************ Funeral Sermon on Romans 12:12 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on September 27, 2004
(Romans 12:12) Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithfulprayer.
Funeral Sermon for Jack Van Leeuwen
As we heard from Jack's biography, Jack often said the words of our text. Through heart problems, strokes, and cancer – for over 30 years – Jack urged himself and those around him to "Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer." But more than that, Jack also lived out these words. And, I need to add, his wife did and does as well. "Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer."
The words of our text are part of a whole series of statements that show us what it means to live our lives as Christians. Paul introduces these statements with the admonition to "offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God" (Rom 12:1). In other words, those who are "joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer" are holy and pleasing to God; they are offering their bodies as living sacrifices.
It has been said that Romans 12-16 is the "practical" section of Paul's letter to the church at Rome. What people usually mean is that Romans 1-11 is doctrinal or theological, and that the letter finally gets down to practical matters in chapter 12. But doctrine, my brothers and sisters, is practical, and practical material must be doctrinal if it is to be of any help to us at all.
I think a better word is "consequences." We have many teachings, many doctrines, many ideas in Romans 1-11 – truthful teachings, stirring doctrines, great ideas that come to us by means of an inerrant and authoritative revelation – and now we are seeing their consequences. Teachings and doctrines and ideas have consequences – that is what Paul is saying in Romans 12.
"Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer." The first and most important consequence is that, if a person really understands and believes what Paul has written in Romans 1-11, he or she will see things differently and react to things differently.
How does the man and woman of the world see and react to affliction? What is their response if they live through even half of the health problems Jack and Harriet lived through for the past 30 years? What is their response if they have money problems or problems with the kids or a business that goes bankrupt? What is their response if a loved one dies? Let me tell you what is NOT their response: they are NOT "joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer." Their response is anything but joy, patience, and faithfulness. Their usual response is anger, impatience, and frustration.
But that was not Jack's response. And that was not Harriet's response. You know their response: "Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer." Why? Because they are Christians. And Christians see things differently and Christians react to things differently.
"Be joyful in hope." When I visited with him at home, Jack always sat in a special armchair in the family room. I would sit facing him and over his shoulder I would see a plaque on the wall. Only one word was on that plaque: REJOICE. That summed up his attitude and Harriet's attitude too. In spite of the trouble and trials and pain they continued to rejoice. Jack maintained a positive and selfless attitude in spite of his poor health.
The Apostle Paul speaks of this in his letter to the church at Philippi. "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!" (Phil 4:4). Notice, Paul does NOT say, "Rejoice only when you and your kids and grand-kids are healthy, or when business is booming, or when things are going well." Joy and rejoicing is to be shown all the time and not just in good times. And, of course, Paul set the believers a personal example in doing this. Remember what happened to Paul and Silas in Philippi? They were flogged, thrown into an inner cell of prison, and their feet were fastened in stocks. Did Paul and Silas feel sorry for themselves? Did they moan and groan about injustice and enemies and wicked authorities? No. Instead, "about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God" (Acts 16:25). They were singing! They were rejoicing. They rejoiced in the Lord always, regardless of the circumstances of life.
"Be patient in affliction." Jack did not like talking about himself. We would discuss his health and his concerns for a few moments and then he would say, "But how are you?"
Affliction is a very descriptive word in the New Testament. It comes from a word that literally means pressure – great pressure. The verb was used of pressing grapes in wine-making till they burst. We need to picture a wine press slowly squeezing a grape. As the pressure mounts, the grape slowly begins to disfigure and lose its shape. And when the pressure becomes so intense that it loses its ability to hold together, the grape bursts! That is the idea behind this word – pressure! It is not a minor discomfort, but an acute suffering. When we are under such pressure, we are to be patient.
The Apostle Paul referred frequently to the afflictions which he himself endured:
(2Cor 1:8) We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.What are the afflictions that Paul has in mind? He lays some of them before his readers:
(2Cor 11:24-28) Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. (25) Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, (26) I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. (27) I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. (28) Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.Now, this is pressure – pressure that brings you close to the bursting point. But Paul did not burst. He did not explode. Instead, he was patient.
"Be faithful in prayer." Some of Jack's golfing buddies came to see him a couple of days before he died. The visitors each offered up a short prayer. Jack then started to pray and did a beautiful prayer and he prayed longer than his visitors. Again, I want to point you to Paul. Did you catch what Paul and Silas did in prison, with their feet in stocks and their backs throbbing from the whipping? They prayed. They prayed for their fellows prisoners. They prayed for their jailers. They prayed for the crowd who stirred up the authorities. They prayed for the newly established church in Philippi.
"Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer." How can Paul and Jack and Harriet be this way? How can they react so differently to life's troubles than most other people? We need to go back to Romans 1-11 to understand why Christians look and react to things so differently. We need to look at the practical theology that underlies what Paul says in our text.
Paul's starting point is sin: "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23). Everyone is a sinner: you, me, Paul, Jack, Harriet, and everyone else who has ever lived. Not only are we sinners, but we are sinners under judgment. "For the wages of sin is death ..." (Rom 6:23). Because we are sinners, someday we all will die even as Jack died. Because we are sinners, we deserve the everlasting death of hell's fire.
Paul's next point is salvation: we "are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus" (Rom 3:24). "The gift of God," says Paul, "is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom 6:23). "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."
Notice the progression. First, everyone sins and deserves physical and eternal death. Second, God gives forgiving grace to those who are in Christ Jesus so they are not condemned for their sins. Not only are they not condemned, but God promises that their present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in them (Rom 8:18f). Theirs is the hope of a new and better life in a new and better body on a new and better earth.
This hope is not meant for every sinner. It is only meant for those sinners who are in Christ Jesus? Who are these sinners who are in Christ Jesus? From a human point-of-view, they have faith, hope, and love even as Jack had faith, hope, and love. From the divine point-of-view, they are the elect, who have been chosen by sovereign grace apart from any works they may have done. They have not done anything to deserve their salvation. They are not more worthy than any other fallen sinner. For a reason known only to Him, God has chosen to elect them to salvation in Christ Jesus.
Now, do you see the reason why Jack was joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer? Because he, a sinner under judgment, was saved by God in Christ from eternity. Yes, Jack's life had its ups and downs. Yes, Jack's life was filled with over 30 years of severe health problems. Yes, Jack lost his dad when he was only 12 and Harriet lost her entire family as a wee little infant. But more important than all of this is that they from eternity are in Christ.
In the hours before he died Jack testified that he had Jesus in his heart. He again asked Jesus to forgive all his sins. He expressed his hope and his faith. He was letting us know he was and is in Christ.
We must remember that without Christ we can do nothing. Remember what Jesus said?
(Jn 15:5) "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.And Paul adds, "I can do everything through him who gives me strength" (Phil 4:13). We must remember that it is not we that live, but Christ that lives in us (Gal 2:20). Apart from Christ it is impossible for Paul or Jack or Harriet or anyone here to "be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer." But in union with Christ what is humanly impossible becomes possible.
Those who are in Christ, then, see things and react to things differently. They know there is more to life than the body and food. They know there is more to life than this earth and its trials and joys. They know there is more to life than what is seen. They know there is a God Who loves them from eternity and to eternity. They know that regardless of what happens this God will bring them to Himself. They know they are forever safe and secure in His ever-loving arms.
"Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer." The best example of this, of course, is the Lord Jesus Christ. I want you to consider the worst day (and night) of His life. You all know that in the Garden of Gethsemane, the night before His death, Jesus struggled with God in prayer. "Father," He prayed, "if you are willing, take this cup from me" (Lk 22:42). During this prayer Jesus was "in anguish" and "his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground" (Lk 22:44). Never has earth offered such an urgent request. Jesus was "faithful in prayer."
As Jesus got up from His time of earnest prayer the sound of a mob reached His ears. Judas had arrived with a crowd. The very people Jesus had come to save had now come to arrest Him. The very people that had welcomed Him with palm leaves now came to Him with swords. Quite often I imagine Judas leading a dozen or more soldiers. But Matthew tells us it was a "large crowd" (Mt 26:47) and John specifies a "detachment of soldiers" (Jn 18:3) – a technical term for a group of 200-1900 soldiers! This was a great big mob of people. Surely in a group this size there would be one person who would defend Jesus. Jesus, after all, had shown compassion to so many. He had preached to so many. He had healed so many. He had fed so many. Yet not one person in that crowd came to His aid. "Friend," said Jesus to Judas, "do what you came for" (Mt 26:50). Jesus was "patient in affliction."
After this we see the disciples. They all deserted Him and fled – this was done by those who knew Jesus best, who witnessed all of His miracles, who heard all of His teachings, who experienced His compassion day-after-day. This was followed by the mockery of a trial, the whipping and scourging, the crown of thorns, the journey to Golgotha, the crucifixion. And then the worst thing happened: Jesus was forsaken by the Father. "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mt 27:46). Now get this: during all of this Jesus did not focus on the pain but on the joy. Listen to how Hebrews states this:
(Heb 12:2) Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.Jesus had joy and Jesus had hope. What was His hope? Jesus' hope – because He endured the humiliation of the cross – was to be exalted to the right hand of God and to be given the name that is above every name so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil 2:9-11). Jesus' hope was to bring reconciliation and peace between God and man through His blood, shed on the cross (Col 1:20). Jesus was "joyful in hope."
"Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer." As you face life's trials and afflictions, as you face death and health problems, as you struggle with things, is this your response? It can be, but only if you are in Christ Jesus. It can be, but only if you – by grace – believe in the Lord Jesus.
By sovereign grace Jack believed in Jesus and Jack was like Jesus. He was "joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer." Is that true of you as well?
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