"Psalm 46 –
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved; God will help her, right early.
The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; He utters His voice, the earth melts. The lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.
Come, behold the works of the lord, how He has wrought desolations in the earth. He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth; He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
He burns the chariot with fire.
Be still, and know that I am God; I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth! The Lord of Hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.
Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer: O God, You are our Refuge and Strength. You are the God of our fathers – the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, You are the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ – the same yesterday, today, and forever. You are “a Mighty Fortress,” You are our help in ages past, our hope for years to come. You are the One who moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform, Who plants His footsteps in the sea and rides upon the storm. Teach us what it means today, to flee to You as our Refuge and Strength, to entrust to You the troubles of life, to know that You have said to the nations, “Be still and know that I am God.”
You are the One Who forgives all our iniquities and heals all our diseases, the One Who redeems our very souls from destruction (Psa.103:3-4). Whom do we have in heaven but You? And there is none upon the earth that we desire beside You. Lord, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life. Your Son, Jesus Christ, is the One Who was born, Who lived among us, Who perfectly kept Your law, Who healed the sick and raised the dead, Who died as a substitute for Your people, Who rose victorious over the grave, Who ascended to the right hand of the Father and sits at Your right hand, where He ever lives to make intercession for us.
He is King of Kings and Lord of lords. He rules the world with truth and grace, and makes the nations prove the glories of His righteousness, and wonders of His love.
We confess before Your throne today that there is salvation in no other. For there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.
Help us now to wait upon You with believing hearts. In the silence of these moments, speak to us of eternal things, that through patience and the comfort of the Scriptures we have hope, and be lifted above our darkness and distress into the light and peace of Your presence.
For we ask it in His name, praying together as He taught us to pray….Our Father Who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.
The Comfort of God’s Word –
1 Cor 15:20-26, 51-58
And then, the Words of Jesus Himself – John 11:25 – “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?”
Do you know the context of these words of Jesus? He was speaking to the sister of a man, most likely a young man, who had died. He was speaking to a friend of his, Martha, about another friend of His, Lazarus, who had died an untimely death. He had become sick, and Martha and Mary, fearing that he might die from the sickness, sent for Jesus to come and heal him – to stop the terrible situation. Jesus said these words openly and in the presence of many other friends of Lazarus – and soon, Jesus was brought to the tomb of Lazarus where He wept. The easiest verse in the Bible to memorize – John 9:35 – “Jesus wept.” – the narrative goes on there, though – “Then the Jews said, “See how He loved him!” And some of them said, “Could not this Man, who opened the eyes of the blind, also have kept this man from dying?”
And hasn’t that been a question in our hearts this week? “Could not this Man, could not this Jesus, who opened the eyes of the blind, who even raised this Lazarus from the dead, could he not have kept Ernest from dying?” “Where was God?” “Where is God now?” “I thought He had wonderful plans for our lives – I thought He was a good God – I thought He said He would always be with us?” “How could He have let this happen?”
Over the years I have known Ernest, I have had the privilege of many conversations with him. Maybe it is because I was his pastor, but more likely because this was the way Ernest is, our conversations often went pretty deep into the things of God, understanding the world in light of God, His Word, His ways. Ernest was not afraid to come and ask tough questions. And the last thing Ernest ever wanted from me in those conversations was smooth, make-you-feel-good answers that don’t really answer the question at all. Ernest wanted straight answers – no punches pulled type answers. He wanted answers the way I like my whiskey – straight and undiluted; powerful to take your breath away and grab your attention. That’s the way Ernest liked talking about God, about life and death, about troubles, and about the gospel.
The last thing Ernest would want as we gather together to celebrate his life and to mourn his death is some sissy sweet talking about how everyone goes to a better place when they die so don’t worry about it – that’s not gospel talk – that’s not Ernest talk – that’s not Estrella talk. And so, in honor and celebration of Ernest, let’s talk straight about life – and death.
Death never feels right – when someone dies, someone we know and love – it always feels wrong. The separation stings – hurts – cuts us deeply. I have done funerals for babies who only lived a few days and for men in the 80s and 90s – and for those who lost those loved ones, it always cuts – it hurts. The death of a young man, 18 years old, just setting out on his own, faithfully going to church and growing in his faith, building new friendships and opportunities – news of that kind of a death hits you deep in the gut and draws you up short.
And that is because death is a message – it is a sign – it is a wage, a return, an answer from God over all of humanity that something is wrong, terribly wrong in this world. And that message will be proclaimed over and over again. In this very room there will be as many deaths as there are people (if the Lord tarries) – and they will all feel wrong – something is wrong.
The Scriptures teach that “the wages of sin is death.” Death came into the world because of sin – because of our thanklessness to God for His creation given to us, life granted to us, and a relationship with Him given to us. It is because we refused to give thanks and refused even to acknowledge God as God, choosing instead to make ourselves the master of our lives, choosing instead for ourselves what would be good and what would be evil. Falling short of His glory, the glory of His ways, the glory of His law – we became a people, all of us, dead to God – spiritually dead. The physical death we witness is simply one of many other testimonies to this truth. And everyone knows it because everyone experiences the sting of death.
There is also a sense in which we all agree, Christian and unbeliever alike – that there should be justice in the world. No one, for instance, likes a story to end with the bad guy getting all he wanted, hurting all he could, ruining as many other lives as possible and then living happily ever after while all the others suffer. No one would go to that movie. No one would read that book. We want justice.
We want justice – but we do not want death. We want the bad guys to lose, but we forget that we are the bad guys. We are in the midst of a terrible problem – a problem only God could solve. A problem God has solved.
God, who is rich in mercy, even when we were dead in our trespasses and sins, sent His Son to pay the penalty, the justice, the suffering and death that the bad guys should get, - to do so on our behalf.
Death, you see, makes you deal with this. You have to think about it. You have to make some sense out of what just happened. Ernest died. You can’t just wave that away with your hand without dishonoring the one you came to honor today.
Jesus Christ is the Son of God – He was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, was wrongly accused, lied about, mocked, scourged, tried and crucified. He bled and died. On the third day He rose from the dead with power from on high declaring Himself to be all that He claimed – the very Son of God. He also proclaimed His victory over sin and death – taking the sins of His people upon Himself, bearing the penalty of that sin, and then being raised from the dead. He ascended into heaven where He does what Man was always supposed to do – reign at the right hand of God the Father. But He does so in righteousness.
In Jesus Christ – the death problem is solved. In Jesus Christ, the sin problem is solved. In Jesus Christ, the reason for life, for death, for creation, for the future, for everything – is solved. Because Jesus is Lord of all. He is our refuge and strength. He is our help in all troubles.
This raises some important questions and serious objections. If Ernest believed all of this to be true, then why did he die? Didn’t Jesus say, “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?”
If there is no more sting in death, no more victory in the grave – then why is Ernest dead and his body in a grave? This is answered in the hope of the resurrection and in the promise of sins forgiven for those who are in Christ Jesus – let me take those two up for a moment.
First – forgiveness. Because Ernest believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, he was saved, forgiven of all of his sins and graciously and gladly adopted by the Father as a son and heir of the kingdom. For Ernest, at the moment of his physical death, there was no sting – none. Because there was no judgment as his soul came into the very presence of the Judge of all – for Christ had paid it all. There was only comfort, peace, joy, satisfaction, delight, rest – and fulness – and not simply in his soul all to himself – all of this was enjoyed in the presence of a Person. A Person who loves Ernest and who loves Ernest being with Him. Ernest is enjoying family, friendship, relationship – more than he ever has before – right now – in the presence of God his Father, Jesus his elder Brother, and the Holy Spirit, his comforter and friend.
Second – resurrection. Christianity does not rest its hope in the immortality of the soul, but in the resurrection of the body. Our hope is not simply that one day our souls leave this place and we go off into the clouds of heaven and sit – forever. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, but that was not a resurrection – it was a resuscitation – for while Lazarus lived for a time after that – he still died. But it was a picture of life from the dead – a preview of what God is going to do at the end of this age. We are told that Jesus is the firstfruits of the resurrection – and that we all will one day be raised from the dead. For those without Christ, we will be raised and then judged in the final judgment for our sins and sent to eternal torment – lost without God – we will still hate God and we will still and forever bear the consequences of our hatred of God. But for those who are in Christ, for those who trusted the Judge to pay the price for our sins – we will be raised in bodies that will be glorified and live in a heaven and earth which will have been fully transformed and brought together.
That hope remains Ernest’s hope as well as the hope of all who love the Lord Jesus Christ – Ernest just senses that hope in a way we do not yet – he looks forward to it in ways we cannot yet imagine.
Every time a death occurs – loved ones know two things to be true. Life is a gift – and death is a certain reality. Do not come and celebrate the life of Ernest without considering what his life, his death, and his ongoing life before the Father in heaven declares. Jesus Christ was freely offered to Ernest and he took it – he believed and so on a particular day, God said, “come to me now” in a way Ernest never had before.
Jesus Christ is truly and freely offered to you as well. Maybe you believe it – maybe you don’t. Well a day is coming for each of us as well – just like Ernest – where you will know it to be true. And I pray that you know it to be true – even now – Jesus Christ died for sinners. If you are a sinner, you qualify. There is no work for you to do. You only believe – you receive, you turn from your ways outside of Christ and trust in Christ where forgiveness of sins begins today – and eternal life begins today as well.
Or let me put it another way. Jesus Christ came and died so you could die in Him – you could die to your lusts, your pettinesses, your hatred and envy – and be done with them. Jesus Christ rose from the dead so that you, having died in Him, might be raised to new life in Him – life that is and will be eternal, endless and everlasting.
Let us Pray – Father in heaven, real as real could be, we thank You for comfort in Your truth, for opening eyes and hearts, for hope in the midst of mourning, for celebration in the midst of sorrow – and for the gospel of Jesus Christ, life from the dead, even in the midst of each or our own sins and impending deaths. Grant faith even now to those who do not have it, establish us in that faith, strengthen those with faith, and all to the praise of Your gracious glory – in Jesus name – Amen."