Raised from the Ashes: Lent-Day 10, In Memory of My Father

Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”

John 5:24

Read John 5:24-30


Lent-Day 9 had no post as I was officiating at my father’s funeral.

Day -10 is In Memory of my Father. Today’s devotion is the text of the funeral message I delivered yesterday, February 19, 2016 at the Church of the Brethren Newton, KS

Dad, me Christas 2015 cropped

Charles Wilson Riley 1928~2016

Death has been called the great equalizer. It comes to all; rich, poor, young, old – no one can escape death, or so it seems. But is that what Christ would have us to think on today? This idea that no one can escape death. I think not. I think Jesus Christ, the Lord of Life, would rather have us to dwell on life…life everlasting as the gospel calls it.

We have the very words of Jesus as a promise in the 11th chapter of John, that if we believe, we will actually never die. Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,  and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26) In fact, St. Paul has said, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:55). What incredible words! These are the thoughts we must consider today. We must consider them everyday, until they become our reality. Death is not the victor here, though it may seem as such for a while.

When death comes to our loved ones, as it did for my family this week, our perception of reality is challenged. Regardless of what we know or believe, the strong emotions of grief come over us, even overwhelm us… that is they come over us if we are honest with ourselves. I have known a few people in my life who seemed not to be phased by the death of a loved one; something I fear is not a healthy state of being. But as we reflect on death and life together this morning, let us consider our creation and what kind of being we are.

God has made us emotional beings who feel joy and sorrow, health and pain, hope and despair. But it remains for us, in the midst of such high and low feelings, to make sure we understand what God intends for us in such a time as this.

As a minister of the gospel, I am often called upon to do funerals…many times for people I didn’t know, who when death came to their family had no church home or pastor to lean on. And so it has become my honor to be the one who walks through the valley with them.

I have learned that it is precisely at that point in their life, that their greatest need is to be introduced to the love of Jesus, the one who loves them unconditionally, who desires to show them comfort and hope, not doom and despair, the one who is at work in ways we cannot see to accomplish their salvation, even as He is at work in the lives of all peoples. And God is at work in our lives today as well.

He desires to show us something today, something He has been teaching me the last several years. It’s really a quite profound theological truth. But, it’s so simple, too often we miss it, especially through our tears and grief.

And here it is…

In the gospel we heard, Jesus speaks of death as if it is but a door way we all must pass through. But for those who believe in Him it is a doorway to life everlasting, and NOT a doorway to judgment (Vs 24). You see we are already judged. We are all guilty of sin. None of us is perfect. But with faith in God our Father, through Jesus Christ, His son, we can have life, and not just life after death, but life here and now!

Verse 24 shows us the present reality of things for those who believe. Verse 25 tells us this is the hour in which we can be made alive forever. We don’t have to wait until we die to inherit eternal life. It is our present reality, even though the face of death tells us differently.

In chapter 11, we even hear the incredible words that those who believe in Jesus, never really die!

A wise man once said, “If you die before you die, then you will never die when you die”.

What an incredible thought!

I know, Hebrews 9 tells us it is appointed unto all once to die and then the judgment. But, Jesus is telling us not to fear that judgment. Those who believe already know what their verdict will be on that judgment day.

So just what does God intend for us here today, as we mourn the passing of a husband, a father, a friend?

I believe He intends for us to be honest with ourselves. Death hurts. It hurts like nothing else in this world! But, He intends to remind us that it is NOT our reality… if we believe. Scripture speaks of an eternal death, to be sure. But that is not for those who believe.

For God intends for those who believe to see life! He intends for us to believe!

My dad believed. My Mom believes. I pray all my family believes! I pray all of you believe!

And so I thank you for your presence here today to help my family grieve and mourn our loss.

But I leave you with the question Jesus asked of his friends as they stood beside the tomb of Lazarus. With tears Jesus wept at their sorrow, even as He does for us today, and He asks us… “Do you believe this?”

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