Summary: Focus on Jesus and his promise of heaven.
Where is your focus when you ride a bike? Do you focus on what’s behind you? No. Do you focus on what’s to your right or left? Not unless you’re crossing an intersection, and even then you just glance to the sides before moving forward. So do you focus on the pavement directly in front of you? No, not even there because if you do, you won’t have time to avoid obstacles that will seemingly pop up out of nowhere. When you ride a bike, you focus on what’s down the road a ways so you can to pick the safest route forward.
We’ll see that’s also what Abraham did in this our last sermon of our “Journey of Faith” series. Abraham did not live in the past, nor did he get lost in the present. He lived for the future and focused on what was ahead. This forward-looking faith showed itself in the way that Abraham handled his wife’s funeral arrangements, and his son’s marriage. Let’s see what we can learn for our journey of faith.
Last week we heard about the test of faith God gave Abraham when he commanded him to sacrifice Isaac. Abraham was about 115 years old then. When he turned 137, his wife Sarah died. After a period of mourning, Abraham went to the people in whose land he was living to ask for a place to bury Sarah. Abraham didn’t want to rent space in someone else’s burial cave, he wanted a place of his own. So he purchased the cave of Machpelah, in present-day Hebron, and placed Sarah in a tomb there.
What’s so noteworthy about that? Well, it was an expression of faith. You see, whenever Abraham set up his tent after making another move, he might have looked at the ground he was driving his tent peg into and said, “I have no deed to this property nor will I ever have one. But my descendants will own it. They will play a role in God’s plan to give everyone on earth the right to live in God’s permanent home in heaven.” So instead of returning to Haran 650 km to the north where his family still lived and placing Sarah in a family burial chamber there, Abraham helped his descendants stay on track with God’s plan of one day populating the Promised Land. (Robert Koester) He focused on what was ahead by purchasing a burial plot in Canaan.
This act was not lost on Abraham’s descendants. When Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, was about to die, he gave instructions about his burial place. At that time he was in Egypt where his son Joseph was that second most important official in the land. Jacob no doubt could have been buried in an elaborate tomb the Egyptians were good at building. But he chose the humble cave of Machpelah in Canaan (Genesis 49:29-32) because he knew Canaan was his real home (Robert Koester). And then when Jacob’s son Joseph was ready to die he told his relatives: “God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up from this place” (Genesis 50:25). 400 years later that’s exactly what Moses did. Even with the Egyptian army bearing down on him, he carried out the coffin containing Joseph’s bones (Exodus 13:19). It was hauled around the wilderness for 40 years until it was finally interned in Shechem, on land Joseph’s father had purchased before coming to Egypt (Joshua 24:32).
While we have no command from God about where to choose for our burial place, I would like to encourage you to follow Abraham’s example of making it clear how you want your funeral to be arranged. In the last twenty or thirty years, funeral homes have encouraged people to have a “celebration of life” when they die. Such a “celebration” is a look into the past, a time filled with pictures and memories of the person when they were still alive. Now there is nothing wrong with discussing a person’s past. It is a way to remember all the blessings God gave to us through that individual, but don’t let that overshadow the Christian funeral. Make it clear to your loved ones that you want God’s Word of comfort spoken at your funeral. The focus of the funeral should be Jesus and not you! The songs that you pick should encourage your family and friends in their walk with Jesus, not distract from it. And if you feel that a eulogy should be shared during the fellowship time after the service, pick someone you know will continue to give a Christian witness about the truth that you’re in heaven, not because you were a good person, but because you have a great savior! Help all those who come to your funeral to focus on what’s ahead, not close their eyes to it because they’re uncomfortable talking about death.