************ Funeral Sermon on Genesis 47:28-48:4 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on December 27, 2017

Genesis 47:28-48:4
"Finishing Strong"
John Boeve Funeral

Eric Liddell, Olympic champion and missionary to China, was made world famous by the movie "Chariots of Fire." In a particularly moving scene in the film, Liddell falls down just a few strides into a 440-yard race. The crowd groans. His hopes for a medal seem dashed. But to their amazement, Liddell rises to his feet, leans his head back in characteristic fashion, strides even harder, and catches his opponents from twenty yards back to win the race.

This became Liddell’s signature -- not the way he began his races, but the way he finished: head tilted back, mouth wide open, body in full stretch, and feet moving faster than those of any other man in the world! He shows us "It’s not how you begin the race but how you finish that is important."

How true that is in the Christian life! None of us begins very well. We begin as sinners, desperately in need of God’s grace. But even when we come to Christ, receive forgiveness, and begin running the race set before us (Heb 12:1), we find that we do not run all that well. We do not always proceed as smoothly or as rapidly as we would like. But we realize that, while the way in which we run the race is important, what is most important is how we finish. Will we give up? Will we simply coast to the finish line? Or will we run into the arms of Jesus with our heads tilted back and our souls in full stretch?

I want to tell you -- the family and friends of John Boeve -- that John finished strong. Yes, he was a sinner desperately in need of God's grace. Yes, he had his ups and downs in the Christian faith and life. But, by the grace of God, He finished strong. Let me give you just one example. A couple of months ago John told me someone in the home was upset with his prayers. Before every meal, John prayed out loud (okay, really loud). The sound of his voice carried out the room and down the hall and someone didn't like it. So John was told to stop his prayers. Them were fighting words to John. John questioned various people about this, including the doctors. They all told him he could keep on praying. John couldn't do much towards the end but he could pray, he could listen to sermons, and he could go to church. John was faithful to the end. He finished strong.

Our Bible reading focuses on Jacob. Jacob, too, was a sinner desperately in need of God's grace. He had many ups and downs in his walk with God:
-he took advantage of his brother and deceived his father to get the birthright God promised to give him
-he fled to Uncle Laban when his brother Esau vowed to kill him
-he had that marvelous dream at Bethel of a stairway reaching to heaven with angels ascending and descending and God at the top speaking to him; but then he tried to bargain with God
-Uncle Laban tricked him into marrying Leah
-he used trickery and gene manipulation to increase his flocks and herds at Laban's expense
-he fled from Uncle Laban
-he wrestled with God
-he used his wits to be reconciled with Esau
-his daughter was raped but he remained silent
-his sons killed the men of Shechem and again he remained silent
-his favorite wife Rachel died giving birth
-he ignored the anger and envy of his sons when he made Joseph his favorite; the net result was that Joseph was sold into slavery
-famine struck and he and his sons left the Promised Land and went to Egypt
We look at Jacob and his life and we think, "What a miserable man! Thank God he is not related to me."

However, Jacob's life did not end the same way it started. He finished strong. I want to point to three things: an action he does, a request that he makes, and a promise he remembers.

First, look at what Jacob does as death is approaching: Jacob "worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff." For more than two decades he was guilty of idolatry; for more than two decades he worshiped his favorite son. But now he worshiped the Lord God Almighty. Jacob finished strong.

John finished strong as well. Worship, and listening to sermons, was important to John. Beth reminded me of the time John apologized for not coming to church anymore; this is a man who could hardly walk half the length of the home. He explained he was going to another church. The other church was the LiveStream of our services. That was so sweet. It shows me John finished strong. Parents and grandparents and great grandparents can hardly give a better example than regular, faithful attendance at worship.

Second, listen to the request Jacob makes as death is approaching: "Do not bury me in Egypt, but when I rest with my fathers, carry me out of Egypt and bury me where they are buried." Jacob was adamant about being buried back home in the land of Canaan. He made Joseph swear an oath about this. Why was this so important to him? Because Canaan was the land of promise. Canaan was God’s land, and Jacob and his family were God’s people. Jacob wanted his burial to be a testament to the fact that the LORD was his God! That is instructive, isn’t it? Jacob was so concerned to leave behind a testimony to the LORD that even the arrangements for his funeral were important to him!

Westerners are often very concerned to have all the practical details of a funeral worked out -- the casket, the burial plot, the funeral home -- but spend very little time thinking about how their funeral service can speak of the Lord. Christians (and their believing families) ought to be different. We ought to labor to make funerals an opportunity for the preaching of the gospel and worshiping of the Lord. That was what Jacob was thinking on his deathbed: "How can my death point my family to God?"

Jacob finished strong. And so did John. I asked John whether he was ready to die. I asked him for favorite Bible readings and songs. He told me to point people to Jesus.

Third, listen to the promise Jacob remembers as death is approaching:
(Gen 48:3-4) "God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and there he blessed me (4) and said to me, 'I am going to make you fruitful and will increase your numbers. I will make you a community of peoples, and I will give this land as an everlasting possession to your descendants after you.'"
When he had gotten to the very end of his life Jacob called his son Joseph to his bedside and the first words out of his mouth were "God Almighty." He then proceeded to recount the blessings and promises of God. And again, this is instructive, because it is (sadly!) so different from how most people operate. What do most people talk about when they are lying sick in the hospital bed? They talk about their sickness -- the treatments, the medicines, the pain, the doctors, and so on! You go to visit them and it is as though there is nothing happening in the universe besides their sickness. You read the Bible to them, and they go right back to talking about their sickness. You ask about their family, and they use it as an opportunity to get back to bemoaning their sickness. Their focus is themselves. But, as Christians, we have something altogether more hopeful and more important to talk about! Namely, "God Almighty," and what great things He has done for us!

Jacob finished strong. And so did John. John never talked about himself. He never talked about pain. He never talked about how difficult it was to walk; it was painful for me to watch John walk. Instead, he talked about the goodness of the Lord, his joy in worship, the blessings of family life, and his concern for his wife.

So both in his burial request and in his last conversation with Joseph, Jacob was using the last moments of his life to remind his family of their commitments to God! That is why he was buried where he was buried, and why he spoke the way he spoke -- so that he might give one last testimony to encourage his sons to follow the LORD with all their hearts! Jacob’s desire to give a final testimony is also the reason why he called in Joseph’s sons -- and eventually brought together all of his children -- to pronounce God’s blessings upon them. What a beautiful way for Jacob to die!

Jacob was happy, thrilled even, to have his whole family together again. But that is not what was most important. What was important was that he finished his life in an all-out sprint, serving the LORD. Murmuring was replaced with praise. Accusations were replaced with blessings. And fear was replaced with faith (46:4)! Jacob finished well.

Let me ask: Are you going to die that way? Are you going to finish well? Since life is so uncertain and our years are so "few," there is no better time to get into our closing sprints than now! If we want to finish well, we must run well now! We must speak much of Jesus now! We must pass the gospel along to our families now! We must gather them together for prayer now! We must serve the Lord now!

The map of Jacob's life shows many twists and turns, lots of mountains and valleys. Jacob went through them all. And he finished strong. Do you know why? Not because of his faith; after all, most of his life his faith was weak and spineless. Not because of his courage; after all, he fled from his brother and snuck away from his father-in-law. Not because of his character; don't forget, he was a liar, a schemer, self-reliant, careless, a poor parent, a manipulator. There is nothing in Jacob or about Jacob that allows us to predict he will finish well.

So what happened? God. God happened. The faithfulness of God. The faithfulness of a God Who keeps His promises. The faithfulness of a God Who never lets go of His children. The second last book of the Bible speaks to this:
(Jude 1:24) To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy ...

Do you hear that? God preserves. And, it is God Who preserved Jacob in the faith. God brought Jacob into His presence. God did this. Not Jacob. Not Joseph. Not John. But God.

So we end with God. And we praise God. As we hear from the final verse of Jude:
(Jude 1:25) to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.
We say this as we think of Jacob. We say this as we think of John.
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