Today we gathered to celebrate the life of Mr. Ernest Blanchard a man that knew where he was going to be for eternity.
Luke 9:57-62 (HCSB)57 As they were traveling on the road someone said to Him, “I will follow You wherever You go!”58 Jesus told him,“Foxes have dens, and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.” 59 Then He said to another, “Follow Me.” “Lord,” he said, “first let me go bury my father.”60 But He told him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and spread the news of the kingdom of God.”61 Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord, but first let me go and say good-bye to those at my house.” 62 But Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Today we are not here as dead people burying our dead, but people who were once dead celebrating the life of someone who knew his eternal destiny. You may ask how’d he know? Glad you asked. It begins in Ephesians.
Ephesians 2:1-5(HCSB)And you were dead in your trespasses and sins 2 in which you previously walked according to the ways of this world, according to the ruler who exercises authority over the lower heavens, the spirit now working in the disobedient. 3 We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also. 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, 5 made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace!
1 Thessalonians 4:13(HCSB)13 We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, concerning those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. Paul expects Christians to view death differently than the rest. Christians, he tells us, will grieve, but they will grieve in hope. The rest have no hope. What is that hope? What is it that makes the difference?
My privilege on this occasion, is to share with you how you can grieve with hope. My joy and delight is to share with you how you can exchange the fear of death for the faith of David. In the next few moments, I want to offer to you the hope which David experienced, and which he expressed in Psalm 23. The source of this hope is to be found in the texts of two passages. Let me make a few comments about the hope which God offers to all those who face death, a hope which exchanges fear for faith.
Psalm 23:1(HCSB)The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack. 2 He lets me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. 3 He renews my life; He leads me along the right paths for His name’s sake. 4 Even when I go through the darkest valley, I fear no danger, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff —they comfort me.5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Only goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord as long as I live.
This psalm is a favorite among people, especially when one brought fact to face with the reality of death. It describes, in poetic terms, the peace and confidence which David has, in the face of adversity and opposition from his enemies, and even death. There is another passage, not nearly as familiar, which informs us that David’s sense of peace and security is not natural, but supernatural.
Hebrews 2:14-15(HCSB)14 Now since the children have flesh and blood in common, Jesus also shared in these, so that through His death He might destroy the one holding the power of death—that is, the Devil— 15 and free those who were held in slavery all their lives by the fear of death. This passage puts Psalm 23 into perspective. It tells us that death normally produces fear, and not faith. It tells us that the fear of death hinders and haunts men all of their lives. It tells us that David’s faith, as expressed in Psalm 23 is not natural, but supernatural. As we come to honor the life and memory of Mr. Ernest, we come also to face the reality of death. We come, knowing that we, too, shall experience death. If we are honest with ourselves, some must admit that facing death today is a fearful experience, just as Hebrews informs us. Others can truly identify with David, and the peace and security which he knew and cherished.
David did not fear. He did not fear what his enemies would do to him. He did not fear death. His fear was replaced by faith. The basis of David’s faith is expressed in Psalm 23.
First, David’s faith rested in God. Second, David’s faith rested in the fact that God was His shepherd. Third, David’s faith replaced his fear of his enemies, and even of death. Fourth, David’s fear of death was gone because he was assured of God’s presence. Fifth, David’s faith rested in the fact that God was present with him, in life, in death, and throughout all eternity.
John 1:29(HCSB)29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Here is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
David could rejoice because the Lord, his Shepherd, was with Him. We can now see that the Good Shepherd became a sheep (like David). The Lamb of God died for us, and triumphed over death by His resurrection. Not only did Jesus Christ come as the Lamb of God, to die for those who would be His sheep. Jesus rose from the dead, triumphant over death. And thus, those who trust in Him need no longer fear death. Death was defeated by the Lamb who was slain, and who rose again.
This is the faith of which David is writing, in Psalm 23. This is the good news of the gospel, of which the writer to the Hebrews is speaking. Man’s fear of death is accepted. Death is the penalty for sin, and we are all sinners, worthy of death. But the Good Shepherd became a sheep, so to speak. He took on human flesh and lived among men. The Lord Jesus Christ then died for our sins, and suffered the penalty, our penalty, of death. God raised Him from the dead. All those who trust in Him lose their fear of death and find the faith, peace, and hope of which David writes. It is with faith that we can grieve today, but we will grieve with hope, if the Lord is our Shepherd, because He became the Lamb of God in our place.
John 10:11(HCSB) “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
John 6:44(HCSB)44 No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day.
John 8:12(HCSB) Then Jesus spoke to them again: “I am the light of the world. Anyone who follows Me will never walk in the darkness but will have the light of life.”
John 14:6(HCSB) Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.
The basis for our comfort and joy in the face of death is found in these words, spoken by Simeon when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple:
Luke 2:25-32(HCSB)25 There was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, looking forward to Israel’s consolation, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he saw the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Guided by the Spirit, he entered the temple complex. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform for Him what was customary under the law, 28 Simeon took Him up in his arms, praised God, and said: 29 Now, Master, You can dismiss Your slave in peace, as You promised. 30 For my eyes have seen Your salvation. 31 You have prepared it in the presence of all peoples—32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles and glory to Your people Israel.
The occasion is the presentation of our Lord by Mary and Joseph as their firstborn son in the temple. Mary and Joseph were there to present their son and to offer a sacrifice as the Law of Moses prescribed. Nearly everyone assumes that Simeon is elderly. He may very well have been old. I think we must reason that it is because Simeon’s age was not important to Luke. What is important is what Luke does clearly communicate. Luke tells us that Simeon was ready to die, now that he has seen Jesus. Simeon had been waiting to see the Savior. God’s Spirit had informed him that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah. As soon as Simeon sees Jesus, he says that he is ready to die.
Luke wants his readers to know that Simeon is ready to die, not because he is old, but because he has seen the Savior. Being ready to die is not a matter of one’s age, but is rather a matter of one’s relationship to Jesus Christ, by faith.
Those who knew our friend know that he was ready to die. He was not ready to die because he was old, and his health was failing; he was ready to die because he had come to know Jesus Christ by faith. In this sense, our friend’s age has no more to do with his faith than Simeon’s age had to do with his faith. Our friend, like Simeon, was ready to die because he had seen the Lord Jesus as his Savior, by faith.
How can this be? How can trusting in Jesus Christ cause one to welcome death, rather than to dread it? The answer to this question is found in the Bible. When God created Adam and Eve, He placed them in the Garden of Eden. God warned Adam that they must not eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God said that if they did eat of it they would certainly die (Genesis 2:16-17). Adam and Eve disobeyed God, and the result was both physical and spiritual death.
But God in His grace promised them that He would provide a cure. For her role in the fall of mankind God pronounced a curse upon Eve. She (and all women after her) would bring forth children in pain (Genesis 3:16). But through the curse of pain in childbirth Eve would bring forth a child who would save men from their sins and the curse of death. One of Eve’s offspring would be the cure for the curse of death. This coming One would strike a fatal blow to Satan, while Satan would only bruise the Savior’s heel (Genesis 3:15). This coming “seed of the woman” is the Savior for whom every Old Testament saint expectantly waited. This coming Savior was the Messiah whom Simeon longed to see. This coming Savior was Jesus Christ.
God provided a remedy for the curse of death by making death the cure, as well as a curse. The coming Savior was the perfect, sinless, Son of God. He had no sin of His own, yet He took our sins upon Himself on the cross. He died in the sinner’s place, bearing the penalty for sin, the curse of death. But God also raised Jesus from the dead. He is now in heaven, sitting at the Father’s right hand. All those who trust in Jesus as their Savior have the forgiveness of sins, and the assurance of eternal life. They no longer need to fear death:
Hebrews 2:14-15(HCSB)14 Now since the children have flesh and blood in common, Jesus also shared in these, so that through His death He might destroy the one holding the power of death—that is, the Devil— 15 and free those who were held in slavery all their lives by the fear of death.
All those who have placed their trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior no longer fear death, as we see in many different biblical texts:
Romans 8:31-39(HCSB)31What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He did not even spare His own Son but offered Him up for us all; how will He not also with Him grant us everything? 33 Who can bring an accusation against God’s elect? God is the One who justifies. 34 Who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is the One who died,but even more, has been raised; He also is at the right hand of God and intercedes for us.35 Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Can affliction or anguish or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:Because of You we are being put to death all day long; we are counted as sheep to be slaughtered. 37 No, in all these things we are more than victorious through Him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that not even death or life, angels or rulers, things present or things to come, hostile powers, 39 height or depth, or any other created thing will have the power to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!
2 Corinthians 5:1-10(HCSB)For we know that if our temporary, earthly dwelling is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal dwelling in the heavens, not made with hands. 2 Indeed, we groan in this body, desiring to put on our dwelling from heaven, 3 since, when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. 4 Indeed, we groan while we are in this tent, burdened as we are, because we do not want to be unclothed but clothed, so that mortality may be swallowed up by life. 5 And the One who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave us the Spirit as a down payment. 6 So, we are always confident and know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. 7 For we walk by faith, not by sight, 8 and we are confident and satisfied to be out of the body and at home with the Lord. 9 Therefore, whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to be pleasing to Him. 10 For we must all appear before the tribunal of Christ, so that each may be repaid for what he has done in the body, whether good or worthless.
It was his faith in Jesus Christ which assured our friend of his salvation, so that he was able to welcome his own death. It is not old age, or sickness, which enables one to live joyfully and be confident of eternal life; it is trusting in Jesus Christ as the One who bore the curse of death, in order to provide the cure for the dread of death as the penalty for our sins. That is why we can rejoice in our friend’s death, because we know he has gone to be with our Lord.
As you consider your own death, do you do so with fear, or in faith? If death causes you to fear, I urge you, like Simeon and our friend, to place your trust in Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins, and the assurance of eternal life. Just as God raised Jesus Christ from the dead, He will also raise us to eternal life. Death need no longer be viewed as something we dread, but rather can be welcomed as our deliverance. May you experience the calm assurance of Simeon, of all the saints, and of our friend this very day. To God be the Glory!
1 Corinthians 15:50-57(HCSB)50 Brothers, I tell you this: Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, and corruption cannot inherit incorruption. 51 Listen! I am telling you a mystery: We will not all fall asleep,but we will all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the blink of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we will be changed. 53 For this corruptible must be clothed with incorruptibility, and this mortal must be clothed with immortality. 54 When this corruptible is clothed with incorruptibility, and this mortal is clothed with immortality, then the saying that is written will take place: Death has been swallowed up in victory. 55 Death, where is your victory?Death, where is your sting?56 Now the sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!