Not too long ago, I got the opportunity to present the gospel at a funeral that was mostly attended by non-Christians. Since it was not a “public sermon,” the words that I said that day were not recorded or otherwise made available to the congregation of Good News Church. But, I’ve reproduced the content of that message here (below).
You may wonder, why are you sharing this with us, Mario? I’m sure you’ve preached numerous funeral sermons over the years, but I don’t remember you ever publishing them in the church newsletter.
That’s correct. I never have. However, this one was a bit different. I’d never really quite said it like this before. And I figure that there may be some people who would like to know how one presents the gospel at a funeral. Additionally, there may be some people who’d like to see how to present the gospel to people with very little religious background. Or perhaps there’s someone reading this who’d like to see a quick overview about what the Bible says about death. And lastly, I wondered if this email might even make it into the inbox of a non-Christian who needs to hear these truths before their own funeral. So, that is why I’m including it in this newsletter.
Note: this is not the whole funeral service. Things were said before and after this part. But this was the gospel teaching that was in the middle of the service.
Today I’m going to share with you some of what the Bible says about death and the good news of Jesus Christ. This is appropriate at a time like this, since this is a memorial service at a Christian church.
However, I am aware that there are people here who do not believe in what the Bible says about Jesus and death. Some of you here today might say, “Yeah, I’m not a religious person. I’m just here to honor the memory of my loved one. I don’t know if there even is a God.”
So, let me start out by saying that we do not all have to have the same religious views to care about each other during this time, right?
But, I will also point out that I’m a pastor, this is a church, and this is what we do here when someone passes away. We meditate on what the Bible says about death and Jesus.
And even if you have decided, “I’m not religious, and I’m not into this stuff” I would say to you: in order to be a well-rounded person, you ought to be at least familiar with what the Bible says about this even if you don’t believe it. I had a professor who said it this way, “You are not fully educated until you have considered the Christian truth claim.”
And that is because the Bible is already affecting your life and the lives of people around you. The Bible is the most influential book in all of western civilization and has been for hundreds of years.
I mean, have you ever tried to talk to God, and you looked up as you did it? Why did you look up? Probably because the Bible says that heaven is up. Have you ever tried to talk to a dead person and looked up? Why? Why not look at the ground? Why even consider the possibility that people keep existing after they die?
Have you ever lost your temper and cussed someone out and said, “Go to Hell!” Sure, that’s not a nice thing to say, but those words do come from a worldview. Why Hell? Why those words? Its because we have a desire for justice or judgement to fall upon a person because of their sin… particularly their sins that are offending us at that moment.
And people do these things, and talk like this all the time – in movies, in TV shows, and in music. The Bible has affected our civilization in ways that we don’t even notice anymore.
So, that is what I mean by “even if you’re not religious” you owe it to yourself to at least try to understand what the Bible says about death.
THE BIBLE TEACHING
If you open up a Bible and begin reading from the beginning, you will see that it teaches that God created the world originally to have no death. No cancer. No suicides. No car accidents.
Have you ever wondered why death feels so unnatural? I mean, it’s all we’ve ever known. So, why does death feel so bad to us? The Bible answer is: “Because it was not supposed to be this way!” It’s not the way God created the world to be. And since God is Savior, it’s also true that it won’t always be this way.
So, why is it this way?
The first man mentioned in the Bible, Adam, disobeyed God and brought a curse/a judgment onto humanity. And ever since then, we’ve continued to sin, and there has continued to be hardship and death.
Most of what I’ve said so far comes from the first few pages of the Bible.
Now, if you were to fast-forward to the end of the Bible, you’ll see there’s a description of God living with His people for all of eternity. We call it Heaven, however it’s actually a description of a new earth. And it’s a world where God and His people live together forever… and there is no grief, crying, pain, or death. It sounds a bit like the world that Adam and Eve lived in before sin. (Not exactly the same. It’s more populated and filled out. But the similarity is that it’s a perfect world with no death.)
That’s how the Bible ends: with a beautiful description of God living with His people in a world with no bad things. Just imagine it.
So, then, what is the middle of the Bible about? If it begins with a paradise lost… and it ends with a paradise regained, what happened in the middle to cause all of that?
The middle of the Bible (and this is a simplification) is about Jesus. Jesus came to this world and died on a cross.
And this is interesting: He didn’t die for the same reason everyone else dies. You see, we all die because we’re sinners. The Bible says that Jesus never sinned. He’s the only one who ever died on behalf of someone else. He died for other people’s sins. He took a punishment that they deserved onto Himself.
Who? Whose sins did Jesus die for? For all of the people who would ever believe in Him/follow Him. Anyone who turns from their own ways and trusts in Him can be saved from their sins, from judgment in Hell (after death, which is what we deserve because of our sins). Anyone who trusts in Him is saved into a relationship with God and into Heaven for eternity.
In fact, one time Jesus was at a funeral (well, not exactly a funeral, but at a gathering because someone’s loved one had just died) and He said: “I am the Resurrection and the Life. The one who believes in me, even if he dies, will live.”
To sum it all up:
- Death is not natural. It is not how things should be.
- Death is because of human wrongdoing.
- Jesus died for the wrongdoings of people like you and me so that instead of experiencing a spiritual death (judgment after physical death), those who submit to Jesus can be forgiven and live with Him forever.
And this message is very comforting and very offensive.
The offensive part is the idea that we are sinful and deserve God’s judgment. People don’t like that part.
But if you can get past that – if you can acknowledge that part is true without being offended by it, the comforting part is that there is a solution to the problem of death.
After this part, I transitioned to a more personal part of the funeral service where we talk about the life of the person who died, which I will not be reproducing here. However, a bit later I did say this as a final appeal:
You can turn from your ways and become a follower of Jesus fifty years before you die, or five minutes before you die.
And I realize someone might ask, “Well, why wouldn’t everyone choose five minutes before they die? - that way you can live however you want! And to that I say: a) Not everyone get’s a five-minute warning, and b) once you truly understand who Jesus is and what He’s done for you, you won’t want to waste any more years living for yourself.
After that, I read John 3:16-21 aloud, and then the service continued on with other eulogies. As I said at the beginning, I’m re-producing this here in the hope that it might be helpful for someone. I was very happy I got the opportunity to share this, although perhaps I should have mentioned Jesus’ resurrection specifically, rather than leaving it implied and hoping my audience knew about it from Easter services. But looking back, I suppose it was the best thing that I could think to say at that time.
So, I present this to you hoping it finds the right audience and is helpful to someone. May God bless the explanation of His Word.