Dr. Willis Newman, Esmeralda Newman, bible-teaching-about.com
Speaking at a funeral or memorial service is a somber moment. Emotions ride high, and one must be careful and compassionate when delivering the message. There will be non-Christians in the crowd, and believers who need comfort and assurance from God. If you are a layperson, beginning pastor, or an experienced pastor who wishes to do something a little different, this is for you. I will lay this out in outline form and give some examples. My suggestion is to be relaxed, confident, don’t preach a “hellfire” sermon, but talk to the whole congregation like you would if it was one person. Be gentle and real.
Thank you for being here to honor the passing of “John Doe.” It is good that you took time out of your busy schedule to show respect for the departed, and demonstrate kindness for the family. It means that you take this precious gift of life very seriously. The family and God appreciate your presence. I am Pastor/reverend/layperson/doctor such and such, and I will be officiating this service.
As I was coming here today it gave me cause to reflect on life. If we think of death, we must also think of life. What is that experience of consciousness, realization or awareness that I exist? Who am I? Why am I here? Then too, what is death? Is there anything beyond death? What would it be? Is there a hope of anything good?
I cannot know all the answers, no person can. However, believers do have a special hope that brings comfort – great comfort. We have a GREAT HOPE IN CHRIST JESUS. When the Bible speaks of “hope” it is not a “hope so hope” like I hope I can pay my bills but I don’t know for sure. This hope in Christ is a certain guaranteed event that honestly will happen. Let me read the hope from 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.
“13. But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve, as do the rest who have no hope. 14. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. 15. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, and remain until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God and the dead in Christ shall rise first. 17. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18. Therefore comfort one another with these words.”
There are three tremendous parts to this great hope in Christ Jesus: the assurance of hope, the certainty of hope, and the victory of hope. Let’s go over them one by one.
I. THE ASSURANCE OF HOPE.
A. Source of comfort (v. 18). The source of hope is the promise of God Himself. Everything in the universe has a source of some kind – except God Himself. When we look at a stream or river, we know the water has a source that comes from the rain and snow on the mountains. We look at the ocean, it is filled from the rivers which is its source. This great hope we have comes directly from the elegant and powerful office of Almighty God.
B. Removal of confusion (v. 13). There is great confusion in the world about death and any afterlife. Every group of people in every culture at any time in history has some kind of religious expression. Buried deep in the DNA of everyone is the realization of death and afterlife. One surprising thing is that every religion has some kind of corrective phase after this life. It gives them some kind second attempt to improve their chances to eventually be in a happy place. Further, every religion has some sort of rituals, ceremonies, behaviors, beliefs that people perform to better their chances after the person dies.
With Christ it is different. The Bible says, “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this come judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). Jesus also said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me” (John 14:6). There is certain hope with Christ Jesus. There is no confusion.
II. CERTAINITY OF HOPE.
A. Promise of God. This whole text is saturated with the promise of God. That is very good news for us. It is almost impossible in this life to know who to trust. People, organizations, governments all lie to us. Sometimes our own family members will lie to us. It is different with God. He never will lie to us. He cannot lie because it is against His nature. For example, can a cow crow like a rooster? No. Can a cat bark like a dog? No. Can a pear tree grow apples? No. Why? Because it is against their nature. It is the same with God. He cannot lie. This gives us hope, because we can safely place our trust in Him.
B. Accomplished by God. Wow! God can do what He said He will do. God created the oceans, planted all the trees, made all the mountains, sprawled the entire universe across the sky, and keeps everything running with such precision that we set our watches with their regularity. He created the life that breathes in our chests. The whole earth with all its armies, science, and muscle has created enough power to annihilate the earth’s population. However, no one has figured out how to bring about life. Not one of those people in the graveyard can crawl up out of that hole. No one can give them a pill that will pump life back into them. Our great hope in Christ Jesus is that He can and will accomplish our resurrection.
III. VICTORY OF HOPE.
A. Victory over death. I once taught in college a course called the “Sociology of Death.” It really opened my eyes. Death may be the world’s core cultural glue. Virtually everything around us relates in some way to death. We have life insurance, hospitals, doctors, medicines, ambulances, casket makers, undertakers, locks on our doors, speed limits on the highways, safety belts in our cars. Why? The intent is to avoid death. Death is the great power of armies. War is the idea that if one country can inflict more death that the enemy, they win the war. Death is the great evil power Satan holds over us. Death is everywhere. When I look in the mirror year after year, I can see death approaching. The great hope of Jesus Christ is that He beat death. He broke its power. He was murdered, buried, and rose back from the dead. Because of that enormous event, the chains of death were broken, and He can give us eternal life.
B. Victory over despair (V. 13). Today we are shocked, sad, and have a roller coaster of emotions. We experience loss. However, if we are in Christ, we have hope. Hope is not despair. Here, let me show you what despair is. Turn to Luke 16:16:20-24).
“Now there was a certain rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, gaily living in splendor every day. And a certain poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. Now it came about that the poor man died and he was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. And in Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue; for I am in agony in this flame.’”
That is despair. The believer will never experience despair, because we have hope in Christ Jesus. So the question becomes, how does a person gain this hope in Christ Jesus? According to this Scripture, not everyone is going to a happy place when the death angel comes to our door. Let me explain.
Two things we can know. God truly loves us. Jesus said, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:16).
I look out at you and I see good people. You are good people. You showed it by being here today. However, the issue is are we good enough to go to heaven? If we were to die and stand before God and He said to us, “Why should I let you into my heaven?” what would you say? Most of us would hope that we are good enough that somehow God would let us in.
Here is the problem: we have to be perfect to get into God’s heaven. Wow! Who among us has never told a lie, or stole something, or swear using God name in vain, been greedy and coveted what someone else had – or how about this: had lust in our heart for a man or woman not our spouse? Those are just some of the Ten Commandments.
The Bible says, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all” (James 2:10). This leaves us all guilty and deserving of eternal penalty for our crimes.
But this is where the hope of Christ Jesus comes into play. The Bible says, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). In other words, Christ paid all the penalty for all time for all sin for all those who receive Him as their savior.
It is like this, let’s say we committed a crime and stood convicted before a human judge. I have to pay the fine for my crime, but I have no money. If I said to the judge, “please let me go, I promise to never rob again.” He would answer, “That won’t do, you still have to pay for your crime and go to jail.”
Now let’s say someone comes up to the judge and says, “Judge, I have the money, and I will pay this man’s fine, and if need be take his place in jail.” Your penalty would be paid for. You could go free. That is what Christ did for us, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
We have one thing left. If we told the judge, “No, your honor, I won’t let this man pay my fine and go to jail for me, I will go to jail for my own crime.” We would be the biggest fool who ever lived!
In the same way, how foolish would we be to pass up the offer Christ extends to us? We personally must place our trust in Jesus Christ, and accept His generous offer of the free gift of salvation.
That is exactly what “John Doe” did while in this life. Now we know from the Bible that he wants you to receive Christ as did he. Jesus said “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12). In another place Jesus said, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will dine with him, and he with Me” (Revelation 3:20).
My dear friends, this is exactly what “John Doe” desires from all of you. Finally we can rest assured that he is experiencing with great delight the GREAT HOPE IN CHRIST JESUS: ITS ASSURANCE, CERTAINTY, AND VICTORY.
NOTE: following this message you may give the people opportunity to receive Christ. You can shorten the message as you see fit, or give your own illustrations. Probably in this situation you could ask if anyone wishes to receive Christ to just raise their hand. Promise that you will not embarrass them in any way. Ask them to repeat after you a short prayer of receiving Christ. Take note of who raised their hand and be sure to approach them privately. Another thing you might do is to tell the audience to come talk to you following the service regarding Christ if they have questions.
Also, address the family directly, and pray a prayer of hope, comfort, assurance and blessing. Be sure to greet everyone who attended the funeral. All verses are taken from the New American Standard Translation.
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