“I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood
cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does
the perishable inherit the imperishable.”
(I Corinthians 15:50)
Food For Thought… I suppose I have conducted close to a hundred funerals as a pastor. You have been to your fair share of them as well—or you will by the time you reach the end of your journey. Death is simply a part of life. It has been ever since the fall of Adam and Eve when sin entered the human race. And the fact of the matter is, you and I will die someday, too, because the last time I checked, the death rate was still hovering around 100%.
What is so profound is the amazing difference in the funerals I have conducted for non-believers and memorial services that I have led for Christians. I use the terms “funeral” and “memorial” as a very purposeful distinction. And I can sum up the difference in three words: hope, joy and peace.
Funerals don’t have much hope; there is not much deep and lasting joy at the death of an unbeliever; people don’t leave a funeral service for a non-Christian with much peace—if any at all. I am not saying that a non-Christian didn’t leave good memories. In many cases, they did. They just didn’t leave eternal hope, joy and peace.
To be sure, in a memorial service, there is grief at the loss at the passing of a Christian. But there is an amazing and undeniable sense of hope that pervades the atmosphere and sustains those who are grieving. It is the hope that Paul describes here in I Corinthians 15 that the dead body of that Christian has been transformed into a eternally living, spiritual body. As the wife of the great preacher R. A. Torrey said at the death of their twelve-year-old daughter, “I’m so glad Elisabeth is with the Lord, and not in that box.”
There is also a special kind of joy that just doesn’t make sense in the natural. I have often sat in amazement at such services as songs of praise and gratitude are lifted to the God of all comfort. That just doesn’t happen at the funeral of a non-Christian, where typically, wailing rather than worship fills the air. But at a Christian’s memorial, it is not untypical for worship and wonder to drown out the sounds of death.
And then there is the peace that passes all understanding that accompanies the believer’s death. It is the kind of peace that guards the hearts and minds of those whose lives have been touched by loss. It is God’s gift of peace, and it makes such a loss endurable. It is the kind of peace that comes from knowing that our gracious God is in control—even in the death of a loved one—and that our God does all things well, and will bring good out of loss and glory out of grief. It is peace that the world cannot give and the world cannot take away.
Of course, there is grief at the loss of a Christian loved one—but it is a good grief. How can that be? One word: Jesus. Sin and death entered the human race because of Adam, Paul says in I Corinthians 15:45-48, but through Jesus’ death and resurrection, the power of sin and the sting of death has been neutralized. Thanks be to God for our resurrected Lord and Savior, Jesus. Through him, we can defiantly declare to death,
“Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?
Prayer… All thanks to you, Father God, for you have given me victory over sin and death through Jesus Christ my Lord.
One More Thing… “Death stung himself to death when he stung Christ.” —William Romaine