Today, I had the honor of preaching at my grandmother's funeral. Below is the text of my sermon.
Some of you have been saying to me over the last few days that you’re glad I’m here doing this, because I knew Granny and I love Granny. I’ve got to tell you that it’s an honor for me. I love Granny and I love y’all, and so I’m super blessed. But in another sense, I feel like it’s an honor for all of us to be here today. Because like Dad said earlier, we’re granny’s legacy. And as I’m looking at you, I think it’s a pretty good legacy as far as legacies go. Right?
We’ve all got stories. Granny loved us—all of us. And she showed that to us in a thousand little ways. And I do hope that as the day moves on, we’ll share those stories with one another. We need to remember them and we need to share them. That’s what we’re here to celebrate.
But we’re also here to mourn. And that’s one of my points today—that that’s okay. Granny was here and now she isn’t and that presents a problem for us. That is sad. And I’ve seen it on your faces. And I’ve felt it.
It’s okay to mourn. It’s okay because God doesn’t leave us alone in it. And that fact is my second point. So the first point is that it’s okay to be sad about Granny’s passing, because death is sad. And the second point is that there is hope in the face of that sadness because God doesn't leave us alone. There is hope in the good news about Jesus.
In our reading from first Corinthians, Paul asks, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” So the first thing that we can notice today is that death has a sting.
Death has a sting and it’s okay to recognize that fact. It’s entirely normal and it’s completely human. And that fact doesn’t change even though we understand that Granny is in a better place.
The sting of death is referenced all over the Bible. And so that we can feel validated in what we’re feeling, let me just show you three biblical examples.
In Deuteronomy 34, Moses dies. Moses had been the leader of Israel for 40 years as they marched through the desert. So he dies and it says that the people grieved and wept for him for thirty days. Moses was political and religious leader and the people wept for him.
But you also find a story where a man grieves for the loss of his friend. In 2 Samuel, King Saul and his son Jonathan were killed in battle. And David the next king, cries out because of the loss of his friend. David writes, “I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me.” David cries over the death of his friend.
Finally you can find an example in the Bible of a situation just like ours: the loss of a parent, and a grandparent. At the end of Genesis 49, Jacob dies. At the beginning of Genesis 50, it says that “Joseph threw himself upon his father and wept over him and kissed him.” And then it goes on to say that he directed the Egyptians to mourn with him for seventy days.
So all of that to say, you’re not alone in this. And the Bible doesn’t simply tell us to “chin up and keep a stiff upper lip” as though everything were all right. Because to be frank, things are not all right. And our reading acknowledges that fact in the very next verse. Paul writes “The sting of death is sin….”
The sting of death is sin. We have to figure out what this means. Paul is saying, of course, that death stings the way it does because of sin. To put it a slightly different way, the fact that we feel the way we do about death points to a deeper reality about the universe. And that deeper reality is that the universe is tragically broken. In another place Paul writes, “sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.”
It’s good that we feel bad about death, then, in the same way that it’s good that it hurts if you injure your leg. If your leg didn’t hurt, you wouldn't know you injured it. The fact that we feel bad about death, points to the injury behind it, which is sin. So what does that mean? Does it mean that we swear too much? Well, maybe. But I think it’s really deeper than that.
Bear with me a moment. We notice at the very beginning of the Bible, it starts with “In the beginning, God….” God exists and nothing else. And then he says a word, and stuff other than God starts to exist. The world is related to God, in the same way a painting is related to an artist. The world is God’s. It’s his to organize and govern and order. And the first thing he says is “Have no other Gods but me.” “Love the Lord with all your heart.” He says, “I am the Lord! I will not give my glory to another.”
But the second true fact about the universe is that every single day, in my heart, I try to replace him. I behave as though I want my will and not God’s. I make my comfort into my god. Or maybe it’s money or success or the approval of my peers. But whatever it is, I try to worship something other than God.
And that’s what Paul means when he says “death came to all men because all sinned.” We all try every day to replace God with something or someone else. And we know that the wages of sin is death. So when we feel the pain of grief over death, it reminds us that death is ultimately unnatural—death only exists because the world is not working the way God designed it. Death exists because mankind wants to take God’s job away from him.
So don’t feel ashamed about being sad. Feeling sad about the death of a loved one is absolutely universal. And there is hope in the middle of all of this because God hasn’t left you alone. Paul says in the very next verse, “But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ”
God gives us victory through Jesus. The message of the Gospel is that even though the kingdom and power and glory belongs to God alone, and even though every day we try to replace God and worship other things—despite all of this, God shows us how much he loves us: Jesus died for us. He took that penalty that we deserved—death. And for anyone who looks to Jesus in faith, he grants them his own righteousness.
But it doesn’t stop there. In our reading it says that death is swallowed up in victory. We can have hope in the face of death because three days after Jesus died on the cross, he was raised. It was on the cross that God launched a final blow against the enemy called death. Elsewhere Paul writes, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” On the cross Jesus took on our sin—the cause of the world’s brokenness—and he crucified it. Then because he was Jesus—God’s own son, perfect in every way—God raised him from the dead. Sin’s curse was broken. And because he was raised, we can be confident that we too will be raised, if we are found in Jesus.
So it’s okay to mourn. It’s okay to mourn because the painfulness of death helps us understand that death is unnatural. We read that death is painful because of sin. And we find that the solution to death and sin is Jesus Christ.
And so the key—the essential question—is what does it mean to be found “in Jesus Christ?”
John 3:36 puts it this way, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him.” Jesus invites all who are weary and burdened to come to him, and he will give them rest.
What does it mean to be “in Jesus Christ?” It means first that we recognize our sinful brokenness—we confess that to God. We are without hope except for His mercy. Then we receive and rest on him alone for salvation—for rescue.
We all face the choice to continue walking our own way. We can disagree with God’s verdict on us, and we can try to continue to run our lives our own way. Or we can submit to Jesus as our ruler and rely and rest on his death and resurrection. The first way means that we’re still under death’s curse. But the second way means that we are completely forgiven by God, and we’re given eternal life.
If you choose the second way, you can ask with Paul, “Death, where is your sting? Where is your victory?” If you receive and rest in Jesus alone, then for you the sting of death is only temporary, and death has no victory at all.
It’s okay to be sad in light of Granny’s passing. It’s okay to mourn. Because the fact is that we can mourn like people who have hope. Jesus defeated death on the cross. He was raised. And so we can have confidence that if we trust in his forgiveness, we’ll be raised too.
I want you to know too, that if any of this strikes a chord in your heart, I would like to talk to you about it—please talk to me afterward. This truth has changed the world, and it has changed my life.
Date: 25 September 2012
Text: 1 Corinthians 15:50-58
Title: Death is swallowed up in victory
Location: Wells' Memorial Center, Plant City, FL
Event: Granny's Funeral