Summer Preaching Series
August 25, 2019
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church
I read an obituary some years ago that said something like this, “He didn’t pass away, he didn’t fall asleep – he died.” The family member who wrote the obituary didn’t like euphemisms, they wanted to get right to the point. Their loved one was now dead.
Today I want to talk about man’s enemy – death. It is a reality that some want to ignore but they can’t. As we are nearly done with the sermon suggestions you offered me for the summer preaching series, it was one of our members, Dale Calender, who said, “How about something about aging and death?” “As I get older, I am more aware of friends, acquaintances, neighbors, and relatives dying at an ever-increasing rate…last year I was a member of my 65th year high school reunion committee. My task was to locate and verify the whereabouts of 303 graduates. Deceased graduates totaled 159 (52%). Many other 1953 classmate friends are now in health care facilities or have serious health problems.”
Quite a few of us have had our 50th, 60th, 70th, even some their 75th high school reunions. Man, are we ever old!! Most of us in this congregation are much closer to life’s end than its beginning. Dale, your suggestion is appropriate, “What about something about aging and death?”
The passage that I base my message on is I Corinthians 15:25-26, “For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” The last enemy is death. Death was not part of God’s good plan for mankind. This whole process of dying, getting older, catching some disease, becoming diminished in abilities, physically or mentally, and then to have soul separate from body, was never God’s plan for us. Paul states, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.” (Romans 5:12) Paul doesn’t look at death as some harmless event. In this great I Corinthians chapter he says that death has a vicious sting, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.” (I Corinthians 15:56) In Hebrews 2 it says that it is the devil who holds the power of death. (See Hebrews 2:15)
When death comes it hurts. Death robs us of all that God had in store for us. When our loved ones die it brings us grief and loss, sorrow and loneliness. Some people never get over the death of their precious ones. There is a hole in their heart that never seems to be filled. The last enemy is death.
A few weeks ago I attended a funeral for Norma Nehrig, a lady I knew at my former congregation. I got to see a number of my former parishioners, some whom I had not seen for a number of years. My, they had aged!! But when we had our small talk I didn’t mention anything about them looking older, and they didn’t mention about me looking older. We just sort of avoided that subject.
But God doesn’t avoid it. “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” The church doesn’t avoid talking about death. In our creeds we speak about Jesus who was crucified, dead and buried. We address that we anticipate “the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.” In Mark 3 Jesus gave this parable about the battle that He had to fight to win us forever. “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. If fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can rob his house.” (Mark 3:23-27) Don’t you see that Jesus bound the devil? He took away his power. He then robed his house – he destroyed death, He took away his threats and his lies and brought us the victory. “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (I Corinthians 15:56-57)
Martin Luther has a great quote about all of this, “Although sin makes itself felt, death bares its teeth, and the devil frightens us, still there is more grace to prevail over all sin, far more life to prevail over death, and far more God to prevail over all devils.” (Commentary on Psalm 117 of 1530, LW 14, Page 27)
I believe it is healthy emotionally, physically and spiritually for us to understand that death is an enemy. It will rob us of our breath. It has taken the lives of so many that we know. It leaves us with grief and loss. But, if you are a believer in Jesus, you know that death does not have the final word. Jesus has the final word. Jesus has destroyed death. In John’s epistle the word is given to us, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” (I John 3:8b)
We live in hope and we die in hope, both for our own selves and for those that we dearly love. Paul, again, “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” (I Thessalonians 4:13-14)
When Don Marley died it came as a relief to everyone who knew him. He was a good man, one of the leaders in the church, sang in the choir for decades. But then bone cancer took over. His death was not quick, but long. His body went from strong and capable to being but some skin attached to a skeleton. We prayed for an end, a blessed death for him. Finally, mercifully, it came.
God had better things in store for Don Marley, He will eventually restore his body that had gotten so ill. In preparing for this sermon I was paging through Pastor Ginkel’s book, “The Many Wonders of Heaven”. He quotes Joni Eareckson Tada who had suffered a spinal cord injury as a young lady and was paralyzed from the neck down. “I can hardly believe it. I, with shriveled, bent fingers, atrophied muscles, gnarled knees, and no feeling from the shoulders down, will one day have a new body, light, bright, and clothed in righteousness – powerful and dazzling. Can you imagine the hope this gives someone spinal cord injured like me? Or someone who is cerebral palsied, brain-injured, or who has multiple sclerosis? Imagine the hope this gives to someone who is manic depressive. No other religion, no other philosophy promises new bodies, hearts and minds. Only in the Gospel of Christ do hurting people find such incredible hope.” (Page 36)
The enemy of death will always stand before us. We have to face it. But we do not face death alone. Jesus, who died and then rose again promises us life eternal in heaven and He assures us that we will have a new body, powerful and perfect. It is faith in Jesus that brings us eternal life and the assurance of a new body.
One of the questions that we raise concerning death and eternity is whether we will know others in heaven. We can’t wait to see a mom or dad, a grandma or grandpa, a spouse, or child or grandchild there. Will we know them? Will they know us? I Corinthians 13, the love chapter, speaks some words that may be helpful here. Paul says, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (I Corinthians 13:12) On that day of eternity I look forward to hearing these words spoken to me and spoken to so many others that I have known, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.” (Matthew 25:34) Together we will all humbly give God our praise.
The day of entering heaven will be beyond description. It will be a day of light and gladness. Brilliance. Victory. Joy. There is an old gospel hymn, a type of benediction hymn called “God Be With You ‘Til We Meet Again.” You won’t find it in a Lutheran hymnal but you’ll find it in a good old Baptist hymnal. The final verse goes, “God be with you ‘til we meet again, keep love’s banner floating o’er you, smite death’s threatening wave before you: God be with you tell we meet again. ‘Til we meet…’til we meet..’Til we meet at Jesus’ feet. ‘Til we meet, ‘til we meet. God be with you ‘til we meet again.”
To all of this I can only say Amen!!