A little over a week ago I attended the funeral of a highly respected Pastor.
It was a melting pot of emotions. Laughter was heard as funny stories were told, and pleasant memories recounted. Raw grief and sadness expressed because of his sudden passing. True hope and joy felt in the knowledge of his safety in Jesus. Stunned and humbled faces as the number of people attending the funeral swelled. Some people appeared to exhibit one or two of these emotions, while others seemed to experience all of them.
This is not hard to understand in the light of Scripture.
From Romans 5 we know that death is a result of sin. Romans 5:12 (ESV) tells us ‘sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned’. This verse clearly states that death is not a natural part of life. In fact, the Bible speaks of death as being our last enemy, the last enemy to defeated when Jesus returns (1 Cor. 15:26). Death is not part of God’s good creation; rather it is a result of man’s foolish sinfulness. Therefore, death naturally brings grief.
Scripture expresses this fact also.
Abraham weeps over the death of his wife Sarah (Gen. 23:2), a widow weeps over the death of her only son (Lk. 7:13), and famously Jesus wept for Lazarus (Jn. 11:35). Grief is an acceptable response to death.
But here is the paradox: ‘to die is gain’ (Phil. 1:21 ESV).
For Christians to die is gain, and therefore, at funerals, there is great hope and joy too. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8). This is the promise that Jesus gave to the dying thief, ‘today you will be with me in Paradise’ (Lk. 23:43 ESV).
All of this has been made possible through Jesus death and resurrection. As Paul tells us in Romans 5, eternal life is found in Jesus Christ our Lord (v21). Jesus has gone before us, taking on death and defeated it by his resurrection. We have true hope and joy because as God’s adopted sons and daughters we too will defeat death by our resurrection to eternal life in all its fullness, following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.
Therefore, we can sing with Paul ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ (1 Cor. 15: 55 ESV). The message of this verse has its beginnings on Easter Sunday with the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. This bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ proclaims hope and joy for all who are his, and for all who will become his.
Death is unnatural, and an enemy. Yet, it does not have the last word.
We praise God that while we grieve, we do not grieve like those with no hope, because when Jesus returns he will bring those with him who have fallen asleep and those who are still here on earth will be caught up together with them (1 Thess. 4:13-18).
This hope began with Jesus’ resurrection and will be consummated with his return.