Friday, August 10, 2012


We hear them during times of tragedy. We speculate over them when our minds get wandering. We use them to comfort each other at imes of death and loss. They are euphemisms about our life to come in heaven. We are well-meaning when saying that a love-one is “in a better place” or that “God has made another angel.” But, what lies behind these euphemisms? Even non-believers, even atheists speak in such ways to console themselves. I suppose that a motivation arises from reading the apostle Paul’s admission in Philippians 1:23. “I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” The distinction, though, comes to concreteness. The apostle Paul knew where his eternal life lie after his death. He wrote his letter to the Philippians mostlikely from a jail cell. AS shackles bit into his wrists, or at least bound him to one place, he dictated the epistle to a secretary—as he was carried along by the Holy Spirit. When we say that someone who dies goes to “a better place,” we speak in generalities. We speak from a human perspective in that the deceased no long feels weakness, pain, or unneeded sadness. The apostle John writes in Revelation 21:1-4 that heaven holds such blessing for us who trust in Jesus, our One and Only Savior from sin. The apostle Peter says that in Christ we hope and, though we do not yet see Him we love Him. And, the reality of eternal life gives us unmeasurable joy. (1 Peter 1:3-10) We Christians do not rest of merely on the things someone has doen or their glittery personality as signs of their post humus entry into heaven. We rest on the confession of faith that our brother or sister in Christ expressed. (Rom. 4:5, 4:16-17, 10:8-10) Our works follow faith—saving trust in God leaps forth in fervent love for people God Himself puts in our daily lives and vocations. (Phil. 2:12-13) I submit to you that we cannot console the firend or relative of an nonbeliever that he/she who has died is “in a better place.” They aren’t. They won’t be if, indeed, their trust was in something or someone else than Jesus Christ as Savior from sin. See Matt. 25:41ff) So, what message do we bring to someone who unbelieving relative or friend has died? It’s plain and simple. There’s no better time than at a funeral or memorial service to trumpet the hope of the resurrection from the dead. For we read in the Small Catechism that Christ “will reaise me and and all the dead and will eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.” Death—through sickness, tragedy, or “natural causes” becomes the perfect time to confess concreteness amid our condolences, not speculation. It amazes me, though, that amid well-intended statements of consolation, some really bad theology can rip forth from our mouths. Now, here, I’m not going to spend a lot of time tearing open my least favorite phrase, namely, that someone “passes away.” Scripture does not speak in these terms. Death is death. When a Christian dies, his/her soul goes to heaven to await our Lord’s return when He will restore all creation—including our physical bodies—to their innocent state, apart from sin. Judged by their lack of trust in Christ alone, the souls of unbelievers go to hell. (See Luke 16) To say that someone “passes away” puts a vagueness to death. WE don’t speak this way when someone dies in battle or is murdered or loses their life in a car crash. Again, I’m not doubting our well-intended hope to comfort the bereaved. I’m simply saying we need to choose wisely those statement with which we comfort and encourage the bereaved. We Christians have our faith founded and grounded in the concreteness of Chrsit Jesus. He didn’t just poof us into His kingdom or even give us the choice to “welcome Him into our hearts.” No, He created faith in our hearts through His Word. That’s why baptize infants. Faith is already there. And, in the case of adult “converts,” Baptism is still the seal and sign of faith’s creation. WE don’t just pass away when we die. No, in life or death, we Christian remain the Lord’s. (Rom. 14:7-9) Does that mean that we don’t become angels? That’s right. When we die, our souls wait in eager expectation for our Lord to restore our physical bodies when He comes again in His glory. We won’t be angels. We’ll be fully human, as He created us to be. Let’s take a look at a few verses from the Bible to this effect. First, Luke 24:36-43: “As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” But they were startled and frightened andthought they saw a spirit. And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling,he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them.” Now, you may say, “Yeah, but that’s Jesus.” You’re right. It’s Jeuss. He is true God and true man, God the Son incarnate. He retained His human nature even when He ascended into heaven. We don’t see Him, but He promises to be with us always. (Matt. 28:20) He gives us His body and blood in His Supper. (1 Cor. 11:23-25) And, every eyes will see Him at His return. (Matt. 25:31ff, Zech. 12:10, Rev. 1:7-8) Secondly, let’s look at 1 Corinthians 15:20-23. “But in factChrist has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death,by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” Our Lord Jesus has gone ahead of us in being rasied from the dead. AS Rom. 6:9-10 says, He now no more can die because He once died once for all. The seed sown in the ground grows to be a fertile plant. But, it’s not something different in its substance than it was before. It’s just changed. So, also, our Lord will change our mortal bodies into immortal ones, our perishable, broken bodies into imperishable whole ones. In fact, Rom. 8:18-23 tells that the whole creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. So, when our Lord recreates all things into His new heaven and a new earth, He will make everything living to have its own body, even as we all have our own now. Thirdly, we look at Colossians 2:18-20. “Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, andnot holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.” Instead of regarding those who die as becoming angels or entering some “higher” existence, Holy Scripture urges us to avoid such fascinations. Angels are, themselves, created beingsj. Rev. 12 tells us that Satan took some of them from heaven when he was cast out. To ascribe angelic or divine qualities to someone who has died is nothing short of idolatry, no matter well-intended the condolence. Earlier, Col. 2 bids us not to pay attention to hollow, deceptive philosophies…mysths. For Christ who is our One and Only Savior from sins, death and hell truly assumed our human nature except without sin. Everything He experienced in His ministry here, He experienced bearing our feelings, emotions, hunger, thirst, etc. When He ascended, He didn’t just vaporize and go away. The cloud, says Acts 1, hid him from the appostles’ sight. The angels who appeared soon thereafter promised that Christ would return as He went away. WE take comfort in a real, risen Jesus who is both God and man in one Christ. He comfots us with the assurance that He goes to prepare a place for us. (John 14:1-6) That way, He can take us to be where He is. We will be fully human, as God first intended us to be when He first created the world and everything in it. Fourthly, we turn to Deuteronomy 18:13-15. “You shall be blameless before theLord your God, for these nations, which you are about to dispossess, listen to fortune-tellers and to diviners. But as for you, the Lord your God has not allowed you to do this. “TheLord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen—….I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.”” The practice of pagan nations which the Lord gave into Israel’s hands to conquer was to listen to “spirits” from the dead. We today call this informally or formally listening to séances. Now, to be sure, most of us know well that such a thing is pure idolatry. We can avoid the obvious divinations and spells and other tricks of our old evil foe, the devil. Yet, where do we have trouble during times of loss and tragedy? Someone may have told us that they “hear voices” from “the other side,” family members or people otherwise welcoming them to the life beyond this world. I am not doubting such occurrences. I’m only saying that we need to be careful. Only one voice is enough for us to hear—be it from the lips of our pastor, afriend, or fmailiy member. That is the voice proclaiming comfort and care from God’s word. We are confident that relatives and friends who die in the faith are with Christ and at peace. Yet, no where in Holy Scripture dos our Lord give us to listen to people who have preceded us into paradise. Now, you may wonder how Jesus was able ot hear the voice of His and our heavenly Father while HJe ministered visbly here. First, God the Father isn’t dead. Second of all, the fullness of the Deity dwelt in Christ bodily. (Col. 2:9) Thirdly, the Father spoke in ways that were, at times audible, at Jesus’ Baptism, on the Mount of Transfiguration, etc. Speaking of th eMOunt Of Transfiguration, that is where our Lord spoke with Moses and Elijah. (Mark 9:2-9) Elijah, as we remember from 2 Kings 2, did not die. God took Him in his body to heaven. Moses did die, but in this case, God permitted him to appear on the mountain’s peak. We are forbidden to go seeking out voices and visions in the twighlight—or any other tiem of our lives. WE do well to take comfort as Christians in the same thing Jesus told His disciples when they talked about the demons they cast out. “Rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10) Okay, then, with all this said, how then do we console, comfort, and encourage others during a time of grief and loss? We have looked at several assurances Holy Scripture delivers to us. Besides, these, Jesus gives us the manner of His emotional reaction at the tomb of Lazarus before reaising him back to life. (John 11:35) “Jesus wept.” Likewise, we too weep and grieve even as we hold onto the hope our Lord gives us. (1 Thes. 4:13-14) For Jesus is the resurrection and the life. And, He promises to raise up on the Last Day. (John 11:25, 6;40) AS we grieve with others, we sit often in the quiet, listening to them. WE may share a story or two of how our dead friend or relative touched our lives. I’ve been in funeral homes where a couple of my uncles broke a momentary silence with a quip about my grandpa’s occasional humor. Yet, the comfort our Lord Jesus gives us remains our consolation and help when we stand with others in times of tragedy, loss, and death. (2 Cor. 1:3-5, Heb. 13:20)

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