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The Hope and the Comfort of the Resurrection

13 I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)

Dear Family, friends, and loved ones.

The words of the Lord that draw our attention this day are those from 1 Thessalonians chapter 4, read just a few moments ago, where Paul, an apostle of the Lord Jesus, writes of those who have died in the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ, of those who have fallen asleep. Here, he encourages Christians of their hope, even in the midst of sorrow and grief, that they do not sorrow and grieve as others do who have no hope. Christians have such hope on account of Christ’s death and resurrection. Because Jesus rose from the dead, so too do those who sorrow have confidence that the deceased in the Lord will also, with Christ, rise from the dead when Jesus comes again.

I was able to share these encouraging words from Thessalonians with the V. before he went into the hospital. We were talking about All Saints’ Day and how the word “saint” includes believers in Christ who continue to struggle with their sin, as well as those whose race has been won, who now rest from their labors, and enjoy God’s presence apart from sin.

On that day, V. was missing G. greatly. He was grieving her death and longed for her presence.

Even as he grieved, sorrowed, and perhaps felt lonely, it is just in that place that the news of Christ’s resurrection, that death does not have the last word, also for us, takes root and gives comfort. Like rays of light breaking through the darkness, not a “quick fix,” here the moment, gone the next, but a sure Word from the Lord, the resurrection sustains and strengthens. It gives the certainty of God’s favor. Through the good days and the days of trouble, which both come, Jesus is our hope and our peace.

V.’s struggle is now over. No more visits to the doctor. No more disappointments about possible remedies. No more contending with his own sins or the sins of others.

V. is at peace. We can be sure of this, not because of how good V. was in life, but because of the promises of God in Christ, which V. believed.

V. confessed and did not deny what Christians everywhere confess and do not deny, that he was a sinner, a sinner before a just God, a sinner who does not deserve God’s kindness, but rather, his condemnation. V. confessed this, as all Christians will do.

The Bible teaches that we are not as God wants us to be. V. understood this. He also believed that our keeping of the Law doesn’t save. Jesus does, Jesus, and Jesus alone.

There is salvation in no other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12, NKJ).

Though we are not perfect and holy, Jesus was. He had not come “To destroy the Law or the Prophets” but “to fulfill” them (Matt. 5:17, NKJ). He did not do these things because He needed to do them for Himself. He fulfilled them for us, as our proxy, our substitute, in order that we not be judged as guilty, but innocent before our Creator.

And this we are, Jesus Christ having died our death on the cross and being raised on the third day.

In addition to confessing Himself to be a sinner, V. confessed Jesus Christ to be His Savior. He heard the words of God’s absolution, God’s forgiveness of his sins, and declared this to be his own by the words, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the T life everlasting.”

V. believed these words, confessing them to be so. This is what Christians do. Words have meaning. It is with confidence that the Christian can say and does say, “I am Christ’s and He is mine.” Even in the midst of death, the Christian is sure and certain of the resurrection to come.

Before us is V.’s body in the casket. His death we cannot deny. It is a consequence of the Fall (Genesis 3). Before the first sin, all was good, “very good” and there was no death, only life (Genesis 1:31). Now, there is death.

The troubles that we face in the world, the unrest, the struggles, sicknesses, death—all these are the effects of sin. They show us that the world is not as it’s supposed to be, that something is not right.

As much as we might try to “fix” it or find ways to avoid the inevitable, we will always fall short. Salvation doesn’t rest with us. It comes from God through His Son. Try to go another way and you will only deceive yourself.

The Psalmist says, “What man can live and not see death? Can he deliver his life from the power of the grave?” (Ps. 89:48 NKJ). The answer to the first question is “none,” and “no” to the second.

Today reminds us of our own mortality, a truth that we are not able to escape. You can run, but you can’t hide. We have our limits, and running from the truth is one of them. We can only do so for so long. It will catch up with us.

This is why today is not a “celebration of” V.’s “life.” For V. and his 94 years , we do indeed give thanks. These are blessed gifts of God, not at all to be despised or taken for granted.

Today is, though, the recognition that life in this world has an end. We might not want it to be so, but such is the way that it is.

But as Paul the apostle reminds us, this day is not only one of grief and sorrow. It is also a day of hope and confidence, not in the life that V. had lived, but in the life that Christ Jesus had lived, for V. and for you, and the death that He died, for V. and for you, and the resurrection on the third day, for V. and for you.

We also have confidence and hope this day concerning V.’s body. In time to come, just as God has said, so it will be, “The dead in Christ will rise” (1 Thessalonians 4:17).

Even as the Holy Scriptures reveal that Jesus rose from the dead on day three following His death by crucifixion on Good Friday, so too will those who have died in Christ also rise from the dead, dead no more.

Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die” (Jn. 11:25 NKJ).

The “die” in “never die” that Jesus speaks about is eternal death, hell. Like the resurrection, many deny this teaching, too. Jesus didn’t. He speaks the truth, because He is the Truth, the Truth through whom one comes to the Heavenly Father and lives (John 14:6).

Whoever lives and believes in Me”, Jesus says, will never suffer eternal death. “Though he may” physically “die, he shall live.” These are the very promises of God’s Son, Savior, and these are for you.

V. believed these words, too. He believed that death does not have the last word. Christ has conquered death. Jesus has overcome the grave. The last word is not death and hell, but life and heaven.

In the resurrection, “When this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:54-57 NKJ).

Baptized “in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19), V.’s identity was as a child of God. Feeding on Christ’s body and blood in the Supper of our Lord, V. regularly received the forgiveness of sins. He did not sustain his own life. It was God that did. And now, V. awaits the resurrection of His body, but even “today,” He is with the Lord, “in paradise” (Luke 23:43)

Even as you did so much for V. in caring for him to the end, so the Lord took care of his greatest need—“Peace with God” (Romans 5:1). And this peace, V. had, in Christ.

This peace is also yours, in Christ, resting on and in Him who “was crucified, died, and buried,” who rose from the dead, and who lives and reigns to all eternity. Because of Him, your death, too, will not have the last word. You have no need to fear it, because the death of Jesus means that your sin no longer has the final say.

If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen…Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? (Romans 8:31-35) And the answer—No one and nothing! (Romans 8:38-39).

Do not grieve as those who have no hope. The hope of the world is fading and will not last. Lasting hope and true comfort that remains is that which God promises through His Son. Amen.

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Christ is Risen!

ChristIsRisen.Matthew28.6

12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope2  in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.  20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:12-22)

In the Name of Jesus.  Amen.

We face a similar challenge to what St. Paul faced in the early church.  Note who Paul is writing to.  He’s not writing to nonbelievers, but to Christians, Christians in Corinth (1 Cor. 1:2), yet Christians who deny “that there is a resurrection of the dead” (1 Cor. 15:12).  In Paul’s day, as recorded in the text, there were those who denied that a resurrection of the dead existed.  This would also include the denial, and consequence, of Christ’s resurrection.

Today, there are those in Christendom who deny that Christ bodily rose from the dead.  These will indeed speak of a resurrection, but not a bodily, physical resurrection of our Lord.  As other parts of Holy Scripture are allegorized and considered “not real,” “mythical,” or merely “symbolical,” so it has come to be with the resurrection of Christ.

An examination of even one text, that of St. Luke, however, reveals a far different conclusion.  In Luke 24, Jesus appears to His disciples (after speaking with two disciples on the road to Emmaus (13-35).  In Luke’s account, Jesus says to His disciples, “See my hands and my feet, that I am He; touch and see, because a spirit does not have flesh and bone as you see me having” (39).  In addition, Jesus also eats fish in front of them (41-43).  By saying and doing these things, Jesus confirmed what the disciples saw (and had heard), that He was bodily alive, physically risen from the dead; not a ghost, not a phantasm, but truly and really the risen Lord and Christ in flesh and blood.

According to the text of Scripture, one cannot deny the bodily resurrection of our Lord.  To say that Jesus only has “risen in our hearts” or is alive somehow in a metaphysical or non-corporal way is really, to deny what the text says, and to reject the Christian faith, for as Paul states, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished” (1 Cor. 15:17-18).

To deny that there is a resurrection of the dead is to deny Christ’s resurrection from the dead.  And to deny Christ’s resurrection is deny the work of God for our salvation.  Faith in Christ would only be delusional and without any foundation whatsoever.  And if this were the case, we would still be lost in our sins, having no hope.  Christians would then be the most foolish of people, believing in something that didn’t happen as if it did.

Yet, as Paul, Peter, and the Evangelists reveal, Christ is risen (bodily) from the dead!  The tomb is empty, only because God the Father raised His Son from the grave (Acts 2:32).  This means that the message of our Lord is true!  Your faith in Christ is not in vain.  It is not useless, nor is it meaningless.  Nor do you remain in your sin.  Christ’s resurrection means that your sin no longer has any say over you (Romans 6:1-14; 8:32-34).  Christ’s resurrection also means that the resurrection of the dead is true.  This also means, your own to come.

Let others say what they will about the resurrection of our Lord, but we declare with Scripture, with the Apostles and Evangelists, and with the whole household of God, that God raised His Son from the dead.  Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed!  Hallelujah!

Prayer: Gracious Lord, grant us faith not to doubt, but to firmly believe in Your resurrection, which means also our own, from the dead.  Raise us to new life in You, that we deny ourselves, forsake our sin, and follow you.  Amen.

When you rely upon the living God…

 DrStanley

In a recent letter (“From the Pastor’s Heart,” April 2013) from In Touch MinistriesCharles Stanley, the author lists and briefly expounds upon some of the blessings of Christ’s resurrection.  Following are some of his statements.

“Jesus’ resurrection gives us truth we can cling to no matter what we experience.”

“Our Savior conquered death.”  (He then quotes 1 Corinthians 16:26-27, and references Romans 8:38-39).

“No matter what seemingly desperate or helpless situation we face, it will eventually be transformed for our good.”

The preceding quotes from Stanley’s letter are correct.  No matter our experience, and whether we feel God’s love, mercy, forgiveness, or not, these do not change what God has done for us in Christ.  Even should death be near, this in no way means that God is far away (John 11:25; 12:25-26; Revelation 14:13).  Regardless of feeling, God’s Word is sure (John 14:1).  Whether we feel forgiven or not, God’s Word stands (1 John 1:8-9; John 20:23).  God’s love for you in Christ doesn’t depend on you in any way (Romans 5:8-11).

St. Paul says, “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).  This is true.  Therefore, we don’t live by faith in what we see, but according to the Lord’s Word (Matthew 4:4; Deuteronomy 8:3).  This applies to our lives in Christ in the world concerning justification (how we stand before God) and how we live our lives in the world (sanctification).  Only according to what God says do you have the certainty of sins forgiven and peace with God.  Feelings, emotions, experience, etc. often may (and do) say something completely different from what the Lord says.  However, Christ’s resurrection from the dead and His empty tomb demonstrate the victory of our Lord over sin and death, inclusive of our own, through faith (1 John 5:1-4).

Having said these things and Charles Stanley stating what is right and true in his letter, he concludes by saying, “So how are you living?  Do you trust the Father?  Are you enjoying the resurrection life, triumphing through the power that raised Jesus form the dead?  Remember, when you rely upon the living God to sustain you, no foe that stands against you will prosper, all things—no matter how hopeless—will be transformed for your good, and you will be fit for the very halls of heaven (Italics mine).  You were saved to soar.”

By asking such questions and then stating, “when you rely upon the living God…will be transformed for your good…”, Stanley confuses Law and Gospel.  His words here confuse his words written previously.  Such matters might seem insignificant and trivial, yet Stanley is placing the burden of activity for transformation and being “fit for the very halls of heaven” upon the individual and taking it off Christ.  This may not be what he wants to do, but this is what he’s doing. 

“So how are you living?”  “Do you trust the Father?” “Are you enjoying the resurrection life, triumphing…?  These questions are Law questions, and condemn us (Romans 3:9-10, 19-21; Mark 9:24; Romans 7).  To them, we answer, “Not so good, not enough, and not always.”  Like the tax collector, we too can only say, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner” (Luke 18:3).  We are not as God wants us to be. 

It is not in our relying upon the living God that “all things work together for good” (Romans 8:18) or that all things will be “transformed for our good.”  Instead, it is the promise of God that makes these things so.  Thus, they are, not because we believe or because we rely on Him, but only according to His Word.  Otherwise, we could never be sure, for the promises of God are not dependent on our faith.  Rather, it is our faith that is dependent on God’s sure promises.  These are what make faith solid and true (Romans 10:17).

Christ Your Hope

Jesus.EmptyTomb

 

19 If in this life we only have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. 20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.

 1 Corinthians 15:19-21

He is Risen.  He is Risen indeed.  Alleluia!

On this joyous occasion, Christ’s church confidently rejoices in the bodily resurrection of Jesus her Lord.   The suffering and death that Christ had endured is now past.  Jesus reigns victoriously over death and the grave.  His three-day tomb remains forever empty.  Jesus is risen, just as He had said.  Sin has lost its power and dominion.

Jesus our Savior died with your sin on the cross Good Friday.  But He who knew no sin, who became sin for us, was the only victor, the only one of the two standing when all was said and done.  Darkness had covered the land with Jesus’ death.  But now, the light of Christ shines brightly, piercing through the darkness of death and rejoicing the heart with resurrected gladness.

News of Christ’s triumph flows as a river throughout the world, giving life to all who drink from it.  This water is the pure water of God’s truth.  This water contains no contaminates, nor is any harmful material to be found in it.  It does not make sick.  It brings to health.  It does not make weak.  It brings strength.  It does not cause complacency.  It moves to faith.  It does not cause despondency.  It moves to confidence.  It does not bring hopelessness.  It raises to blessed assurance, the blessed assurance that Jesus is yours, that He has overcome death and the grave.  Just as He has been resurrected from the dead, so you too are brought to life in Christ Jesus our Lord, raised from the deadness of your sin to the resurrection of eternal life.

This is good news!  Christ has now arisen.  Had Christ, who once was slain, not burst His three-day prison, our faith had been in vain.  The words of Hymn 482 in Lutheran Service Book, appropriately titled, “This Joyful Eastertide,” echo the words of St. Paul where he writes, “And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty” (1 Corinthians 15:14).  With these words, St. Paul the apostle demonstrates the futility and the utter uselessness of faith apart from the bodily resurrection of our Lord.

In the day of this blessed apostle, there were those who claimed that there was no resurrection of the dead (v12).  For some reason, they had lost sight of the truth of Christ’s resurrection.   Having lost sight of that, they could do no other except lose sight of the hope and promise of God.  Though St. Paul proclaimed Christ as having been raised from the dead (v12), this message had lost significance among some in the church of Corinth.  Therefore, these men falsely concluded that there was no resurrection from the dead.  Having no confidence in the Lord’s resurrection, they could do no other except construct a hope of their own making.  In the process, the very hope that St. Paul had preached to them became null and void, not because it wasn’t true, but because there was no trust in what had been rightfully and diligently proclaimed.

Except it be for the witness and testimony of the Holy Scriptures, we too would be in the same boat of doubt and denial when it comes to the resurrection of the dead.   But the Words of God before us today reveal differently.  This day called Easter witnesses and testifies, according to the Bible, that there is a resurrection from the dead and that Christ is alive according to the flesh.

These things cannot be apprehended apart from God’s witness and testimony.  They cannot be understood and held to be true based on our own personal experiences.  Instead, the things of God are not naturally known.  They are revealed through the heavenly Word, not the heavenly word of our own heart or head, but the heavenly Word written and sealed in God’s book, written by the apostles’ and prophets.

If these Word’s of our Lord were not so, there would indeed be no bodily resurrection of Christ.  There would be no ‘rose again from the dead’ or ‘rose again according to the Scriptures’ of the Apostolic and Nicene Creeds.  Christians everywhere would be making false confessions and lying before the world of Him who died and rose again; if indeed Christ had not risen.

If there were no resurrection of the dead, all worship and praise would be empty and worthless.  There would be no need to worship in a Christian congregation, for all ‘roads would certainly lead to heaven.’  There would be no uniqueness to Christianity, for it would turn into a religion of salvation by works, as all the other religions are today.  Believers and nonbelievers alike would all be going to the same place.  It would not really matter what one believed, as long as one was sincere of heart.

If Christ did not rise, then it would truly be as St. Paul says, “If in this life we only have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men” (v19).  If there was no resurrection of the dead, and if Christ had not been raised, then the church’s proclamation of her risen Lord would be for nothing.  Her number one priority would not be preaching the Gospel of forgiveness through Jesus Christ, but preaching man’s works and emphasizing his own endeavors, not in the service of others, but for earning recognition with God.  God’s ministers would be false teachers and false witnesses, because they testify of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up – if in fact the dead do not rise (v14-15).

If Christ had not been raised, faith would be in vain.  Worship would be void and hypocritical.  There would be no reason to come to church, even only a few times a year, because there would be no hope in this hopeless world.  There would be no God but oneself, for who could know God if the Bible was untrue?  There would be no eternal hope for a blessed peace.  All would live as many do now, living for themselves and not for the Lord or for neighbor.  There would be little concern for the future and more for the instant gratification of today.

With no resurrection of the dead, nor resurrection of Christ, what would be the hope of sinful man before the just God?  Could man by His work or ability satisfy the penalty of sin, the debt of iniquity, or the guilt of transgression?  What would be the end of it all?   And what would be the end of the entire world, even of us who confess Christ Jesus to be Lord, except hopelessness, misery, and grief.  Satisfaction and contentment could never be guaranteed and everyone would be in the ‘rat race’ of trying to make peace with God at any expense and by any means.

But thanks be to God!  It is not as they in St. Paul’s day claimed.  Nor is it as many in our day believe, that Jesus is a crutch and that one has the power to altar or change one’s destiny before God.  Christ has indeed risen from the dead!  This means everything to us and to Christ’s church.  Death could not hold Him.  The grave could not bind Him.  The tomb could not contain Him.  Christ was not sealed in by death.  He opened the way to life, the hopeful life, the confident life, the blessed life, and the eternal life.

Christ is your hope this day.  By His death, He died your death.  By His life, you are raised to new life.  No longer does your guilt have the last word.  Consciences are clear and free.  The debt of your iniquity is paid.  The penalty of your sin, forgiven.  In Christ, you have everlasting hope before the just God.  Instead of liable, you are innocent.  Instead of accountable for sin, you are liberated from your sin.  Peace with God is now our state of affairs in the presence of God.  Christ is your peace.  Hopefulness, joy, and delight are now your end.  Instead of meaninglessness, there is meaningfulness in life.

Christ is risen from the dead!  Our faith in the resurrection is not in vain.  He who died lives forevermore.  There is reason for eager anticipation and joyous expectation of what will be.  Our heavenly homecoming is drawing near.  His Means of Grace are effective and powerful.  God’s Word gives what it says.  Even today, His Word works wonders.  Great expectations are the product of the faith founded on the Lord’s promises, not only for the future, but even in the present.

The Church’s proclamation of her risen Lord is not for nothing.  Her Lord is her everything.  Through liturgy and song, the church confesses her Savior.  Through prayer and praise, she confesses her Christ.  The preaching that man’s sins are forgiven in Christ Jesus continues to be the mission of the church.  Man does not earn recognition with God by what He does.  But God, in His mercy, grants His favor to man through His beloved Son.  Through Jesus, God recognizes you as saint, holy, and righteous.  The Lord’s resurrection is true.  God’s Word is not untrue.

Because Christ has risen from the dead, worship of the Triune God is not trivial and without value.  Worship of God in spirit and truth is full of meaning and import.  Because God and His Word are true, heavenly gifts are offered at the baptismal font and at the Lord’s altar.  Our Lord speaks words of life.  Those of His sheepfold listen to His voice and feast at His banqueting table of Word and Sacrament.  Because the Lord is risen from the dead, there is complete uniqueness to the religion called Christianity.  No other religion teaches the salvation of the God who became man, died, and rose again on the third day.   All other religions do lead to the same place, but Christ alone grants eternal life.  All others lead elsewhere.  It really does matter what one believes, regardless of how sincere one is.

The Apostolic and Nicene Creeds of Christendom are true.  They do give an accurate witness to the faith of Christians everywhere, both of Christians today and of Christians before.  Their confessions testify to the world of Christ’s resurrection and of Him who died and rose again.  There is a ‘rose again from the dead’ and a ‘rose again according to the Scriptures’, for Christ has indeed been raised from the dead.  The Scriptures are really true.  The testimonies are correct.  The Word is sure.  The truth is found.

There is much reason to rejoice this day.  The Christ, who had once been slain, has burst His three-day prison.  Death no longer entombs Him.  ‘Christ has triumphed!  He is living!  Alleluia!’  (LSB 465, “Now All the Vault of Heaven Resounds”).  This is a ‘Joyful Eastertide’, for Christ ‘the Crucified has sprung to life’ (LSB 482, “This Joyful Eastertide”).  ‘He lives, yes, He lives, and will nevermore die’ (LSB 480, He‘s Risen, He’s Risen).  Jesus is your Savior, faithful and true.  Because He lives, you too shall live with Him, now and forevermore.  Amen.

“A Firm Confidence,” 2 Timothy 4:3-8

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you through our Lord Jesus Christ! Amen.

The basis for today’s sermon comes from those few words from St. Paul the Apostle to Timothy, where he writes, 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing (2 Timothy 4:3-8).

With these words, St. Paul writes to Timothy, his spiritual son in the faith (i.e. 1 Timothy 1:2). St. Paul the Apostle knew that his death was approaching. He recognized that his days were numbered (Psalm 90:12). He knew that he could not escape his own death, but with confidence, he wrote to Timothy of what he was sure.

In confidence, he declared, 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.

From where had St. Paul the Apostle obtained such confidence? From where had St. Paul, even in the midst of facing his own death, such certainty that he was able to face death head on, positive of the crown of righteousness awaiting him, positive that he had kept the faith, sure that he had finished the race, and in unwavering faith declare, I have fought the good fight?…

11.01.26FuneralSermon.GenevaBennett.pdf

Reflections on a Christian Funeral

Just recently, one of the members of the congregation died.  He died.  He didn’t just ‘pass away.’  He died.  He stopped breathing.  His heart ceased.  And during the funeral, the casket being closed, laid the body of a loved one, friend, and saint of God.

Arnie was his name.  He has transferred from the ‘church militant’ to the ‘church triumphant.’  He was an active member, attending regularly unless physically unable.

Just about a week or two prior to his death, he confessed his sins by answering in the affirmative to questions I had asked him while using the ‘commendation of the dying’ section in one of our service books (Pastoral Care  Companion).  He later received the Lord’s Supper.  I reminded him of his baptism.

Arnie had confessed the faith.  He had run the race (Hebrews 12:1).  He had been baptized.  He heard the Word.  He received Christ’s body and blood.

All of the above point to what God had done, what He was doing, what He still does for us who remain living on earth.  All of the above, Word and Sacrament, emphasize God’s work—not man’s—for our salvation.  They point out our sure hope, our certain confidence.  Not by what we do, but by what God does in Christ Jesus, are you called a saint, a holy one of God.

On the day of Arnie’s funeral, there was indeed sorrow.  But there was also that sure confidence of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, for according to His Word does the Lord declare it to be so:

16 For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. 17 And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! 18 Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. 20 But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. 23 But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. (1 Corinthians 15:16-23)

We gave thanks to the Lord for the life and for the faith God had given to His beloved child.  And we give thanks now for the life and for the faith God has given us, that we believe, and so live.

We were reminded of our own mortality that day in a most sublime way.  Arnie was not getting up.  But this didn’t mean that eternal life was not his, or that He was not with the Lord.

We walk by faith, not by sight, St. Paul the apostle says—by faith in the Lord’s abiding and true Word (2 Corinthians 5:7).  He doesn’t lie.  He says how it is.  He says that there is life, even in death.  And this we know to be true, all because of Jesus, the Living One, who conquered sin and death and the devil, and through whom we have life, eternal life.

Prayer:  Dear Father in Heaven, give us sure confidence in Your Word, that even as we sorrow and grieve, seeing the death of others and reflecting on our own mortality, we not lose hope, but look ever to You and Your Son Jesus Christ, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame.  Grant that we too look to our promised inheritance, setting our minds on things above, not on things of the earth; and meditating on what is good and noble and true.  Amen.

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