We come here today as family and friends because an awful event has taken place in our lives. There are other times when we come together for different reasons than grieving. There are times when we gather to rejoice. We celebrate birthdays, holidays, and marriages together. But today we come together to grieve. We might not grieve as those who have no hope, but we still grieve. We might recognize that the Lord Jesus Christ has conquered the grave, but we still weep just as he did at the graveside of his friend Lazarus whom he loved. Death is immediately a cause for sorrow, and not for rejoicing. We are saddened by the death of a loved one, and in a moment like this we come together in order to grieve.
My earliest memories of my Grandfather are some of the most pleasant memories of my childhood. When I reflect on what I knew of my Grandfather I think of cooking and seafood, coon dogs and John [Doe], horses and wagon rides, boats and Smith Mountain Lake, puppies and playfulness. My Grandfather loved animals, and he loved children. These are some of the things I will remember about him, along with his kindness, his humor, and his smile. The rest of you have your own memories about my Grandfather, and I encourage you to stir them up over the course of the day and to share them with one another. We loved him, and he loved us, and he will be missed. We are blessed with the part that he played in each of our lives, and we thank God for all of these things while recognizing God as their source.
I want to begin today by talking about another man who was born in North Carolina; a man named Billy Graham. Graham is known as a great evangelist who has pointed many to Jesus Christ. But there were times when Graham’s life was plagued by uncertainties and doubt. In the summer of 1949 Graham’s close friend and companion, Chuck Templeton, pressed Graham on his beliefs, insisting that Graham was outdated and simplistic because he still accepted the Bible as the inspired Word of God. Templeton, by the way, later went on to reject the Christian faith and profess atheism. Disturbed by Templeton’s words, Graham retreated to his room and read every verse of Scripture he could think of concerning the Bible being the very Word of God. He thought about how Jesus had constantly quoted Scripture, never once giving a hint that its words might not be true. Burdened by the question of whether or not he could trust the Bible, Graham took a walk through a moonlit forest, and falling on his knees, he set his Bible before him on a stump. He cried out, “O God! There are many things in this book I do not understand. There are many problems with it for which I have no solution. There are many seeming contradictions. There are some areas in it that do not seem to correlate with modern science. I can’t answer some of the philosophical and psychological questions Chuck and others are raising…Father, I am going to accept this as Thy Word – by faith! I’m going to allow faith to go beyond my intellectual questions and doubts, and I will believe this to be Your inspired Word.”
Now, when I first learned of this event in the life of Billy Graham, I thought his response to his friend’s objections was misguided, at best. I felt Graham had committed a sort of intellectual suicide, and I decided to openly criticize him during lunch one Sunday afternoon. This is where my Grandpa comes back into the story, because no sooner had I finished expressing my disappointment with Graham than my Grandpa broke his usual silence and raised his voice to say, as though personally offended at my words, “Boy! You’re not supposed to have all the answers; you’re supposed to preach the Word of God!” So here I stand today at my Grandpa’s funeral – and I don’t have all the answers. But I do have the Word of God, and I know that my Grandpa wanted me to preach from it here today.
The Bible is actually a collection of over 60 books, written by over 40 authors, during a span of over 1500 years. Yet there is an internal consistency and a depth to the Bible that is unmatched by any other book in the world, religious or otherwise, because not one text of Scripture was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1.21) Scripture speaks of the many acts of God. God created the universe and then cursed his creation in response to humanity’s sin. But God promised to redeem his creation, and one day he will restore it. Thus the Bible teaches us about Creation, Curse, Redemption, and Restoration. The Bible has many themes, but its one main unifying theme is the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The first book of the Bible is Genesis. Genesis tells us that in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, and he created man, male and female, in the image of God. God blessd them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1.28) And it was very good. (Genesis 1.31) And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. (Genesis 2.7-9) The two trees in the garden were real trees, but they represent something much deeper. The tree of life represents life in its greatest possible form; eternal life with God, and nearness to God. When you think about the tree of life, think about eternal life with God.
The tree of knowledge represents prohibition. You may remember that the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2.16-17)
Adam and Eve did not listen to God’s warning. A curse was on its way, for the serpent was craftier than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
God responded by cursing the serpent and promising that one day, the offspring of the woman would crush the head of the serpent. Since Adam and Eve failed to govern creation the way that God intended, God cursed the ground as well, turning it against the man and the woman so that there would be pain in childbearing and in work. God explained that just as the first man was made from the dust of the earth, so we will all return to dust.
Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life. (Genesis 3.1-24)
That is the sad story of the Fall of humanity. Every one of us since then has followed in the footsteps of Adam and Eve, and we have reaped the consequences. We live in a fallen world. Horrible things happen here. There are car wrecks and sickness and heartache and death. The results of the fall are not limited to nature. The Bible teaches that all of us have sinned and come short of the glory of God. Sin is the transgression of the law of God. It is disobeying God by breaking his commandments. All of us have done wrong. Scripture is clear about this, and we know it from experience as well. All of us face the consequences of our sin, and one of those consequences is death. There is none righteous; no, not one. Not even my Grandfather has a righteousness of his own. Today we are reminded of the consequences of our sin since we are in the presence of someone we once knew who is no longer alive. We are reminded of death itself, and of the curse that was put into place because of our sin. The death of [my Grandfather] is not an anomaly; one day we will all be like he is now. The Bible is clear that “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” (Hebrews 9.27) One day we will each have our own bodies placed into a coffin like his.
Not only is his death not an anomaly, but likewise his sin is not an anomaly. Scripture does not hide the fact that I am a sinner, you are a sinner, and my Grandfather was a sinner in desperate need of a Savior, and that Savior is Jesus Christ the Lord. Our hope today does not rest in my Grandfather’s goodness, but in the goodness of the Savior. We can be thankful that my Grandfather professed faith in the Savior. Nobody – not him, not you, and not me – is good enough to get to heaven through good thoughts or actions. Good works do not save. Nobody is that good. Listen to what the Bible says about it.
Whoever keeps the whole law of God but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.
You see, God’s law is based upon who God is. The law of the Lord is good, because God is good. Since all of us here have broken at least one of God’s commands, we are held legally guilty before God for having broken all of God’s commands. Scripture reinforces this point in the book of Galatians when it says,
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. (Galatians 3.10-14)
God has provided a way out for us through his Son Jesus Christ. There is redemption in Jesus, the forgiveness of our sins! Early on in the Bible we are told that anyone who is hanged on a tree is cursed. God cursed his creation in the beginning because of humanity’s sin. He subjected the creation to futility. Then God gave his people his commandments to follow, but they could not. They found that relying on the law is a curse. But when the fullness of time had come, God the Father sent forth his Son Jesus to die on a cross for our sins – a cross made of wood – wood from a tree. And the law of God says, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.” Jesus was hanged on a tree and became a curse for us. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. (John 1.29) He is the promised offspring of the woman who through his death on the cross crushed the head of the serpent, Satan. He is King of kings, and Lord of lords.
Here is what the Gospel of Luke tells us happened while Jesus was on the cross.
Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with Jesus. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified Jesus, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.
And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!”
The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wineand saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!”
There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”
One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!”
But the other criminal rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Notice that Jesus tells the criminal he will be with him in Paradise.
Genesis, the very first book of the Bible, told us about the tree of life. We were cut off from it by our sin when the first humans disobeyed God by eating from the tree of knowledge. But there is a third tree in this story. When Jesus took on the curse for us on the cross, he opened the door to Paradise. He told the criminal, today you will be with me in Paradise. This brings us all the way to the last book of the Bible, Revelation, where Jesus says, “To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of God.” (Revelation 2.7) Scripture comforts us with the truth that Christ Jesus will bring about the restoration of those who trust in him, and the restoration of creation in the form of a new heaven and a new earth. The Bible told us about Creation, Curse, Redemption, and now Restoration. Here is how the book of Revelation describes it.
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. (Revelation 22.1-5) Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. “I, Jesus, have sent my messenger to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price. (Revelation 22.14-17)
Some of us here today will stare into the face of death and immediately take comfort in thoughts of heaven, but death is not the gateway to heaven. Death is not the way to heaven, and we cannot take comfort in thinking about heaven if we are not going there. There is no hope for anyone here if Jesus Christ was not crucified on a cross for our sins, buried, and raised again on the third day in accordance with the Scripture. Our only hope in this life and for the life to come is Christ crucified, buried, and raised again. Jesus is the resurrection and the life; none come to the Father but by him. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. If there were no Gospel, then there would be no hope for us today. Yet we know that God loved the world in this way; he sent Jesus into this world to die on the cross for our sins, that all of those believing on him will not die eternally but will have everlasting life. Death is not the way to heaven; faith is. You can smile at the thought of heaven, but you will not experience it if you do not have faith. It does not matter how many good deeds you think you have performed or how well you think you have performed them; if you rely on your works to save you then you are still under a curse, because the Bible says that anyone who does not do everything that God has given us to do is cursed. None of us is seen by God as righteous because of our goodness. Not even My Grandfather is seen as good in God’s eyes because of his own goodness. Our goodness and our righteousness are found in Christ. The Bible says,
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
The righteous live by faith. We are told all the way back in Genesis that Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness. Today you can believe God and it will be credited to you as righteousness. If you do not have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ who perfectly obeyed God in his life and in his death then you do not have life. There is no hope for you unless you repent and trust Jesus Christ. You must turn from your sins and live. If you come to Christ Jesus, then he will not cast you out.
If you are here today and you are not in Christ, then I would urge you to come to him now. Confess your sins to him, turn from your sins, and live. Place your faith, your hope, and your trust in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. We rejoice today that my Grandfather professed that he knows the Lord, and that it is not his own goodness which secures his salvation, but the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ which is imputed to him through faith. If you have not placed your faith in Christ Jesus, then you do not have any hope now, and you will not have any hope when you find yourself facing death as my Grandfather did. Please find someone to talk to if you have questions or want to know more about the Gospel and how you too can have peace with God and the hope of resurrection.
I started out by saying that this is a gathering for grieving, but those of us who know Christ Jesus know as well that we have hope and comfort in the Gospel. We certainly grieve. There is nothing wrong with feeling the loss of death. Yet we grieve as those who have hope. I would like to leave you with what the Apostle Paul wrote to this effect.
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. (1 Thessalonians 4.13-14)
Billy Graham, Just As I Am
Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology