************ Funeral Sermon on Psalm 116:15 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on March 27, 2001

Psalm 116:15
"Precious in the Sight of the Lord is the Death of His Saints"
Funeral Message for John Reitsma

"Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints."

I spent a summer in New Mexico. While we were there we heard about a nurse that did not show up for work on a Monday morning. Tuesday she didn't come either. Nor Wednesday. The hospital sent someone to search for her on the reservation. Turns out she had an accident. Her pickup truck left the road, crashed down a steep embankment, and she was stranded in a deep gully. No one could see her from the road. The accident happened on Friday. She spent two or three days slowly dying, unnoticed, all alone. What a horrible way to die. Using the words of the psalmist, we would say that her death was not precious in anyone's sight.

There was a widow I visited with. She had no family. She was all alone in the world. Her little farm was quite a ways from all her neighbors. Her biggest fear was of dying in her house, alone, unnoticed, unobserved. She feared dying a slow, lingering, painful death with no one around. She feared, she abhorred, the thought that her death would not be precious in anyone's sight.

John Reitsma has passed away. But he did not die unnoticed. He did not die alone. For as he laid on his death bed he was surrounded by his loved ones. His death was in the sight of his family and friends. And his death, says the psalmist, was also "in the sight of the Lord." The Lord noticed, the Lord knew, the Lord saw when John died.

We don't know what death is like. But we do know the Savior is there when one of His saints die; we do know the Lord sees when any of His saints die. God was right there when John died. God's loving, everlasting arms instantly held his spirit and carried John to be with Him. So we say, "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of John Reitsma."

"Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints." To understand this text you need to understand that there are two meanings for the Hebrew word for "precious."

I Costly
A First, the word for precious means "costly."

"Costly in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints." "Costly in the sight of the Lord is the death of John Reitsma."

The death of any of His saints is costly for God. We see that when we look at Psalm 116. In verse 3 the psalmist tells of a time when he came close to dying: "The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came upon me." It seems that at any moment the lights could have gone out for him. So in desperate faith he uttered the name of the Lord and called on the Lord to save him: "O Lord, save me!" (vs 4). And God responded by saving the psalmist. That's why the psalmist can say: "For you, O Lord, have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling ..." (vs 8).

But it was costly for God to do this. God had to dip into his treasure-chest of grace, righteousness, and compassion (vs 5) in order to rescue the psalmist. It was expensive for God to save him, just as it is costly for search-and-rescue teams to find lost hikers in Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks. According to one estimate, the Federal Government alone through the National Park Service and the Coast Guard spends more than $383 million a year to rescue boaters, bikers, hikers, and climbers.

B Some day all of us will die, like John Reitsma died. The cords of death will entangle us. The anguish of the grave will come upon us. We will be locked away in death. The cost to God to set us free from the prison of death is beyond our ability to calculate. It costs God His Son. It costs God the dying and rising of His one and only Son. It costs God the cross and grave of Christ. You see, it is only by sinking deep into death and being raised up Lord of Life, that Jesus broke death's power and removed its sting.
Topic: Easter
Subtopic: Taken Sting of Death
Index: 1092
Date: 4/1992.101
Title: I've Taken Your Sting

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, but this time he pointed to his hand. There still stuck in his skin was the stinger of the bee. "Do you see this?" he asked. "You don't need to be afraid anymore. I've taken the sting for you."
Christ has taken the sting of death. This means that for the believer death is harmless, like a bee without a stinger. Because of Christ, death is nothing to fear.

But that was costly for God. Or, as another translation puts it, it was "painful" for God. It cut and hurt the heart of God to pay the price of His one and only Son upon the tree on Golgotha's hill.

Living before the coming of Christ, the psalmist wasn't fully aware of what it costs God to save and rescue a soul in death. All that he knows is that our freedom from death comes at an enormous cost or price or expense for God. It is pricey, or precious.

C The death of John Reitsma is costly to and for God. But do you know what this means? It means that death does not have the last word in John's life. It means that the cords of death do not keep their hold on him. It means that the anguish of the grave does not remain on John nor on us who mourn the passing of John. Because Jesus sank deep into death and was raised up Lord of Life, John Reitsma is beyond the cords of death and the anguish of the grave.

"Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints." "Costly in the sight of the Lord is the death of John Reitsma."

II Highly Valued
A There is also a second meaning to the Hebrew word of precious. The second meaning is "highly valued." "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints." "Highly valued in the sight of the Lord is the death of John Reitsma."

Why would John's death, or anyone else's death, be highly valued in the sight of God?

John's death means the end to his struggle with sin, and guilt, and evil. John's death means he no longer is sinning against God and His commandments. God created John just like He created the rest of us to live for Him, to obey Him, to glorify Him. One of the things that glorifies God is an obedient life. One of the things that glorifies God is a life of perfect obedience to His Ten Commandments. In summing up these commandments Jesus said we are to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength; and, we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. John Reitsma, being a sinner, failed to lived up to this. But so do you and I and every person who has ever been born. Death, however, has put an end to John's sin. And, death puts an end to our sin as well. John no longer is offending the holiness of the God Who made Him. So precious in the sight of Lord is the death of his saints. Highly valued in the sight of the Lord is the death of John Reitsma.

B Death not only puts an end to sin but also to the effects of sin. You know those effects: mourning, crying, tears; disease, cancer, heart-attack; disabilities; the pain and heart-ache of broken relationships; character defects like sloth, lust, anger, pride, envy, gluttony, greed. Those who die leave this world and this life and all the effects of sin behind. They appear before the throne of God with neither sin nor the effects of sin. So precious in the sight of Lord is the death of his saints. Highly valued in the sight of the Lord is the death of John Reitsma.

C Do you know what else death means the end of? It means an end to separation from God. When God made man in His image and placed him in the Garden of Eden, man enjoyed God's company and presence. We see in Genesis a picture of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day (Gen 3:8). We see in Exodus a picture of God talking to Moses as a man talks with his friend (Ex 33:11). But what happened when Adam and Eve fell into sin? They hid from God. Sinful man cut himself off from the glorious presence of the holy God. But this was just as well, for no mere, sinful man can see God's face and live (Ex 33:18). The purity and holiness of God, you see, cannot tolerate the presence of anything that is sin or tainted by sin. For frail, sinful human beings God is too awesome and too frightening to be approached. We need to stay at arm's length. And, in this flesh and on this earth we can come to God only through Christ.

But death means an end to all of that. Those who die may "gaze upon the beauty of the Lord" and "dwell in the house of the Lord" and may "seek his face" (Ps 27). They are part of the countless multitude that stands before the throne of God and in front of the Lamb that John saw in his revelation (Rev 7:9ff).

Think of how you feel, of how happy you are, when you can see the face of a loved one you have been separated from for a long time. That's the experience of John and all those who can again see God face-to-face. No wonder they serve Him and praise Him day and night (Rev 7:9ff). And, that's also the experience of our Father in heaven as He again sees His children face-to-face. Think of the parable of the Lost or Prodigal Son. The Father Who is God looked for his lost son to come home. So precious in the sight of Lord is the death of his saints. Highly valued in the sight of the Lord is the death of John Reitsma.

D So far I have been talking in negative terms what is left behind when we die. But we can also talk in positive terms what we gain when we die.

Let's first of all look at the body. What happens to the body when we die? The body is put to sleep. That is the way the early Christians spoke of those who died. In fact, they called the place of burial, the graveyard, the koimeterion. This Greek word, koimeterion, means a rest house or place for strangers. It was the word for the inn that was closed to Mary and Joseph. Such places were all through the Roman Empire, and we get from it our word cemetery today. A cemetery is a resting place, a sleeping place. What do we call sleeping places today? We call them motels and hotels. You don't weep, do you, when your loved one calls and says, "We're going to spend a week at the Hilton in San Francisco?"

The early church took their loved ones and put them in the cemetery, in the ground, and called it the koimeterion, the rest house, the sleeping-place for the dead.

Which means that the body of John Reitsma and every other loved one is merely asleep. To say that, of course, is to say that someday they will wake up.

Actually, the New Testament goes further than this. When we lay the body of our loved one to rest, what we are doing, says Paul, is planting a seed. And someday, as you know, the seed begins to germinate and new life comes forth (cf 1 Cor 15).

So imagine the scene: there will come a day when all those who sleep will be awakened; there will come a day when new life will spring forth from the seed that has been planted.

It is God, of course, Who wakes up the bodies of the dead. It is God, of course, Who brings new life from what has been planted.. Imagine the wonder, the joy, and the delight of that day. So precious in the sight of Lord is the death of his saints. Highly valued in the sight of the Lord is the death of John Reitsma.

F But there is more. We can also talk of what happens to the soul. There is a passage from Paul that I want to quote:
(2 Cor 5:6-8) Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. (7) We live by faith, not by sight. (8) We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.
Do you see what death is? Death is described as a home-coming. Someone has been gone a long time perhaps serving in the military overseas, or attending college, or maybe they have immigrated to another land and after a long absence they have finally returned to the place where they belong.

There is rejoicing in heaven today because one of God's children has come back home to the bosom of the Father. So precious in the sight of Lord is the death of his saints. Highly valued in the sight of the Lord is the death of John Reitsma.

III Saints
Funerals are not a time to speak to the dead but to the living. So I need to tell you something. Some day every person here, like John Reitsma, will also die. Let me ask you: will your death be precious in the sight of the Lord? Will your death be costly to God? Will your death be highly valued to God?

The reason I ask this is that not every death is precious in God's sight. Not every death is costly to God. Not every death is highly value to God.

Our text tells us that it is "the death of the saints" that is precious to God.

What is a saint? A saint is someone holy. Many people think of Mother Theresa as being a saint because she devoted her life to the untouchables, the poor, the starving, and the orphans of India. Many people think of Gandhi as being a saint because he devoted his life to non-violence and peace. But Mother Theresa and Gandhi are sinners just like you and me. They don't deserve to be considered as saints because of what they have done.

In the Bible, a saint is someone who believes in Jesus, someone who has been washed clean in His blood, someone made new by His Spirit, someone who accepts the death and resurrection of Christ. Such people are made holy by the blood and Spirit and indwelling presence of Christ.

Are you this kind of saint? If you are, if you believe in Jesus as John Reitsma believed in Jesus then your death will be precious in the sight of the Lord. But, if you do not believe in Jesus, then your death is not precious in the sight of the Lord.

"Precious in the sight of Lord is the death of his saints."
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