her death, you and I might be attentive to that message as it applies to each of us.
Background: The death of a child.
Isaiah 55:89; James 1:2-5 and Philippians 4:4-7 emphasize several truths we need to know and be reminded of:
1. He is infinite--we are finite.
2. He knows the end from the beginning while we see just a short part of the now.
3. He knows the whys, while we grasp for wisdom.
4. Examples through scripture and experience clearly illustrate that His ways are not our ways and His thoughts re not our thoughts.
(In spite of our difficulty in understanding God's ways and thoughts, He in His mercy and promise provides.)
In these verses God promises us some vital things for times like this.
First, He promises wisdom instead of confusion. (James l:5)
Second, these verses tell us that God promises peace instead of anxiety (Phil. 4:4-7).
May I encourage you to pour out your hearts to the Heavenly Father and express them to Him and ask Him for His wisdom to understand and His peace to guard your hearts. (There is something else that these verses emphasize that is . . . )
Third, these verses tell us that we can rejoice and be thankful even in the darkest hour.
This is certainly not saying that it is wrong to sorrow and to grieve. Even our Lord grieved at the loss of a loved one and friend.
What it is saying is that even in sorrowful times we can find things for which to be thankful and rejoice. And these things are what we are to concentrate and think upon. Not what might have been but what is and shall be.
There are several things that come to my mind for which we can be thankful and rejoice.
1. First of all the reminder of Philippians 4:5 "The Lord is at hand." One of the meanings of this is that the Lord is locally near. He is with us--as He told us "I will never leave thee nor forsake thee" (Heb 13:5). He is with us and He is in control.
As Moses reminds us, "The eternal God is our dwelling place and underneath are the everlasting arms. (Duet. 33:37) For God's presence and control we can be thankful and rejoice.
2. Second we can rejoice and be thankful that the Lord is at work in our lives.
a. James l reminds us that through this trial you will grow in your faith as you trust God.
b. As gold is refined and purified by fire so our faith is refined through trials.
c. God wants to make you stronger and increase your faith in Him. He is at work in your lives and for that we can rejoice.
3. Third we can rejoice and be thankful in the knowledge that the souls of these little ones are with God. And He will care for them and bring them back with Him when He comes for us.
4. Finally we can rejoice in the families God has given to us.
a. For the love of husband and wife.
b. For the love and concern of Mom and Dad, brothers and sisters.
c. For the prayers and concern of your church family and friends.
d. You are not going through this alone. We love you and want to carry the burden with you.
1. So we've seen though God's ways are not ours nor His thoughts our thoughts.
2. Yet he offers us:
a. Wisdom instead of confusion.
b. Peace instead of anxiety.
c. As we ask in faith believing.
3. We also saw that our minds are to be occupied not on what might have been, but what is? (i.e. even in times like this we can rejoice and be thankful).
a. That God is with us and in control.
b. That the Lord is at work in your lives.
c. That these little ones are with Christ.
d. That our families and friends want to bear these burdens with you.
4. I thank God (Parent's names) that I see these things already reflected in your lives and I challenge you to continue to go to God in prayer for wisdom and peace, and to spend your time meditating on these things for which we can rejoice and be thankful.
In that it has pleased our heavenly Father, who loaned these little ones to us for this short time, to take them back to Himself, we commit their bodies to the ground. Looking for that blessed hope; when the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
Background: This is probably one of the most crucial funerals I have done. This was a young wife and mother, who died of cancer.
A book has recently been written entitled, When Bad Things Happen to Good People. I do not agree with its message, but the problem which is raised is surely a valid one. Mary Smith was a good person, and her cancer was surely a bad thing. We must agree, in a sense at least, that a bad thing has happened to a good person. The answer to the problem of pain is not found in a contemporary book, however, but in an ancient book--the Bible. It is found in many places in the Bible, but none quite as precious to me as in the 73rd Psalm.
This psalm is the testimony of an ancient Israelite, but it is also the testimony of Mary Smith. The last time that I read Scripture to Mary, I chose to read this psalm. When I finished the psalm Mary told me that this text beautifully described her relationship with God as she struggled with the reality of her cancer. It is our prayer that you will find the same comfort from this portion of God's Word that Mary has, along with countless men and women down through the centuries.
Psalm 73 is the honest confession of a faithful Israelite, concerning his own struggle with the problem of pain. Asaph, the author, is the choir leader, whose occupation placed him in constant contact with the people of Israel, and with the sanctuary of God, the temple. He was, I believe, a godly man during the time of his personal struggle. He was a more godly man afterwards. Let us consider the confession of Asaph with the purpose of understanding how a good God can allow pain and suffering to come into the life of the saint.
The first half of the psalm (verses 1-14) describes the problem of the psalmist in detail. His problem stems from a premise, a fact about the God whom he loved and served, a fact which was foundational to his faith:
Surely God is good to Israel, To those who are pure in heart! (v. 1)
This truth was fundamental and foundational to the faith of every godly Israelite. God is good, Asaph believed. In particular, God is the God of Israel, and is good to those Israelites who are pure in heart.
In and of itself, there is nothing about this fact that would trouble Asaph, since he considered himself an Israelite who was pure in heart. The problem is that this foundational truth seemed to be contradicted by the reality of life which Asaph had observed. In verses 4- 9 Asaph's practical problem is detailed, but before telling the reader what troubled him, the psalmist first made a confession, which should cause us to question the objectivity of Asaph:
But as for me, my feet came close to stumbling; My steps had almost slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant, As I saw the prosperity of the wicked (vv. 2-3).
The practical problem with which Asaph wrestled was the "prosperity of the wicked," but let us take note that Asaph's observations which follow are those made through the eyes of an envious man, a man who was angered because he did not possess the prosperity which the wicked were experiencing.
Asaph's problem was the result of an apparent contradiction between his faith (as founded in the principle of verse 1) and the "facts" (as reported in verses 4-9). God was supposed to be good to the Israelite who was pure in heart, and yet it appeared that He was good to the wicked. The wicked seemed to have no pain, and their prosperity was painfully evident in their sleek, even fat, bodies (v. 4). The adversities of life seemed to pass them by. They seemed immune to the problems of life.
If this was not enough, the attitudes and actions of the wicked were such that they "rubbed salt in the wound" of the righteous. They were violent and cruel, and rather than being shamefaced, they were proud and arrogant. They boasted of their wickedness and their minds continued to conjure up further evil. They not only boasted before men, they even seemed to shake their fists in the face of God.
I am not certain whether all of the "wicked" who are described in the preceding verses were Israelites, but I am convinced that those described in verses 10-14 are. As the people of God looked about and saw that the wicked were prospering, they wrongly reasoned that if God was supposed to be good to the pure in heart something must have gone terribly wrong.
God's people seem to have adopted the same evil practices as the pagans. They, too, doubt that God either knows or cares. They see prosperity as something which they bring on themselves, and more by practicing evil than by living righteously. They prosper in their wickedness and are always at ease, even while they dare God to act in judgment.
Asaph is close to joining the wicked among his brethren, and this he frankly confesses to the reader:
Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure, And washed my hands in innocence; For I have been stricken all day long, And chastened every morning (vv. 13-14).
The premise seemed to promise that the righteous would prosper and that the wicked would suffer pain and adversity, and yet the (apparent) reality was that the wicked prospered and the righteous suffered. Asaph was thus tempted to forsake righteousness and to join the wicked. Asaph was dangerously close to forsaking his faith because it appeared that God was not good to the pure in heart.
Asaph is intensely honest in revealing his innermost thoughts and temptations. He was considering giving it all up, and joining the wicked. He suffered great agony of soul, until he had a change in perspective. This change took place when he entered the sanctuary of God (v. 17). This was the dwelling place of God in the Old Testament days. This was the place where time met eternity and where appearances could be distinguished from reality. This was the place where the present "realities" could be viewed in the light of eternal "realities."
Here, Asaph was reminded that the prosperity of the wicked was only momentary. The feet of the wicked are on slippery ground. There destruction had not yet come, but it would come, and quickly, suddenly, irreversibly. The present prosperity of the wicked was but a dream, and their ultimate destiny a dreaded reality. God does despise the wicked and He will judge them. There is nothing to envy here!
In contrast to the fate of the wicked, the psalmist now views his own circumstances in an entirely different light, from a divine perspective. His present state was one of bitterness and anguish. He was senseless and ignorant. His perception was wrong, and yet even in this spiritual state God was with him. Better still, God would always be with him, in time and in eternity:
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 (vv. 23-24).
The psalmist closes with the only appropriate response to this new perception of life's circumstances--praise. The presence of God is the only ultimate good. In the light of this, present prosperity is of no great value, and thus the desire for material prosperity diminishes:
Whom have I in heaven but Thee? And besides Thee, I desire nothing on earth (v. 25).
Thus, even physical pain and bodily deterioration are no longer dreaded:
My flesh and my heart may fail; But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever (v. 26).
The temporary prosperity and pleasure of the wicked will shortly come to an end in their destruction:
For, behold, those who are far from Thee will perish; For Thou has destroyed all those who are unfaithful to Thee (v. 27).
Asaph's problem with the "goodness" of God and the prosperity of the wicked is now seen to be rooted in a defective definition of "good" and "evil". Before, he had equated "good" with "prosperity" and "evil" with adversity," but now he understands "good" in terms of the presence of God:
But as for me, the nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord God my refuge, That I may tell of all Thy works (v. 28).
The experience of Asaph as recorded in the 73rd psalm conveys three vital principles, which I believe are the basis for our comfort in the suffering and death of Mary Smith.
(1) First, the ultimate good in life is not prosperity, nor the absence of pain, but the nearness of God.
The miraculous healing, for which many of us prayed, would not have brought Mary as close to the Lord as her prolonged pain. I cannot fully explain why pain drives us closer to God than prosperity, but it is so. The prosperity of the wicked in Psalm 73 only caused the wicked to become more arrogant and to draw farther away from God. Asaph's pain was the instrument which God used to draw him even near to Himself than ever before. I, along with Jim and the others who spent time with Mary during her illness, can testify that Mary's pain drew her and Jim closer to God than they have ever experienced in the past.
If Mary's illness and its pain brought her nearer to God, her death has brought her even nearer. This is what the psalmist has said. He could look death and eternity in the face because it could only bring him into the full and timeless presence of God (cf. vv. 24-26). While death has separated Mary from us, it has brought her into the very presence of the God, whose presence is her highest good.
(2) Second, pain serves the good purpose of putting life and death, pain and prosperity into perspective.
Asaph found that the problem of pain served to reverse his priorities. Before, Asaph saw prosperity as the highest good, and to be sought at any cost. Now, Asaph can see the nearness of God to be the ultimate good, and worth the cost of suffering, pain, and death. Physical freedom from sickness and pain, from poverty or adversity, came to mean little to Mary, while God's presence became her highest goal. Her sickness and death changed her priorities.
(3) Third, we can see from Asaph's experience that dealing with the problem of pain is a process.
Asaph had to work through the prosperity of the wicked and the suffering of the righteous. It was only after time and agony that he could profess the goodness of God and the preciousness of His presence. So it is for all of us.
I want to tell you that Mary could identify with this psalm because she was able to identify with the process. Initially she was inclined to think that if God was good to her He would heal her, delivering her from pain and from death. In the last days of her life, when her body began to reflect the ugliness of cancer, she radiated the beauty and glory of God.
Mary told me that on one of her darkest days the sustaining reality was that God was nearer to her than He had ever been before. Her last words to Jim were to tell the children not to fear death. I believe that one of the reasons why Mary's illness was so prolonged was that God was giving her the time required to complete the process which Asaph and every saint experiences in their pain.
May I ask you, my friend, can you, at this moment find the comfort and the joy in Mary's cancer and death which she and Jim have found? Is the nearness of God dearer to you than material prosperity, than the absence of pain, than deliverance from death? As we conclude this funeral service I want to share with you as candidly as I can the way you can experience the nearness of God in your life. This was Mary's desire, and it is the desire of Jim and all who know the goodness of God as well.
Men are not near to God, but they are, according to the Bible, "far off." The reason is that men have sinned. The intimacy which Adam and Eve experienced with God in the garden of Eden ended with their disobedience. They hid themselves from the presence of God were put out of the garden, where God's presence was once so sweet. From that day on, men have experienced alienation, separation from God. Nearness to God is not something which we are born with, not something which comes naturally. The Bible says that we were born as enemies of God, fighting against Him and struggling to get away from Him. Sickness, suffering and death are some of the tangible results of man's sin.
The beautiful story of the gospel is that consequences of sin--sickness and sorrow and death--are the very things which God has ordained as His instruments to bring men back into the enjoyment of His presence. Jesus Christ came to the earth, adding humanity to His deity, so that He could experience suffering and death. He suffered and died on the cross of Calvary, not for His sins, but for ours. His words from the cross, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me," are testimony to the alienation from God which He suffered for us, in our place.
If you would have the nearness to God which Mary experienced, then you must first recognize that your sin has separated you from God, has made you His enemy. If you would be brought near to God, you must draw near by trusting in Jesus Christ as the one who experienced suffering and death in your place, for your sins. I pray that you might do that this very hour, and find the nearness of God to be your highest good.
1. The Lord's words are certain
"Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words will not pass away." (Mark 13:31)
2. The Lord's salvation/forgiveness is adequate for every sin.
3. The Lord is faithful to His promises
1 Thess. 5:23-24
Background: This is the text of a funeral message delivered for a five-month-old fetus. The mother went for her regular check-up and the doctor found no heartbeat.
It is at a time like this, a time of apparent tragedy and human suffering, that some of the most important questions of life surface. I believe that the Christian can face these questions head-on. The answers are the key, not only to finding comfort in the midst of this tragedy, but also in communicating the message of the gospel, which is our ultimate and only hope in the face of death. I would like to take a few moments to ask and respond to three questions, which many of you are (or should be) considering at this moment:
1. Why are we conducting a funeral on the occasion of the loss of a five-month-old fetus?
2. Why would a loving and all-powerful God allow this miscarriage to occur?
3. What comfort can we find in the death of this unborn child?
For just a few moments, I would like to focus your attention on these questions, and on the answers we believe the Bible offers us. I would hope that these questions and the biblical texts to which I draw your attention would provide comfort in this time of sorrow, and also provide the means for your further thought and response.
1. Why are we going to all this effort in response to the death of an unborn child?
There is no legal necessity to have a funeral, or even a burial, so why should anyone go to all this trouble and expense? The answer is really two-fold. First, sorrow and tragedy are times (there are many other times, too) when men should turn to God. Job worshipped God when he learned of the loss of all his children (Job 1:20-22). David worshipped God when he learned of the death of his first child by Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12:20). Many of the Psalms are expressions of man’s worship in a time of sorrow or personal tragedy. Those who came to Jesus in the New Testament Gospels were those who were in trouble (see Matthew 5:1-9; 14:35-36). In Jesus’ words, it is not the well who need a doctor, but the sick (Luke 5:31).
The unborn child is a person, conceived in the will of God, and formed and fashioned in the womb by Him. In Psalm 127:3 we are told that children are a gift of the Lord. As Job observed, “the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away” (Job 1:21). It is no wonder that we find God opening and closing the wombs of women in the Bible (see Genesis 18:9-15; 20:18; 21:1-5; 25:21; 1 Samuel 1). From Psalm 139:13-16 we learn that the fetus in the womb is being formed and fashioned by God, and that God likewise determines the number of its days before its birth.
This mother and father, along with their family, have named this unborn child Faith as an expression of the fact that she is a person who is now in the presence of God. In the Bible, God is described as being intimately involved with the unborn child as a person. God chose Jacob rather than Esau while both were unborn children in the womb (Genesis 25:21-23; see also Romans 9:10-13). As an unborn child, John the Baptist leaped in the womb of his mother, Elizabeth (Luke 1:41). Faith, though unborn, was a person, a child that God gave to her parents. God was fashioning her in the womb. It is Faith, the person, whose death we mourn today, as we worship God for giving and for taking her.
2. Why did a loving and all-powerful God allow Faith’s death to occur?
If God is both good and all-powerful (which He most certainly is!), then Faith’s death could have been prevented. Why, then, did God allow it? Why did God allow this kind of suffering for the family of this child? We all want instant answers to such questions, but are not likely to get them as quickly as we would like. This is partly because we are to walk by faith, and not by sight. We were not meant to understand everything now, but in eternity (see 1 Corinthians 13:12; 1 John 3:2). We know God’s reason for allowing Job to be afflicted, but God did not see fit to tell him why throughout his sufferings, and perhaps throughout his lifetime. Job learned that while he may not know the precise reason for his sufferings, he did know God, and that was enough. To know that our lives are in the hands of God is all we need to know for the moment.
The Bible does provide us with some general reasons for our suffering, however. God allows His children to suffer many afflictions and adversities (see, for example, John 15:18-21; Acts 14:21-22; 1 Timothy 3:12; 1 Peter 4:12-19). Every Christian should know that God uses adversity to bring about our good and His glory (see Romans 8:28). In such cases, we must join all of the Old Testament saints in living our lives by faith, trusting in God and obeying His Word, while we wait for the full and final fulfillment of all His promises. In general terms, we know that our suffering enables us to better identify with Christ and His sufferings (Philippians 3:10), and to minister more effectively to others (2 Corinthians 1:3-7). It forces us to rely upon God, rather than our own strength (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). In bearing up well under adversity, we imitate Christ and thus represent Jesus Christ before a lost and dying world (1 Peter 2:18-25). Our earthly afflictions enhance our anticipation of the blessings that are yet to come (2 Corinthians 4:7—5:5).
3. What comfort can we find in Faith’s death as an unborn child?
As we reflect of the death of Faith, a five-month-old fetus, what does the Bible say to us that will give us comfort, joy, and hope in this time of loss? There are many things that God has to say to Christians who grieve over the death of a loved one. Allow me to focus on a few of them.
The most comforting thing we can know is that God is a good God, who is all-powerful, and thus in complete control of the things that happen to us. We can therefore conclude, as the Scriptures do, that Faith’s death was in the will of God, and meant for our good. In the midst of his sorrow at the loss of his children, Job was able to worship God, knowing that it was He who had given him his children, and it was also He who had taken them away (Job 1:20-21). Likewise we can worship God, knowing that Faith’s death was God’s will, and it happened in God’s time. There have been no mistakes.
Faith’s death, though painful to us, comes from the hand of God for our good. There is great comfort in knowing and resting in this truth. But there is another truth that also brings us great comfort: Faith’s death, is the will of God for her good. I believe that the Bible teaches us that unborn children and infants go to heaven when they die, and I would like to point out several texts that lead me to this conclusion. Throughout the Bible (the New Testament in particular) men and women are told that they are sinners, rightly falling under God’s sentence of death (see Romans 3:23; 6:23). This includes not only physical death, but also spiritual death by being eternally separated from God. In the Bible, lost sinners condemned to death are informed that Jesus Christ died on the cross of Calvary to pay the penalty for their sins. They are called upon to repent of their sin and to accept God’s gift of forgiveness and eternal life through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ on their behalf. To accept God’s offer of salvation in Christ is to be forgiven of all of one’s sins and to enter into eternal life. To reject this gospel is to bear the full penalty for one’s sin (see John 3:16-21).
We know that there are some who have never heard the name of Jesus Christ, and thus have never had the opportunity to hear the gospel, to receive or reject it. Will God condemn them to hell? From the first chapter of the Book of Romans, we learn that while every man may not have heard the gospel, God has revealed something of Himself to all mankind through His creation (see also Psalm 19:1-6). A person’s rejection of this revelation of God in nature (by idolatry and false worship) is sufficient basis for their divine condemnation. But because these individuals have not heard the gospel, their condemnation is not as great as those who have heard and rejected the truth of the gospel (see Matthew 12:38-45; Luke 12:47-48).
There are, then, at least two categories of condemned people: (1) those who have heard the gospel of Jesus Christ and refused it; and, (2) those who have not heard the gospel, but have received revelation about God from nature and rejected (or distorted) it. I would now suggest to you that there are two categories of saved people. The first category is those who have heard the gospel of Jesus Christ and have received Him as their Savior. These people believe that they are sinners, condemned to eternal death, and have accepted the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as God’s only means of salvation. The second category is that of all those who have not yet reached the point of being able to grasp the gospel (some would call this the “age of accountability”), and thus to choose whether to receive or reject it. I believe such “little ones” to be recipients of the grace of God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Specifically, I am referring to the unborn and to very young children. Allow me to explain this.
We know from the Book of Jonah that God distinguishes between those children who are not yet accountable for sin from those people who are accountable. God sent Jonah to the sinful city of Nineveh, to proclaim that God’s judgment was soon to come upon this wicked city. Jonah very much wanted the Ninevites (the enemies of his people, the Israelites) to be destroyed. When the Ninevites heard the warning of God’s impending judgment they repented of their sins, and God withheld His judgment on this city for a time. Jonah was furious. He not only wanted the whole city to be destroyed, he wanted to watch it burn; no, he wanted to watch the Ninevites burn. In the final verses of chapter 4, God spoke these words of rebuke to Jonah:
9 Then God said to Jonah, "Do you have good reason to be angry about the plant?" And he said, "I have good reason to be angry, even to death." 10 Then the LORD said, "You had compassion on the plant for which you did not work and which you did not cause to grow, which came up overnight and perished overnight. 11 "Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?" (Jonah 4:9-11, emphasis mine).
Here, God rebuked Jonah for wanting the entire city to perish. God revealed to Jonah that He had compassion on the innocent, while Jonah did not. The population of Nineveh was far more than 120,000 people. This is the number of children who are under the age of accountability, who are not yet able to distinguish their right hand from their left, let alone good from evil. Jonah was rebuked for wanting to see these innocent children (and animals, whom we surely cannot call sinners) die painfully. Is God not indicating that those who are so young do not yet have the capacity to understand the revelation of God in nature or in the gospel? God does not condemn those who are innocent. Jonah wanted every Ninevite to die, regardless of age or accountability. Jonah was wrong for failing to distinguish the innocent from the guilty.
In the first 3 chapters of the Book of Romans, the apostle Paul seeks to show that all men are sinners, rightly under divine condemnation and the sentence of death, and desperately in need of salvation (see the summary in 3:9-18). But whether it is the heathen in some dark land, who has only the revelation of God in nature (Romans 1:18-32), or the Jews who know God’s law very well (Romans 2:1-29), men are condemned for rejecting the revelation about God which He has made known to them. But what of the unborn and the very young, who have never heard or grasped God’s revelation, in Scripture or in nature? I believe that such people are those to whom God referred as those “who do not know the difference between their right and left hand” (Jonah 4:11).
Are innocent children to be condemned to eternal hell, only because they are ignorant of their sin and of God’s salvation in Christ? I think not. This is why David found comfort in the death of his first child by Bathsheba. Consider these words of Scripture:
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. 21 Then his servants said to him, "What is this thing that you have done? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept; but when the child died, you arose and ate food." 22 He said, "While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, 'Who knows, the LORD may be gracious to me, that the child may live.' 23 "But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me" (2 Samuel 12:19-23).
As a result of David’s sin with Bathsheba, the first child of their union became gravely ill. David petitioned God to spare the child, but when the child died, David was comforted. His servants were amazed, and asked him how this could be. David informed them that while the child could not return to him (by coming back to life), David would join the child (by spending eternity in heaven with him). David found comfort in his assurance that he would join the child in heaven.
How can this be? How can anyone be saved without hearing the gospel and accepting it? The only way that this can be is if the blood of Jesus Christ reverses the curse Adam has brought upon his offspring, all mankind. Jesus Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection is that which saves these little ones. Because they are too young to know about their sin and about God and His salvation, they are not held accountable for responding to the gospel. The saving work of Jesus Christ saves them, before they are even able to know it. Such children who die go to heaven. This is what comforted David. It is what comforts us as well.
I understand the theological basis for David’s comfort and hope to be set down by the apostle Paul in his Epistle to the Romans. Paul’s words in Romans chapter 5 are his answer to the question, “How can men be saved by believing in one person, Jesus Christ?” Paul’s answer is that it was one man, Adam, who brought sin and condemnation upon the entire human race. It is therefore through one man, Jesus Christ (called the “last Adam” by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:45), that God has made salvation possible for lost men. Paul’s entire argument is based upon the premise that Christ in His righteousness has outdone Adam in his sin. Whatever Adam has done to bring condemnation upon the human race, Jesus Christ has outdone, making salvation available to the human race. If God were to condemn an unborn child to suffer eternally in hell, it could not be for the willful sins that child has committed. The condemnation of such a child would have to be the penalty for Adam’s sin, not the child’s. But if Christ has outdone Adam, then the death and resurrection of Christ has rescued all mankind from the penalty for Adam’s sin. Any man who comes under divine condemnation is condemned for his own sins, and not for Adam’s sin. Therefore, I believe that Paul teaches that the unborn child and the infant are saved by the work of Christ. Just as the world involuntarily became participants in the sin of Adam, so the unborn and young child becomes the beneficiary of Christ’s saving work at Calvary.
Our sorrow cannot be for Faith. Our sorrow is due to our loss of knowing her, but not in any loss on her part. If Faith’s destiny is heaven, due to the saving work of Jesus Christ, then her death in the womb was the quickest way to heaven. I was impressed as I read two passages in which men of God spoke of their wish to have died in their mother’s womb. The first is Job (Job 10:18); the second is Jeremiah (20:14-18). Now I realize that these men were suffering and in despair. But I also believe that their words were based on the assumption that had they died in the womb, they would have immediately gone to heaven, and thus bypassed all of the sorrows and tribulations of this life. Such was not God’s will for these two men, but it was His will for Faith. Let us rejoice in the fact that God not only has taken Faith in death, but that He has taken her home to Himself, the quickest way possible.
Let me sum up what I am trying to say about the death of Faith, only five months old in the womb:
What a comfort this should be to a Christian!
So far, I have been speaking largely to Christians, and from a Christian’s perspective. But I must now say this to some of you who may not yet have received God’s gift of salvation in Jesus Christ. Faith’s death is a cause for our rejoicing in the midst of our sorrow. Her death has taken her to heaven. This is because she was too young to have heard the gospel and to have responded to it. But you cannot face the certainty of your own death with the same assurance. You are able to understand that God’s Word declares you to be a sinner, having fallen short of His standard of holiness, as demonstrated in His Old Testament Law, and in the person of Jesus Christ. Faith’s death can become an occasion for your rejoicing, if it causes you to come to grips with sin and death and eternal judgment. Her death may be God’s way of bringing the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ home to you. I pray that it is.
Background: This was a young child, who suddenly died.
There is a passage of Scripture in the Book of II Samuel which offers each of us great comfort in the death of this little one whose death as an infant may seem untimely,
Then the Lord struck the child that Uriah's widow bore to David, so that he was very sick. David therefore inquired of God for the child; and David fasted and went and lay all night on the ground. And the elders of his household stood beside him in order to raise him up from the ground, but he was unwilling and would not eat food with them. The 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!" 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." 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. Then his servants said to him, What is this thing that you have done? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept; but when the child died, you arose and ate food." And he said, "While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, 'Who knows, the Lord may be gracious to me, that the child may live.' But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will nt return to me." (II Samuel 12:15-23).
We know the background to the death of this child all too well. David sinned by committing adultry with Bathsheba and then seeking to cover it up by the murder of her husband, Uriah. God rebuked David for his sin through Nathan the prophet. As a consequence of David's sin with Bathsheba, the child of their illicit union was stricken with a serious illness. Throughout this period of illness, David fasted and prayed, beseeching God to save the life of the child.
God did not choose to restore the health of the child and it died. David's servants were very reluctant to tell him of the child's death. They feared that his grief might be to great and he might do himself harm. They did not have to tell David, because he sensed that the child had died. When asked about it directly, they could not deny it.
The servants were shocked by what happened next. David ceased his mourning and fasting and began to go about life normally. David's response to the child's death was the reverse of what they had expected. When they could not restrain themselves any longer, they asked him pointedly, "Why you responded this way?" David's response is found in verses 22 and 23. It is here that we can find the faith and hope to go on living after the death of the child.
1. David Was Confident His Child Was in Heaven.
While the child was still alive, David was right to beseech God for mercy and healing. But once the child was dead, David could accept this as the will of God, knowing that his child was in heaven. His statement, "I shall go to him, but he will not return to me," indicated that he knew he could not bring the child back, so fasting and prayer for the child was no longer appropriate. When he spoke of going to be with the child, he gives evidence to his faith that the child still lives, but now in heaven. OF greatest comfort to David was the knowledge that while his sins of adultry and murder, were the cause of the child's death, this in no way changed the fact that the child was in heaven.
Why can David be so certain that his child is now in heaven? The answer is not given in this passage. It is perhaps most clearly explained in Romans chapter 5. There, Paul teaches us that it was Adam's sin which made each of us sinful by nature. But he also taught that the death of Jesus Christ has reverses the consequences of Adam's sin, allowing God to give eternal life to all who are "in Christ." By sinning against God, we identify with Adam, and demonstrate that we are worthy of God's judgment and death. By trusting in Christ, we are forgiven of our sins and given the righteousness which leads to eternal life. Infants, by virtue of being born of man and therefore are the descendants of Adam, and consequently must face physical death. But because they have not willfully resisted and rejected the revealed word of God, the death of Christ covers their sins and we can thus be assured that they will go to heaven.
2. David was assured that he would go to heaven, to be with his child.
It is not difficult to believe that David's child would go to heaven. What is more difficult to believe is that David is certain he will be there with the child. While the child did not sin, David had. David had taken another man's wife. David had murdered Uriah, the husband of the child's mother. What possible reason can we find for David's hope of heaven?
The answer to this is found in the 51st Psalm. There we read that David confessed his sin to God and sought His forgiveness. If David can be assured of God's forgiveness for the sins of adultery and murder, surely you and I can be assured of forgiveness as well.
There is great comfort for us in this account of David's sin, and of his hope in the death of his child when we consider the death of this little one. We may, like David, be assured that this child is in heaven, with the Lord. Our confidence in this rests in the work of Christ on the cross of Calvary.
For us who remain and who are adults, the forgiveness of sins and the hope of heaven is not automatic. We must, like David, confess our sins and trust in God's forgiveness. No matter how great our sins, God will forgive and we may be assured of heaven.
There is no question as to where this child is this very moment. The only question is whether we will claim the forgiveness of God in Christ and thus be assured of heaven as well.