by Ray Haynes
Funerals are so agonizing. They’re sad, confusing, and so absolute. My Dad died unexpectedly when I was ten years old, and there was just no way for me as a young boy to wrap my mind around such finality. I avoided funerals for six years until one of my best friends, Paul was struck and killed by a drunk driver.
A year before, Paul had convinced me and my best friend Jim to go with him to a Jesus Festival, where we were both saved. Paul was a few years older than us, and that summer he and a few close friends focused most of their time and evangelism on us. It was no easy task since we both thought we were already saved. But they were the kind of friends that become closer than family almost immediately. We never felt judged, just challenged and loved. It was the time of the Jesus Movement, and God was so near. The festival was the perfect place for us and we traded our religion in and found Jesus; forty years later that fire still burns bright.
Jim and I returned to that same festival the next Summer where we received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. Paul couldn’t join us because he was starting his freshman year of college. We helped him move and then headed across the state to the festival. Paul was hand in hand with his fiancée crossing a street when a speeding car careened toward them. Paul had just enough time to push her to safety. We returned from the festival on a spiritual high only to come crashing down as we stood beside Paul’s hospital bed where he lay in a coma. We prayed for weeks, as his parents struggled to come to terms with unplugging a now ineffective ventilator. Their strong faith was shaken and eventually, they bid their son goodbye this side of heaven.
It was a funeral I could not avoid, no matter how painful. Jim and I were pallbearers, and it was painful but comforting to commit him to the Kingdom that he helped us discover. Paul’s family and fiancée spent years grieving his loss and trying to understand God’s will. Eventually his father attended seminary and became a Pastor far away in another state. It was a new vision along with new surroundings, but his joy and peace were still shaken. He was able to reconcile his grief with his faith in the God who was always good, and still sovereign in the worst of times. But everything changed for everyone. Funerals just tend to do that.
Despite my many experiences with grief, I can’t imagine how the friends of Jesus endured such confusion and agony. This time of year, we remember the death of Jesus, the price He paid for us to know Him, and the emotional roller coaster His friends experienced because they expected Him to stay dead.
There were probably many unexpected funerals after the cross, as people tried to come to terms with what they never expected. The Roman guards found themselves trembling in terror as they discovered they had killed the Son of God. A few brave Disciples sat silently at His grave in shock, still covered in the blood of their Messiah after carrying His bloody body from the cross to the tomb.
Days later, the Apostles refused to believe their testimonies of the resurrection, “because their words seemed to them like nonsense” and hid terrified behind locked doors until the risen Jesus literally crashed their private wake.
One key funeral occurred a week earlier. Lazarus had fallen ill, died, and lay entombed for days without so much as a visit from his best friend Jesus. The neglect seemed so out of place, so when Jesus finally did arrive, Martha’s response was, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Others said, “Could not He who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” Jesus limited His explanation to, “Lazarus, come out!”
The funeral that turned into a celebration should have infused their faith, but the realities of life always snuff out that hope. Lazarus was alive, but not forever. There would be another funeral in the years to come. We all want to get past the grief of loss, and funerals are supposed to help, but they all end while the tears, loneliness, and emptiness do not.
Just a few days after celebrating the miracle of Lazarus, the Disciples accompanied Jesus to Gethsemane to pray, but this night He didn’t act or sound like Himself. “He said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death… He fell with His face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.” Matthew 26
Why would God say those words? Why was the God who had no limits, who created and sustained all things, and made all the rules suddenly telling Himself, “no” as He sweated drops of blood? This was God’s funeral, dying to Himself, because He had no intention of staying in the grave. Of all the funerals, it was the most important. There was grief, there was sorrow, and there were tears of blood. But most of all there was truth. The truth that sets free.
Every morning I pray with King David, “But let all who take refuge in You be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love Your name may rejoice in You. Surely, Lord, You bless the righteous; You surround them with Your favor as with a shield.”
We all want to be free from sadness, lack, fear, and the things we can’t change. It has been God’s favor over my life that helped develop in me the faith that makes me stand. When I pray and the answer never comes, it still shakes me. As a
When we pray, why does God sometimes tell us no, or we hear nothing at all as if He is not speaking? Is it possible that down deep inside of us, we are really asking God for what we believe He owes us? Are we saying, “We did what You said You wanted us to do, and Your Word promised that You would [provide this…heal that…help us to…etc…], so where is our reward?”
God promised David, “I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed.” Jesus promised His Disciples, “My Father’s house has many rooms…I am going there to prepare a place for you.” We all search for a place, not realizing that we are really trying to get what we want, to make our own way. Ironically, the Hebrew word for “place” also means “to stir up trouble”.
Is the reason we trip and fall into sin because we feel God owes us something and we desire that thing, so we do what is needed to get what we have been deprived of? Are we looking for a feeling, a pleasure, something that we deserve? Are we thinking like Eve, “It will do me good?” Do we believe that if it’s good, then it must also be God’s will, therefore, He must grant it? Are we confusing faith with temptation?
But each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death… He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all He created. James 1
Do we have a King in our lives leading us or are we looking for a place? Do we think our actions ensure that “God will do us good?” Have we fallen into the trap of thinking that the means and motivation aren’t as important as the end? Is our life or ministry a means to an end? Has God become a means to an end for us? Are we so confident that we are “saved by grace”, that journeying obediently “through faith” is no longer necessary? Are Salvation and Heaven the end, and Jesus just a means to get to it?
Jesus left Heaven, not to find a place, but to make a place for us to be near to His Father. So, when God judges sin and casts it into the Lake of Fire, will our life be free of sin, or will we be clinging tightly to sin while only reflecting the appearance of true religion? Are we living so that our lives, while suffering or rejoicing, might give Him glory? Are we His reward or are we still looking for a place for us?
These are all questions capable of exposing the dead man living within us. And the most redemptive funeral is the one where God tells us, “No” to the demands of our old man, and we say, “Not as I will, but as You will.”
Recognizing the necessity for