This past weekend I attended two funerals. One was of a woman whose door I knocked on many years ago. She and her family accepted my invitation to come to church and I had the privilege of serving as their pastor. The other was a good friend who was serving on the board of our ministry.
The message at both funerals was the same. In each case it was flatly stated, that even though they both were nice people, they sinned regularly. But at both funerals the wonderful message was that Jesus had washed their sins away and had covered them with his righteousness. Because it was obvious that both individuals were placing their trust in Jesus’ work for them, there was no doubt that they were now in heaven. That assurance made each funeral a celebration. Yes, there were some tears but the predominant emotion was joy – solid, unshakable joy. Any and all doubts about their being in heaven were removed because not one iota of their going to heaven depended on what they did. Their eternal life with God was based entirely on what Jesus had done. And his perfect work erased all doubts.
In contrast, I have attended other funerals where there was an attempt at celebration and joy but it came off as forced. Much of that was because everything was focused on the deceased and their goodness and achievements. It was a celebration of their life and not of the life won for them by Jesus. I remember walking away from one such funeral with a close friend of the departed. He casually remarked that he didn’t know if he was at the right funeral because they had said so many good things about his friend that he no longer recognized him as the man he knew! People realize that nobody is always good. That realization leaves room for a lot of doubt about a person’s eternal destiny – when the hope of heaven hinges on what they have done.
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). When both of these truths are acknowledged in life and at funerals, there is joy. There is joy because God’s gift trumps sins’ wages. But when these truths are denied or ignored, there often is much uneasiness. Instead of seeing death as the gateway to heaven, people view it with uncertainty and fear.
Funerals strip away a lot of fluff and reveal core beliefs. The funerals of my two friends clearly testified to their belief that Jesus had won heaven for them and that God had given them eternal life as his gift. I pray that when the Lord calls me home my funeral will proclaim that same message. To God be all the glory.