Monday, November 17, 2014

Funeral Meditation for Charles Ray Stauffer – November 10, 2014, Lethbridge, Alberta

For family and friends that were unable to be at the funeral, here is a summary of my message. If you were at the funeral, you may notice some differences and omissions. I speak from an outline, so much of what is written here is rewritten from memory. 

I learned on Saturday that my brother Charles had a favorite verse. It is 2 Corinthians 12:29, which includes the promise from the Lord Jesus Christ, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Are you feeling weak today? Weak with grief? Weak with thoughts of your own mortality and the shortness of life? Weak in comfort as you don’t know what to do about the hurting people around you?

Perhaps you are here today weak with unbelief – thinking that maybe nothing has an ultimate purpose and that God, if there is one, really doesn't care.

Standing before God, before death, before eternity, even the strongest of us are very weak. Being weak is not a problem. Refusing to admit weakness is a problem.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Mighty King David was struck low with guilt when he faced his sin and confessed it before God. He knew at that moment that the only acceptable sacrifice before God is, “a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart.”

If we are feeling week and helpless today and don’t know what to do, we are in a good place before God.

In fact, if we don’t feel small and weak and powerless, we haven’t been paying attention. There is so much evil and hurt in the world – violence, injustice, pain and grief. We should also take a good long look at the remaining sin in our own hearts as we stand before our Holy God and admit our need for His help. It is freely offered. Consider Jesus' invitation in the Gospel of Matthew:

25  At that time Jesus said, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26  Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do. 27  "All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28  "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:25-30).

The way to God is through Jesus Christ alone. That way is barred to the self-righteous, those who are strong and wise in their own eyes. The Kingdom of Heaven is open by invitation only – invitation from God the Father. The Narrow way of entrance is through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, but this way is for those who come as little children.

Why should we want in? Because Jesus promises rest. Sweet, holy, everlasting peace, security, joy and significance are all wrapped up in this Promised Rest. Our souls are restless until they find their rest in God. Jesus and Jesus alone holds the keys to that rest.

This invitation to rest is given to “ALL who labour and are heavy laden.” If they will come on God's terms, anyone an everyone may come. This invitation is not given to those who have it all together, the carefree and light-hearted. It is offered to those who know they need rest for their souls.

This theme of finding God’s rest is found in many places in the Bible. The restlessness that we all experience from time to time is only satisfied by finding peace with God.

One of the anchor points in the history of God’s people is the Exodus – God’s deliverance of the Children of Israel from slavery in Egypt through Moses. Their destination was the Promised Land.

This deliverance from Egypt to the Promised Land has become a picture of salvation. Our Egypt is sin and evil. Our Promised Land is the New Heavens and New Earth of Eternal Joy with Christ.

In the book of Hebrews, the big theme is, “Jesus is better – so don’t fall away.” Don’t turn back to empty man-made traditions and “mere” religion. There is no life in these paths. Life is found in the Risen Saviour, Jesus Christ.

The author of the book of Hebrews takes two chapters near the beginning of the book (Hebrews 3-4) to describe the rest of God and the danger of losing it. With all of God’s signs and wonders during the Exodus and all of His supernatural help, most of the Children of Israel failed to enter God’s rest.

The author of Hebrews warns Christians that were tempted to turn away from Jesus to empty religion that entering God’s rest was their urgent need.

He says in chapter 4:11, “Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience” (English Standard Version). The King James Version says, “let us labour, therefore to enter that rest.” The New International Versions says, “make every effort to enter that rest.”

When we think of rest, we might find it strange to hear these action words “Strive,” “Labour,” “Make every effort.” Isn't rest just the opposite?

When it comes to trusting God with the most important things, simply believing God’s Word and receiving His grace is really hard work. We want to be strong. We want to earn our acceptance before God and prove ourselves to others by our performance. Trusting the free gift of Christ’s offer of rest in God’s grace is very difficult.Grace is free, but it kills our pride to receive it. 

What’s involved in finding this rest?
  • Repentance. Repentance is a total change of mind that results in a 180 degree change in direction. It is to admit that I am under God’s judgement as a sinner and that I need to turn from my sin and turn to God in faith, anticipating his promised mercy. Repentance is not a work that we get credit for before God, but an honest admission of our sin before our Holy God.
  • Faith. Believe God’s Word. Take it all. Don’t pick and choose to fit in with our culture. This faith is simply believing like a little child. It is a rest in the wisdom and goodness of God, but it puts us at opposition to the world around us:
    • Be willing to believe in the face of ridicule and even persecution.
    • Adopt God’s perspective on morality and truth. Take God at His Word.
    • This is a fight – the fight of FAITH.
    • Compare Romans 1:5 and Romans 16:26: The gospel is for the “obedience of faith” among the nations. Taking God at his Word and following Christ as Lord is at the heart of this fight of faith.
  • Confession. “… if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” Romans 10:9-10
  • “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” – 2 Peter 3:18
    • Who is this Jesus? Matthew 11 – He holds the keys of access to God the Father. He is greater than the greatest of men. John the Baptist was commended as the greatest man because he pointed to Jesus and said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). In Matthew 11 we also read Jesus’ warning that to reject the Son of God is to store up greater judgment for yourself than the notorious cities that were destroyed long ago.
    • Our need for rest from God in Jesus Christ does not end when we first confess faith in him. We must keep coming back to Jesus’ offer for help time and time again. The gospel is for Christians, too! It is through him that we come to God for the help that we need.
Listen to this glorious invitation from the same chapter of Hebrews, soon after we are told to "strive to enter that rest." This is what it looks like: 

14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16).

These are the things that we need to fight for. It is hard work to confess that someone else is your Lord. It is even harder to admit that you need a Saviour. In fact, this is impossible without the work of God in you.

Are you weak? Are you burdened? Are you restless? Jesus invites you to come to Him and, though Him, right into the presence of God to find mercy and grace in your time of need.

The eternal Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, left His Father’s side and took on flesh to live among us. This is how we know that God is good, even though the world is full of pain and evil. God did not ignore our need. God came down.

Jesus lived a life of perfect righteousness, keeping the law perfectly when we failed.

Jesus died on the cross for our sins. That means that He died in our place for us. He is our substitute – “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” There is now no CONDEMNATION for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).

Jesus rose again from the dead in his body – not just spiritually. He is the first-fruits for all who believe. The way He rose, we will rise if we believe this good news.

Christ now prays for His people in Heaven. He sent the Holy Spirit to us so that we will believe and keep on believing and growing in holiness for God’s glory. “… he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God though him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25).

If you are here today and you are in need of rest for you soul, you are invited. Turn to Jesus. Ask Him to receive you and give you forgiveness and life everlasting. He is the Good Shepherd. He will take care of you!