By Ross Engel –
This past week I attended the funeral service of a brother pastor. This man served a local congregation for over 35 years, preaching, teaching, baptizing, confirming and doing the various tasks and callings of the Pastoral Office.
As I listened to the sermon (or maybe more accurately, the eulogy) two thoughts kept pouring through my head.
1. Sir, we wish to see Jesus!
2. How sad that our true Christian hope of the resurrection of the body has been forgotten and replaced with Gnosticism!
The sermon was interesting, filled with statistics, anecdotes, funny quips and a family history, but something was missing. The Gospel! The comfort of Jesus Christ! The promise of the Resurrection of the body! Jesus was mentioned, but He was mentioned in this way, “For 57 years [the deceased] preached Jesus, and Him crucified.” Instead of the proclamation of Jesus Christ for us, we received a description of how the deceased pastor’s previous preaching included Jesus.
Here was a packed church, standing room only, filled with people aching to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ but instead received a life history of the recently departed. A few fun stories. Some anecdotes that brought a chuckle or two amid the teary eyed mourners. But devoid of any real comfort.
My thoughts kept going back to those words of the Gentiles from John 12:21 “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”
In the midst of death, Jesus is our comfort, not laughable memories or clever quips about a departed loved one. In the face of death, comfort comes not in the goodness of the deceased but in the righteousness of Christ. His death defeated sin. His resurrection defeated death and the grave. In Him we find our Comfort and our Hope. And so, because of Christ, we do not mourn like those who have no Hope.
Our Hope is the resurrection of the body. The promise, that on the Last Day, God will raise all believers, body and soul, to live with Him in His kingdom. For don’t you know that, “if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his!”
So often it seems that the Christian church has lost this hope. In the midst of death, the accolades and goodness of the deceased are proclaimed instead of Christ. When hope is finally given, it is a false hope. The hope becomes “Gnostic heaven”, an eternal spiritual existence where our beloved departed ones join in a heavenly float along with all the other departed spirits. The hope no longer is the resurrection of all flesh but rather the spiritual float along, freed at last from this fleshly body, never to have need of a body again.
Dr. Jeff Gibbs of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, wrote an article some years ago that I read before I craft every funeral sermon I’ve ever written. His article, titled, “Five Things Not To Say At A Funeral” presents five things that are theologically wrong that shouldn’t be said in a funeral sermon. He also shares with his readers what should be preached at a funeral (the whole article can be read here).
Here is a short summary of the five things, maybe you’ve heard them at funerals too:
1. “[He] has received the crown of righteousness, and he has heard the Lord say, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant’.” No, actually, he hasn’t—not yet. This comes at the resurrection!
2. “[She] has now entered into eternal life.” There is no Biblical support for a statement like this–this is not, in fact, a Christian thing to say.
3. “[He] has gone to his eternal home.” This utterance contains an echo of a Biblical way of speaking, but it is terribly misleading. The eternal home comes when Jesus returns.
4. “[She] is with the Lord now forever.” This, too, implies that the resurrection of the body is an afterthought, an add-on, something that isn’t very important.
5. “This is not a funeral—it’s [a] victory celebration!” This is perhaps the most objectionable of all—and it is patently false, as even many unbelievers instinctively know. It also can take away a person’s “permission” to grieve.
So in the midst of death, what should be said at a funeral? What true hope is to be given to those who are sorrowing and suffering? Is hope really to be found in the good works and personal accolades of our deceased friend or loved one? Is our Christian hope really an eternal, out of body, spiritual existence devoid of the promise of the resurrection of the body? Dr. Gibbs offers these words that are most helpful when giving true hope,
“But in the face of death the pastor must proclaim the Good News of God’s solution to sin and all its effects. And God’s solution for bodily death is bodily resurrection! The resurrection of Jesus is the first fruits of the final resurrection on the Last Day—and this is very good news indeed for all who are in Christ Jesus.”
I was reminded again this past week; God’s people continue to cry out, “Show us Jesus! He is our true Hope!” That was my plea. May it be your plea too! And may Jesus always be the hope that you receive in your time of mourning!
Brother pastors, give your people Jesus. Proclaim Him! Deliver Him fully! It is what they need most!