************ Funeral Sermon on John 17:3 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on July 4, 2009
John Kesting Funeral
I want to talk today about eternal life. I know John would approve. He told me more than once, in his typical gruff manner, that he likes to hear less about sin and more about the joys and triumphs of the Christian life. So, my theme for this message is eternal life.
The best known verse of the Bible speaks of eternal life. I am speaking of John 3:16. You know this verse:
(Jn 3:16) "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."Do you hear that? If you believe in Jesus you have eternal life.
Monday night I visited John & Stella in the Fresno Hospital with my wife. We had received a bunch of bad news about John: a tumor behind his lung, cancer on his back, gout, problems with his liver, a creeping numbness or paralysis. Combine that with previous health problems. Now, as you know, John did not like talking about personal things. He didn't like people making a fuss about him. But I couldn't let this opportunity go. So I said to John, "You have serious health problems. Are you ready to die?" "I'm not scared to die," he said. "Why?" "Because I know I am going to heaven." "Because you believe Jesus is your only Savior from sin?" "Yes," he said.
There you have it. John believed in Jesus. In fact, John confessed faith in Jesus on December 26, 1962. So John has eternal life.
In a little while we are going to confess the Apostles' Creed together. With John, we are going to confess belief in life everlasting or life eternal. But what do we mean when we confess this? What does John mean?
Let's start by getting rid of some common misconceptions. At the top of the list is the idea that everlasting life is not that much different than the life we have on this earth and in this body. It may be a little easier, perhaps less stressful, but fundamentally it is the same as we have now. This view says John will still drive a pickup truck, but it will be the new one he never got to drive on this earth.
There is a huge problem with this view. This view does not do justice to the finished work of Jesus Christ. Jesus died and Jesus arose in order to take away our sin and the effects of sin. Which means that life eternal is dramatically different than life now. Revelation 21:4, which describes everlasting life as well as any passage in Scripture, says,
(Rev 21:4) He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.Right now, John is experiencing life without cancer, without gout, without paralysis, without tumor, without pain. He is no longer gruff and tough.
The second misconception is exactly the opposite of the first. Instead of eternal life being only a little different from our present life, it sees eternal life as being completely different. This view says we all become angels and play harps on fluffy, white clouds throughout all eternity. Stella, can you imagine John doing this?
There is a huge problem with this view as well. It views heaven as nothing more than a huge picnic where we just lounge around, listen to music, and admire God's handiwork. Why did God create man? God placed Adam in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it (Gen 2:15). And why will God recreate man? According to Revelation 22:3, God places us in the new heaven and new earth in order to "serve him." We are not sure what our future service will look like, but we won't be just sitting around strumming on harps.
The third misconception is that everlasting life is something future. That it is something we receive only after we, like John, have died.
But this view is wrong, too. What does Jesus say? He says, "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life" (Jn 3:36). Jesus does not say, "will have." He does not say, "might have." He says, "has" – present tense. Eternal life is not something future. It is ours already. It is true that we do not have the fullness of everlasting life in this world and in this body. But everyone who trusts in the shed blood of Jesus and places his hope in the Lord's triumphant resurrection has everlasting life in the here and now.
Our Catechism picks up on eternal life as a present reality when it says, "I already now experience in my heart the beginning of eternal joy" (Heidelberg Catechism, A58).
So, what does this mean for John? It means that though he has died he is still alive. It means he possesses a life that cannot end because he belongs to Jesus Christ. Listen to what Jesus said to Martha after her brother, Lazarus, died:
(Jn 11:25-26) "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; (26) and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"Let me ask you the same question? "Do you believe this?" Do you believe that someone who belongs to Jesus possesses life that cannot end? John believed that. Stella believes that. Do you believe this?
So far, I've talked about eternal life without actually saying what it is. So, what is eternal life? Listen to the words of our text:
(Jn 17:3) Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.
Jesus defines eternal life as knowing God and Christ. To have eternal life you must know God and Christ.
First of all, you must know God – the only true God. It is not good enough to know Allah, it is not good enough to know the pantheon of Greek and Roman gods, it is not good enough to believe in a higher power. To have eternal life, you must know the one only true God. The God of the Bible. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The covenanting God. The holy God. The God Who gave the Ten Commandments. The God Who punishes sin.
And, second, to have eternal life you must know Christ – Christ Who was sent. Christ Who was sent by the Father because He loves us so much. Christ Who was sent to take on our flesh. Christ Who was sent to die for our sins. Christ Who was sent to arise from the grave. Christ Who was sent to ascend into heaven. Christ Who was sent to sit at God's right hand. Christ Who was sent to rule all things now.
For John to have eternal life, for Stella to have eternal life, for me to have eternal life, for you to have eternal life, we must know God and Christ.
Today, we ordinarily use the words "know" and "knowledge" in an intellectual sense. To graduate from highschool, for instance, there is a minimum standard of things you must "know." To pass the bar exam or medical boards you need to "know" your field of study. In the same way, we need to have an intellectual knowledge of God. The elders, for instance, are impressed when those being interviewed for Profession of Faith can rattle off a few theological proof texts and are familiar with theological jargon. But it is not enough to "know" God in this way.
There was a young man in Russia who studied for the Orthodox priesthood. He applied himself to his studies to the point that he could recite the entire Bible from memory. But something happened and he entered politics. He worked his way up the political ladder by killing opponents and entire villages of people. His nickname: The Butcher of the Ukraine. We know him as Josef Stalin.Josef Stalin knew all about God, yet he didn't know God Himself. He knew all about God but never once met Christ.
John knew about God and Christ and John knew God and Christ. That is to say, John loved, worshiped, and served God and Christ. I am not saying John did this perfectly – for even the very best we do in this life is imperfect and stained with sin.
Now, think about the implications of John's funeral text for right now, today. Eternal life is knowing God. Which means that the more we know and enjoy God today, the more we experience eternal life today. So, I want to challenge you – all of you – to study the Bible, to pray, to worship, to fellowship with the saints because that is the means God has ordained so we come to know Him more and more.
One final point. Eternal life is our present possession. But in this world and in this flesh it is not our full possession. As Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians 13,
(1Cor 13:12) 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.Now is a poor reflection. Now I know in part. But then I shall see face to face. Then I shall know fully.
So, what is it like – eternal life in all its fullness? It is better than anything here. It is better than anything you can imagine.
(1Cor 2:9) However, as it is written: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him" ...
Life on this earth was full of trials and struggles for John and Stella – as it is for most of us. But now, now John knows and loves and worships and serves God in a way he never could on this earth. Now, John is experiencing eternal life to the full. And, someday, when his body is raised, it will be even fuller.
When you die, will that be your experience too? It can be, but only if you know God and Christ right now, today.
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