This post tackles an uncomfortable subject: death.
We don't like to think about death. We instinctively realize that it is not the ideal. When someone close to us is taken away suddenly, we often wonder why. Despite the claims to the contrary, nobody welcomes death. We spend untold amounts of money on health care to stave it off as long as we possibly can. We also spend tremendous amounts to help us avoid the appearance of aging and weakening. However, in spite of our best efforts, we all will die.
This was brought home to me on 22 November 2010 when I received a telephone call from my younger sister. She told me that my older brother had been killed in a hunting accident. He had gone out in the morning and did not return home by nightfall. His wife was concerned and called my older sister. They could not find him so the combined efforts of three local fire and rescue departments plus a helicopter were employed in searching for him. When they did find him, he had been dead for some time. He was apparently trying to install a tree stand when he fell, injuring himself fatally.
We traveled home for services. My brother's pastor asked if I would speak at the graveside service. I agreed, hoping that I could comfort his wife, my parents, my other brother and sisters with their families, and the many other relatives and friends all of whom were grieving the loss of my brother together with us.
This is what I said at the graveside service:
Thank you for coming to this committal service for my brother Michael. His death is a great loss and a sad occasion. Death is an enemy, not a friend. God created us to live in fellowship with Him. Adam's disobedience brought death into the world, and the sorrow we feel today comes from living in a fallen world where there is pain, suffering, and death. However, this is not the end. Listen to these words form God's holy, inspired, infallible Word.
In John 11:25, 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. Do you believe this?”
That is the question. Do we believe this? Do we believe that Michael, though he has died shall live? Do we believe that he, while no longer here present with us in this life is now in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ, whom he loved and served? Let us look again at God's Word.
“For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4).
Additionally, we read, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ's at His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign til He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death” (1 Cor. 15:19-26).
God's word also says, “Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So 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. 15:51-57).
Finally, Scripture says, “But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. 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. 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. 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. Therefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thess. 4:13-18).
From this we see several things. First, we see that Jesus Christ died for our sins. He suffered, taking the place we deserved on the cross so that we might be reconciled to God.
Next we see that Jesus Christ arose from the dead. This is history. The grave is empty. We believe in a risen, living Savior, not a dead martyr who can only serve as a “good example.”
We also see that Christ's resurrection is the firstfruits and the assurance that if we place our faith and trust in Him for salvation, we will also be raised from the dead. Death is not the natural order of things, but an enemy that will be destroyed at Christ's coming. We are as yet corruptible. Our bodies decay. From the moment we are born, we are in the process of dying. Some of us come to the grave earlier than others and we are reminded of our own mortality. However, when Christ returns, when the last trumpet sounds and the dead are raised, then that will be in incorruption. Corruption and death shall no longer be a part of our existence. We shall be raised to ever be with the Lord.
We can take comfort in this: that Michael knew his Lord and had placed his faith and trust in the One who went first. Christ died, was buried, and was raised from the dead. So Michael has died and will be buried shortly. However, this is not the end. He shall be raised. We can take comfort in this. We grieve for him, that he is no longer here for us to enjoy his presence as before. We do not grieve without hope. We have God's Word to assure us that Michael will rise. God's word is sure. The victory is assured. Therefore, let us commit Michael's body to the ground in the hope of his resurrection. Let us yield our own lives to the Lord, not trusting in our own righteousness to save us, but in the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us trust in our resurrected Lord to provide us with a righteousness that will enable us to rise and enjoy a “new heaven and a new earth,” the New Jerusalem where “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying; and there shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:1a, 2a, 4).
Let us pray: Father, we gather in this solemn place to remember Michael's life and mourn his death. We do not sorrow as those who have no hope, for our hope is in Jesus Christ. We ask that you would comfort each family member and friend. May we be comforted by your Word, encouraged through happy memories, and sustained by the hope of the resurrection for all who place their faith in you. Amen.
Benediction: “The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face to shine upon you, And be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, And give you peace” (Num. 6:24-26).
Note: All Scripture quotations from the New King James version.
Rest in peace