************ Funeral Sermon on 1 Corinthians 15:57 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on November 3, 2015
1 Corinthians 15:57
"But Thanks Be To God"
Funeral of Bert Van Dyk
"But thanks be to God!" How can we say that today? Bert Van Dyk has been taken from this life. He will be missed by the girls and by Anne and by others who knew him and loved him.
How can we thank God when death is something we fight and hate and rebel against? We are angry and sad and full of sorrow when death takes a loved one from us. We do what we can to postpone it: heart surgery, pacemakers, chemotherapy, radiation, drugs, dialysis -- we use them all to fight away death.
First, we can say "But thanks be to God" because Jesus has taken the sting of death. Paul writes, "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" (1 Cor 15:54-55).
A little boy and his father were driving down a country road on a beautiful spring afternoon. Suddenly out of nowhere a bumblebee flew in the car window. Since the little boy was deathly allergic to bee stings, he became petrified. But the father quickly reached out, grabbed the bee, squeezed it in his hand, and then released it. But as soon as he let it go, the young son became frantic again as it buzzed by him. His father saw his panic-stricken face. Once again the father reached out his hand. "Do you see this?" he asked. There stuck in his skin was the stinger of the bee. "You don't need to be afraid anymore. I've taken the sting for you." More than once I asked Bert if he was scared of dying. He always answered "no." Do you know why? Because Christ has taken the sting out of death.
"But thanks be to God." Thanks be to God because Christ has taken the sting of death for us. So, we do not need to be afraid of death. Christ faced death for us.
Why else can we say, "But thanks be to God"? Second, we can say this because "Death has been swallowed up in victory." So you understand this let me ask, "Where is Bert now?"
There have been many answers given concerning the place of the dead. The secular humanist says the dead are nowhere. "Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust" -- that's it, that's all, that's the end!
In contrast to the answer of the secular humanist, Jesus says,
John 11:25-26 "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die."According to Jesus, believers who die are not really dead; they are still alive.
To the Sadducees who were arguing with him, Jesus said, "I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob" (Mt 22:32). Jesus does not say, "I was," nor does he say, "I will be." He says "I am, right now, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." In other words, Jesus considers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to still be alive even though He is speaking almost 2,000 years after their time on earth. And today, if we listen, we can hear Jesus saying, "I am the God of Bert Van Dyk too." In other words, Bert is still alive. Jesus, you see, is not the God of the dead but of the living.
Bert is no longer with his loved ones. Where is he then? There is no halfway place for the believer. There is no intermediate state, no period of soul-sleep, no purgatory. The Bible says we are alive in this body and then go out of this body into the presence of the Lord. The Bible teaches the continuity of life. The heavens were opened and received the martyr Stephen when he cried out, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit" (Acts 7:59). Continuity of life was promised when Jesus said to the thief on the cross, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise" (Lk 23:43).
We are not told much of what this life with Christ is like. But Paul gives us a little bit of a hint when he says,
(1 Cor 2:9) "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him"--Life with Christ is better than we can imagine. This reminds me of what Paul says in two different places:
(Phil 1:21) "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain ..."It is hard for us to accept this word from Paul: that it is better to be away from the body and with Christ. Being human, we cannot help but think of the family's loss. We feel their pain, their separation, their sorrow. In such a time it takes great strength to pray as Job did,
(2 Cor 5:8) "We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord."
(Job 1:21) "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised."And yet we are able to pray this because we know that Bert Van Dyk is now in the arms of Jesus.
"But thanks be to God!" Thanks be to God because Bert Van Dyk is with the Lord. Thanks be to God because his is now a better existence. Thanks be to God because He is home with the Lord. Thanks be to God because death has been swallowed up in victory.
Third, we say "thanks be to God" because of what awaits Bert in the future. Earlier in 1 Corinthians 15 we are told that "Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep" (1 Cor 15:20). Do you know what firstfruits are? They are a religious offering to God of the first produce of the harvest of grain or grapes or olives. They are a promise of more to come. In His resurrection, Christ is the firstfruits of more to come. In other words, what has happened to Christ will also happen to those who believe in Christ: like Christ, their bodies will also be raised from the dead. At that time death will be completely swallowed up in victory.
"But thanks be to God" because of God's promises of a new and better life in a new and better body on a new and better earth. "But thanks be to God" because for Bert there is such a glorious and wondrous future.
Apart from what we find in our text we can also say "But thanks be to God" because of the blessings Bert experienced in his life. Bert and I talked about many of those blessings. We talked, of course, about his trucks and about a truck he affectionately called "Old Betsie." But we also talked about how he was raised in a Christian home and how he raised his daughters in a Christian home. He told me he was baptized as one of God's children. And later on in life he confessed his faith in Christ and claimed those promises of baptism for himself. Bert told me more than once that he knew his sin and his Savior.
On one of my visits I asked Bert about his service for the Lord. I learned that Bert served on consistory, the Christian School board, the board of Inland Christian Home, and as Sunday School Superintendent. His favorite activity, though, was coaching a girl's softball team.
So I say to you, "But thanks be to God." Thanks be to God for a Christian faith, for a Christian home, for Christian service.
Notice how Paul ends: "But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." Paul tells us that it all comes down to Jesus. Bert believed in Jesus, He believed in his Savior, so the sting of death has been removed. Bert believed in Jesus so right now he is home with the Lord. Bert believed in Jesus so we know his body someday will be raised. Bert believed in Jesus so his was a Christian home and Christian service.
"But thanks be to God!" Not everyone can say that because not everyone believes in Jesus. For those people, the awfulness of death is made more awful by the total lack of comfort and hope. I've done a couple of those funerals. I've stood by the graveside afterward. What a horrible, empty feeling I've had. There was nothing comforting I could say.
"But thanks be to God!" Let me ask, will your family be able to say that about you when you die? They can't, they won't, if you do not know your sin and your Savior. They can't, they won't, if you have not given your heart to the Lord. They can't, they won't, if you don't believe in Jesus.
So I say to you, repent of your sins and believe in Jesus. And then, even at the moment of death you and your loved ones can say, "But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."
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