Summary: Because of Jesus, the death of a believer is not just a relief, it’s a victory!
Dear Friends and Family of Dennis, especially you, Darren, Michelle, and our dear Marion.
So, here we are. We knew this day would come. It was impossible not to track its progress as the cancer brought on crutches, then a wheelchair, and finally a bed – that crazy bed two inches too short for Dennis. After four years of watching your father, your husband battle cancer you are relieved that the fight is over. But as is evident in the verses you chose for the funeral today, Marion, you want us all to know that your relief, as well as Dennis’ relief, is not the relief Darren feels when an awful season by his Atlanta Braves mercifully comes to an end. Your relief (as is Michelle’s and Darren’s in this case) is more “exhilaration” because you believe that the death of a Christian means victory! You have every reason to believe this and to celebrate today because the Apostle Paul wrote: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). “…thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57).
“Outwardly wasting away…” That was Dennis. The cancer not only stole his mobility it siphoned off his energy. I remember how in the middle of a devotion once he suddenly felt so drained that he couldn’t hold his head up. But not wanting to lay down, he stacked four pillows on a TV tray so he could rest his head while continuing to sit on the edge of the bed. Dennis was intent on finishing the devotion that day, and for good reason for although he was outwardly wasting away, God inwardly renewed Dennis’ spirit day after day with his Word.
But how could God’s Word restore Dennis’ spirits? I mean these were to be the best years of his life. Wasn’t it cruel of God not to let Dennis enjoy his retirement, his children and grandchildren, and the company of his wife longer? Not at all, wrote the Apostle Paul. Troubles, especially life threatening troubles, are a blessing for believers. Paul said: “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17). As a knife cuts rope in two, God uses our troubles to sever and release us from this sin-filled world so that we can be with him in glory forever. Sure it hurts when those troubles are sawing away at us but when we keep an eternal perspective we can say with Paul that those troubles, no matter how difficult or how overbearing they may seem at the time, are in fact “light” because they are momentary, and because they lead to the glories of heaven. Yes, for a Christian even cancer is a minor inconvenience like having to go through customs before you can fly down to the Caribbean for vacation.
That sounds great but is it true? Dennis had that question. A couple days before his passing he wondered out loud if God would accept him into heaven. That’s why the last verse you chose from 1 Corinthians is so comforting, Marion. Paul wrote: “…thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57). How could Dennis, how can you and I be certain that upon death, heaven is our destination? It’s simple. Your future depends on the past – not your past, His past. “Thanks be to God for the victory!” Paul exclaimed, not “Thanks be to me!” If our future depended on our past, there is no way the Apostle Paul would have ever made it to heaven. After all at one time he had been a persecutor of God’s people. Don’t feel as if you’ve been as bad? Would you mind then if we sent a couple of investigative reporters to dig in your past and report back to us? What would they find? Shady business dealings? An illicit relationship? Broken promises? What if the investigator was God? What would he find as he started digging in your heart? What kind of despicable thoughts have you buried there hoping no one will ever find out what kind of person you really are? The thing is God already knows about these sins and that’s why we don’t have a chance of making it to heaven – not based on our past. Dennis knew this. He was honest about it. That’s why he wondered whether the door to heaven would be open to him.