[This week I conducted a funeral service for my cousin, Carol, and I want to share with you what I told the people at that meeting. May the Lord use it to bring you comfort and to get you to think about your eternal destiny, and how you are living now. – Pastor Lou Prontnicki]
We are gathered here today for three main reasons:
(1) To recall the past: to remember the life of Carol, to give her honor;
(2) To get help for our present sorrow: to find comfort and strength from each other, and ultimately from the Lord; and
(3) To give thought to our own futures: for each of us to ponder our own eternal destiny, before God.
First, to recall the past: to honor the memory of Carol, as a mother, a sister, grandmother, aunt, cousin and a friend. In just a minute, I’ll give you an opportunity to share some memories about Carol. It is good to remember the blessings we have received through another person; to speak publicly about how they enriched out lives while they were with us. We are all here today because in some way, Carol touched our lives. I want to give you some time to share our remembrances about Carol, and her son, John, will begin.
Second, we meet here to get help for our present sorrow: to find comfort and strength from one another, and ultimately, from God.
We find help at this time by being together with the ones we love, and though a funeral service is a sorrowful time, it also brings us encouragement. We support one another, cry and laugh with each other, and love one another.
Ultimately, though, we find our true comfort and strength from God, in two ways: (1) in His Written Word, His promises in the Bible, and (2) in His Own Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
(1) His Written Word: We recite biblical passages such as Ps. 23 and the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6 because His written word acts like a compass when we feel lost; it gives off light and warmth just at the time that we find ourselves in darkness. Some of you are going to feel very empty and very hurting in the next few weeks and months- and I encourage you to open the Bible and ask God to bring you His comfort as you read.
(2) God’s Son, The Lord Jesus Christ: God also comforts us through Jesus, His Son. How does God comfort us through Jesus?
First, God’s Son left heaven and became a man, like us, so that He could be a sympathetic savior to us; (Hebrews 4:14-16) “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Jesus wept at his friend Lazarus’ funeral. He can help us, because He’s been one of us.
Second, He gave meaning to suffering in his own sacrificial death upon a cross, and He gives great hope and assurance today, through his resurrection, conquering sin and death.
(Job 19:25-27) “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes–I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!”
(John 11:25-26) “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?””
Third Reason we gather here: to give thought to our own futures: for each of us to ponder our own eternal destiny, before God.
About 12 years ago, when I was researching the family tree, Carol gave to me some old black and white photographs of our ancestors. As a number of us looked at these pictures, sometimes we could see ourselves in our grandparents. It’s interesting to see yourself in other people, isn’t it?
And that’s what I would like you to do now; not seeing your physical features in someone else, but in seeing your character and your heart in another person. Who are these people? They are people who have something to teach us about death, and about life. I’d like you to meet six people at a dinner party, given in honor of Jesus.
The incident is recorded in John 12:1-8, and as I read it, I invite you to notice the people at this party:
1 “Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him.
3 Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
4 But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, 5 “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.’”
6 He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.
7 “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “└ It was intended┘ that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. 8 You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”
There were three people who had no clue about Jesus’ impending death and resurrection: (See if you can find yourself in any of them)
1. Martha the Doer
We read two words about her: “Martha served.” And you might think, “Well, with all those hungry guests, someone had to serve the food, so good for Martha! She’s like a lot of us, who inherited a solid work ethic from our parents, and she threw herself into the work of serving the meal. That’s true… but twice in Scripture we see her busying herself with work, while her sister Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus, captivated by His words and His grace and His truth. And that contrast makes me wonder: Can you be so wrapped up in our work, even in serving other people, so that we fail to sit at Jesus’ feet, that we neglect to behold who Jesus really is and what He came to do? Are you such a doer that you have failed to rest securely in all that Jesus is for you?
2. Peter the Dedicated
While he’s not mentioned by name, we know that Peter is very outspoken, and sometimes speaks before he thinks, so it’s likely that Peter voiced his opinion on the matter, when he saw this extravagant outpouring by Mary. “Jesus, we left behind our fishing business and we have been walking around with you for the least three years, often away from our wives and children and homes. (See Matthew 19:27) We are committed followers of you, Jesus, but….if you are allowing Mary to pour out this extremely expensive perfume on you, what will be left for us. Don’t we get anything? What’s in it for us?” Do you see yourself in Peter, asking God, “What’s in it for me?”
3. Judas the deceiver
Judas handles the financial affairs of the apostles. And when he sees Mary pouring out this expensive perfume upon Jesus, he is upset. “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.”
Ah, a noble concern for the poor, someone might think. Why spend a year’s worth of wages at one time… on a fragrance, no less, when the money could have been used to feed the hungry and shelter the homeless?
But Judas is a deceiver and he is deceived. He’s a deceiver because he really doesn’t care about the poor… He just wanted that money put in his account, so he could steal some of it for himself. And He is deceived because even though he has been with Jesus for three years, his love of money blinds him to Jesus’ miracles and makes him deaf to Jesus’ teaching.
Might you see your own likeness to Judas? Are there things that you treasure above Jesus, that deceive your heart?
Then there were three people who had some sense about Jesus’ impending death and resurrection:
1. Simon the Restored One
The host of the party was Simon the Leper. This man once had the dreaded disease of leprosy, and in that time, to have leprosy was to be considered dead: you were dead to your family, your friends, and to God, because you could not participate in any public religious services. You were alive physically alive, but dead relationally and spiritually. Simon had known that kind of death, of being cut off from everyone else…. But he had been miraculously healed by Jesus of Nazareth! Simon understands death, separation, as well as life and restoration.
So let me ask you: Do you long to have Jesus restore you? He can do it.
2. Lazarus the Resurrected One
If Simon the leper knew what it was like to be dead in the sense of relationships, Lazarus knew what it was to be physically dead… for four days! We have people today claiming to be dead for 5 or 10 minutes, but no one I know is claiming to come back from the dead after decaying in a tomb for four days! But that’s what Jesus did for Lazarus: He called him out of the tomb with a life-giving command, after telling his sisters, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.”
Lazarus is living proof that death does not have the final say over us, for if anyone will put all their trust in Jesus Christ, they will be given victory over the grace, through His power!
3. Mary the Reverent One
We read that “Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.”
Mary’s act is significant in many senses.
First, it was an extremely costly sacrifice; it was as if she poured out on Jesus her entire savings and retirement accounts!
Second, it was a very humble act of devotion, as she poured it on Jesus’ feet, not on his head, as was customary; for she was taking the role of a lowly servant.
Third, it was very personal act, for Mary would have had to let her hair down in public in order to wipe Jesus’ feet with her hair (almost never done in that culture, without shame) and when she was finished, Mary herself would have been filled with this same fragrance that she had anointed Jesus with. Mary’s reverence and adoration of the Lord Jesus Christ moved her to die to herself, so that she may to live with Jesus, by faith. And God is calling each of us to do the same.
Do you see yourself in any of these six people? Which person in this story do you identify with?
There is an intriguing bit of God’s wisdom found in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes, chapter 7 and verse 2:
“It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart.”
This evening we are here at a “House of mourning.” God is reminding us that “death is the destiny” of each one of us. Will you take this to heart?
I leave you with the promise and the warning of God:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (John 3:16-18)
Please join us in singing Amazing Grace.