How Are You? 

How Are You

Note: This week our guest contributor is Marie Sweezer, a wife and mother of two living children. She and her husband Jordan lost their daughter, Katherine (Katie) Grace, shortly after she was born on June 15, 2018 at 37 weeks. I recently visited them and was so blessed by this couple’s testimony, who, even as their newborn daughter was dying could say by God’s grace, “No matter what happens, God is good.” This is their version of Job’s confession: “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21).

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Marie & Jordan Sweezer with thier baby Katie

Marie and Jordan Sweezer holding their baby Katie, who went to be with her Lord, 7 1/2 hours after she was born. 

How are you? That question can be at times so hard to answer right now. When someone asks me how I am, (and I can see in their eyes how much they care) I find myself just wanting to cry because, honestly, I’m overwhelmed with so many emotions.

Encountering mothers that are pregnant, or were pregnant with me and have babies now, looking at photos of new babies, hearing announced pregnancies, seeing my c-section scar, feeling the pain of my incision when I do too much, and having milk come down and leak thru my shirt are just some of the reminders that I don’t have my daughter.

I cry and hurt because I miss my baby girl. It’s hard and so very painful at times. And I believe there will always be a certain sadness about losing my baby as long as I live. However, I am putting my trust in the Lord, knowing that He is in complete control. But grief is still a real thing. To grieve doesn’t mean you aren’t a strong person, or not a believer. Even our Lord Jesus Christ wept (John 11:35). And contrary to popular opinion, there is no time limit on grief, or even really a “cycle” that every person goes through that loses a loved one. Everyone is different; and so, everyone will grieve differently.

I have found myself having such good days when honestly I can say my daughter’s name, or hear it. Doing this just puts a smile on my face. Then I have days where the mere thought of her, or just the sight of a newborn baby brings me to my knees, crying my eyes out. Everyday is different. Psalm 42 I think describes the feelings I have so well: the feeling of sadness but also the felling of joy which can only be found in Christ alone. This passage is such a beautiful chapter. I encourage you to read it; and read it in different translations to get the full grasp of what the psalmist is describing.

Marie & Jordan Sweezer with thier baby

Marie and Jordan Sweezer holding their precious baby

These past few weeks after losing Katie, many mothers, who have lost children shortly after birth, have connected with me. I encourage you, if you are one of those mothers, to continue to look to Christ. When you feel those tears coming on, when you get those feelings of anger and frustration, PRAY, PRAY, and PRAY. Prayer is such an amazing thing. Our loving God hears our cries to Him! We are to pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17) and to be constantly filling our minds with the things of God (Phil. 4:8). What I learned recently which I found to be so encouraging is that the word “comfort” actually means “strength” in Latin.

As a believer in Christ, what is your only comfort in life and in death, or what is your only strength in life and in death? The answer is: “that I am not my own, but belong body and soul, in life and in death to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him” (Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 1).

I encourage you that no matter what you are facing in this life, look to Christ for strength. He is our strength. He loves and takes care of His people. It’s in Him only that true comfort lies.  “He heels the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds” (Ps. 147:3).

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Death Family Father Mother

Who Crucified Jesus? The Romans, the Jews, You and I, or His Father?          

So, who really killed Jesus?

1. Was it the Romans?

Let’s find out the answer in God’s Word. In Matthew 27:35 we read, “And when they [that is, the Roman soldiers] had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots.” From this verse we learn that the Romans crucified Jesus. In fact, crucifixion was a Roman way of punishing a criminal. In the eyes of the Romans, Jesus was a criminal. That’s why they crucified him.

The Romans led Jesus to a place called Golgotha which means Place of a Skull (Matt. 27:31-33). They set up the cross and hung Jesus there. They pounded the nails through his hands and feet. They pierced his side. They were the ones who murdered the Son of God.

2. Was it the Jews?

In Acts 2 Peter delivers a sermon on the day of Pentecost, addressing the people of Israel. And Peter says to them, “Men of Israel…Hear these words…this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (vv. 22-23). In other words, Peter is telling the Jews that they were responsible for the crucifixion and death of Jesus.

Indeed, it was the Jews who put Jesus to death. As Paul confirms in 1 Thessalonians 2:14-15, “For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets.”

3. Was it you and I?

Paul tells us that we “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 3:23; 6:23).  Thus you and I should have been the ones to be crucified on the cross, for we are the ones who sinned against God. Oh, but Jesus took our place!

Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
in my place condemned he stood,
sealed my pardon with his blood:
Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Imagine, Jesus died in our place as a substitutionary sacrifice to make atonement for our sin, so that through him we might receive a complete remission of all our sins (Eph. 5:2; Heb. 9:22; 1 Pet. 3:18).

Nevertheless, let’s not forget that it was our sin that sent Jesus to the cross. It is in this sense that we crucified Jesus. The German hymnodist Johann Heermann (1585-1647) puts it well in his hymn entitled “Ah, Dearest Jesus, How Hast Thou Offended”:  

Ah, dearest Jesus, how hast Thou offended,
That man to judge Thee hath in hate pretended?
By foes derided, by Thine own rejected,
O most afflicted.

Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon Thee?
Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone Thee.
’Twas I, Lord, Jesus, I it was denied Thee!
I crucified Thee.

4. Was it His Father?

Let’s read Acts 2:23 again, “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite [determinate] plan  and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.”

Notice that Jesus died according to the determined and foreknown plan of God. That means that His death was not an accident but was part of God’s eternal decree. Jesus was not a victim in the hands of the Romans, or Jews, or in our hands. No! His death was planned by his Father from eternity past. Therefore, ultimately it was God the Father who delivered up Jesus to death, as Romans 8:32 explains, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all [or handed him over to death].”

So, who crucified Jesus? Who crushed him to death? His Father did! Listen to Prophet Isaiah, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities…. Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him” (Isa. 53:4-5, 10).

One time a confused atheist said to me, “Do you really believe that it was God who killed His own Son?” “Yes” was my reply.  “Why would God do that to His Son?” he added. I simply answered, “He did not spare His Son, so that He could spare me.”

Commenting on Romans 8:32, John Piper states so beautifully, “Just as Abraham lifted the knife over the chest of his son Isaac, but then spared his son because there was a ram in the thicket, so God the Father lifted the knife over the chest of his own Son, Jesus — but did not spare him, because he was the ram; he was the substitute. God did not spare his own Son, because it was the only way he could spare us.”

Conclusion

So, who killed Jesus? The Romans did; the Jews did; you and I did; and, His Father did. Yet, while this is true, we can also say that no one really took His life, because He gave his life voluntarily. Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd…and I lay down my life for the sheep…I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again” (John 10:14-18).

Yes, it was God the Father who ultimately brought His Son to Calvary, but His Son went there voluntarily. The Son of God willingly agreed to die on the cross for the salvation of those whom God had chosen from eternity past (Eph. 1:4-5).

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

Oh, what a love! Jesus lay down his life for us, so that we might live with Him forever. My fellow believers in Christ, if you ever doubt whether Jesus loves you or not, look back to Calvary and survey the wondrous cross, and don’t stop surveying it until you exclaim,

Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

 

 

 

 

Cross Death Gospel

Six Truths about Sickness

You will experience sickness at some point in your life. You might have a bad cold, fever, incurable disease, chronic ailment, or terminal illness like cancer. And since sickness is a part of our existence, understanding it properly is of great importance. Therefore, in this post we will examine what the Bible teaches about illness.A-mother-with-a-sick-chil-001

1. Sickness is a consequence of original sin; and in this sense, sickness is a punishment from God for sin.

In Genesis 2:17 God commanded Adam not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for in the day that he eats of it he shall surely die. Adam disobeyed God. And the moment he sinned, his body started dying. His body became subject to illness. God punished Adam for his sin. If Adam had not sinned, there would be no death, there would be no sickness.

Hence the presence of sickness shows the reality of sin in this world. Sickness exists because sin does. In the new heaven and new earth there will be no sickness because there will be no sin (Rev. 21:4). Sickness is a sad reminder of the fall of Adam, our federal representative. It is one of the effects of original sin.

 

2. Your sickness may be a consequence of your personal sin; and in this sense, your sickness is a chastisement from the Lord.

In James 5:14-15 the author asks, “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him…And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.” Here it is possible that the person is sick because of particular sin in his life. Writing to the Corinthian church, Paul proclaims,

27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died (1 Cor. 11:27-30).

Notice the connection between sickness and sin here. Many members of the Corinthian church are sick because of their sin regarding the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper.

It is therefore possible that God has given you infirmity in order to chastise you (Heb. 12:6). Perhaps it is a consequence of your irresponsible care of your body (e.g. bad diet). Nevertheless, in this context, affliction comes to us from the loving hand of God. Affliction is like a rod that God uses to bring back his wandering sheep to the fold.

 

3. Your sickness may not be a consequence of your personal sin; and in this sense, your sickness is a test from the Lord.

The word “if” in James 5:15 also allows the possibility that the sick person has not committed sins and in this way his sickness is not a result of his personal sin. Job is an excellent example of this truth (Job 2:4-7).

Sickness became an instrument in the hand of God to mold Job into the person that God wanted him to be. Sickness became a blessing for Job, for it brought him closer to God. The wheelchair- bound Joni Eareckson Tada once declared, “Suffering provides the gym equipment on which my faith can be exercised.”

 

4. Sickness can be a consequence of the personal sin of another person.

2 Samuel 12:15 tells us that “the Lord afflicted the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and he became sick.” David’s child died as a result of his sin concerning Bathsheba and Uriah. David committed adultery and murder. It is thus possible for a child to suffer the consequence of his parents’ sins. It is possible that your child is sick because of your sin.

 

5. Sickness can neither be a consequence of our personal sin, nor a consequence of the personal sin of another person. In this sense, sickness is simply a demonstration of God’s absolute sovereignty.  

Remember the man born blind in John 9:1-3. In that passage the disciples asked Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus replied, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” No one sinned. God is simply practicing his absolute prerogative to do whatever pleases him. And his purpose in doing this is to display His sovereignty—to remind us that we do not control our health. He does!

 

6. Sickness comes to us from God ultimately for His glory and for our good.

In John 11 when Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick, he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Whatever kind of sickness you have, pray that through it God may be glorified.

While sickness is for God’s glory, it is also for our good. Paul notes in 2 Corinthians 12:7, “So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh…to keep me from becoming conceited.” In short, God has given Paul “a thorn in the flesh” in order to keep him from the sin of pride.

Maybe God has given you that illness that you have in order to keep you from pride. And God may not heal you in order that you may learn more to depend on his grace (2 Cor. 12:9). Once you have learned the lesson, you can sing with the psalmist, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes” (Psalm 119:71).

 

Note: This post is based on my sermon entitled “Theology of Sickness.”

Affliction Death Sanctification Sickness Suffering

Dedication, Doubt, & Declaration: A Graveside Service for Mrs. Joan Jacoba Elshout

Note: This is a revised version of the message I delivered on May 13, 2013 at the grave-side service for my dear mother-in-law Joan Jacoba Elshout (March 6, 1949 – May 6, 2013).

Joan Jacoba Elshout (1949-2013)

Joan Jacoba Elshout (1949-2013)

To read or print this message in a PDF file, click here.

 

Introduction

Before proceeding to God’s Word, allow me to first commend my dear father-in-law for his forty years of faithful and patient love for his wife. Dad, thank you for the good example that you have left to us your children. You kept the vow that you had made to your wife on your wedding day—to love her in sickness and in health. I understand that without God’s grace, you would not have been able to love her in this way; therefore, praise God for His grace upon you.

Let’s now read our text for this short meditation—John 20:24-28.

24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” 26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” 28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

Sadly, we remember Thomas as “Doubting Thomas.” But, as Joshua Harris asserts, “God didn’t give the name ‘Doubting Thomas’, we did. God never defines us by our failures. He defines us by the perfection of his Son.” In the gospel God defines us not according to our sin but according to His Son’s righteousness.

You might ask, “What is the gospel?” Interestingly, in Mark 1:15 Jesus says, “[R]epent and believe in the gospel” and you will be saved. Then when the Philippian jailer asked Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” they replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…” (Acts 16:30-31). Notice that Paul and Silas did not say, “Believe in the gospel,” but instead, “Believe in the Lord Jesus.” Observe also that Jesus says, “[B]elieve in the gospel,” and not “believe in me.” Here then we see that the gospel and Jesus Christ are essentially synonymous. The gospel is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the good news. And here is the good news: He “came to seek and to save the lost” (John 19:10).

Upon my mother-in-law’s request, I would like to proclaim this gospel to you. And I can only preach the gospel if I preach Christ to you. My mother-in-law would have agreed with Charles Spurgeon who rebuked ministers that did not preach Christ: “Leave Christ out? O my brethren, better leave the pulpit out altogether. If a man can preach one sermon without mentioning Christ’s name in it, it ought to be his last, certainly the last that any Christian ought to go to hear him preach.”

This brief message will present the gospel by looking at Thomas’s life under three headings: (1) his dedication, (2) his doubt, & (3) his declaration.

 

I. His Dedication

In John chapter 11 Lazarus whom Jesus loves is sick. Actually, as the story progresses we discover that Lazarus eventually dies. Jesus wants to go to Judea to revive Lazarus, but listen to what His disciples tell Him:

Then after this he [Jesus] said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?”16 So Thomas, called the Twin,said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

Please note Thomas’s remarkable dedication to his Master. He is courageously willing to die with Jesus. He is loyal to the Lord’s work. To some extent my mother-in-law was like Thomas. She was also committed to the service of the Lord. Her passion was to serve others. In fact, even when she was sick, she was still thinking of how she could minister to others. When she became severely ill, she was greatly disappointed that she could no longer help others, especially an older lady who became like a mother to her. No one who knew my mother-in-law would question her dedication to the Lord’s work. She evidently loved the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet, like Thomas, although she had a strong commitment to Jesus, her faith in Him was weak. Like Thomas, she also struggled with doubt.

 

II. His Doubt

In our passage, the dedicated Thomas shows his doubt to the testimony of his fellow disciples concerning the resurrection of Jesus. Thomas tells them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe” (v. 25). Before Jesus died, He Himself had informed Thomas of His resurrection (Mark 8:31). Thus we learn that you can be dedicated to the Lord’s work, and at the same time doubt His word. Are you like Thomas—dedicated and yet doubting? You actively serve God, but doubt His promises. You faithfully attend church services every Sunday, but you doubt the gospel promise that if you believe in Jesus you will be saved.

Nevertheless, despite his doubt, Thomas is an honest seeker of truth. He does not want to remain in his state of doubt. He eagerly looks for the truth. Do you recall his dialogue with Jesus in John 14:5-6? In this passage the confused Thomas asks Jesus about the way to His Father’s house—the way to heaven:

“Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Thomas doubts, but he is not content to remain doubting. He wants to be certain, especially of matters pertaining to everlasting life. Sadly, some Christians seem to be content to stay in the place of doubt. They don’t seek the truth. Perhaps you are struggling with assurance of salvation. Well, seek the truth that will set you free from the bondage of doubt. Read books about assurance of salvation. Attend bible study where your faith can be strengthened. Learn more about the gospel promises. Attend a church where the gospel is preached faithfully. Charles Spurgeon once mentioned, “Many a believer lives in the cottage of doubt when he might live in the mansion of faith.” My friend, you do not need to live in the cottage of doubt. Leave that place and live in the mansion of faith.

You might ask, “Can I really know if I am saved?” Oh, yes, my friend, you can! As John the Beloved articulates, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). Take note, the Bible has been written in order for believers to have absolute knowledge of their salvation in Christ. Can you honestly sing with Fanny J. Crosby?

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!

O what a foretaste of glory divine!

Heir of salvation, purchase of God,

born of his Spirit, washed in his blood.

Now it is not necessarily true that once you become a Christian, you will never experience doubt. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones explains in his book Spiritual Depression, “Doubts are not incompatible with faith…. Some people seem to think that once you become a Christian you should never be assailed by doubts. But that is not so, Peter still had faith (as he panicked in the storm in Matthew 14)…. His faith was not gone, but because it was weak, doubt mastered him and overwhelmed him and he was shaken…. Doubts will attack us, but that does not mean that we are to allow them to master us.”

With love let me challenge then those of you who are like Thomas. Are you allowing your doubt to rob you of the joy of assurance of salvation? Are you allowing your doubt to keep you from growing in your faith in Jesus? Are you making an effort to stay away from the cottage of doubt? Again, like Thomas, my mother-in-law struggled with doubt, but she strove for assurance. She wanted to be certain of her salvation. Thankfully, after a long struggle, she experienced full assurance of salvation and could echo Thomas’s declaration.

 

III. His Declaration

Thomas doubted. But, look what he declares in our text after he has been confronted by Jesus, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). This confession is the clearest confession on the deity of Christ. Of all the twelve disciples, only Thomas explicitly calls Jesus God. In this sense, Thomas has surpassed his fellow disciples.

Notice the personal and possessive pronoun “my” in Thomas’s declaration: “My Lord and my God.” What Thomas is saying here is this: “Jesus is my Lord and my God, and I am His. Jesus belongs to me, and I belong to Him.” There is no more doubt here but assurance. Two days before my mother-in-law died, my wife and I sang for her the famous hymn “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” Despite her extreme fatigue, my mother-in-law still sang with us:

“Great is Thy faithfulness,” O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.

For many years my mother-in-law had struggled to call God her Father. Now by God’s grace she could prayerfully sing with full confidence, “O God my Father!” What a confession! What an assurance! Can you say by God’s grace that God is your Father, too? John 1:12 says, “But to all who did receive him who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” Oh, I urge you, my dear friend, to receive Jesus by faith; and you will be given the right to become a child of God. Are you His child, or the Devil’s?

Remember what Jesus says to the proud and self-righteous Pharisees in John 8:44, “You belong to your father, the devil.” They belong to Satan because they have not received Jesus. Have you received Jesus Christ as your only Lord and Savior? Consider this verse—“Jesus receives sinners” (Luke 15:2), but you must receive Him, too.

On her death bed, shortly before she died, my mother-in-law prayed with her hands lifted up toward heaven, “Lord Jesus…..please come quickly!” Unquestionably, my mother-in-law borrowed her prayer from John the Beloved who pleads in Revelation 22:20, “Come, Lord Jesus!” This is a prayer of a true believer who longs to be with Jesus Christ. This was my mother-in-law’s last prayer.

Amazingly, my mother-in-law had a calendar that provided her a daily verse. The verse that she was supposed to read on the day she died was John 14:18, “I will not leave you as orphans [or comfortless]; I will come to you.” Indeed, Jesus heard her request. He came quickly and gently to take her home to be with Him. What a comfort and joy to know that she is now with her Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ! She is now free from sin and sickness. Also, it is a comfort to know that Christ bought not only her soul but also her body. As the Heidelberg Catechism so beautifully states in response to the question: “What is your only comfort in life and in death?”

That I am not my own, but belong body and soul, in life and in death to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil….Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.

This body then in the coffin that we are about to bury is Christ’s. He purchased it, and it will someday be changed into an immortal one (1 Cor. 15:51-54). On the great day of the resurrection of the saints, this mortal body will be raised from this cemetery to be with the Lord forever and ever and ever. It is with this glorious doctrine of the resurrection that the Apostle Paul exhorts us to comfort one another (1 Thess. 4:18). Hence, as we bury my mother-in-law’s body, we do not need to say goodbye but only good night to her; for we believers shall see her again in heaven. May the precious reality also that her soul is now in heaven sweeten our sorrow! She is now in a far better place than we can imagine (Phil. 1:23).

 

Conclusion

Let me close this message by simply asking you: Do you belong to Jesus? Does He belong to you? Is He your Lord and Savior? If not, and you were to die today, you would go to hell for eternity. Oh, once again I beg you to come to Jesus by faith and be saved. Jesus promises, “[W]hoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37). Therefore, with the words of the hymn writer Joseph Hart, I plead with you:

Come, ye sinners, poor and wretched,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready waits to save you,
Full of pity, love and pow’r:
He is able, He is able,
He is willing, doubt no more.

Jesus says, “Stop doubting and believe” (v. 27).

 

 

 

Death Funeral Heaven Mother Sermon

Definition & Description of Heaven (1 of 2)

On August 24, 2013 Rev. Alvin Korvemaker, my fellow URC minister, died suddenly at the age of 49. When he passed away, two things happened: first, he departed from this world; and second, he arrived in heaven. His departure brings sorrow. His arrival brings joy. So, I grieve because of his departure and yet at the same time I rejoice because of his arrival in heaven.   nature_clouds_heaven_019281_

In 2 Corinthians 5:8 Paul says that “to be absent from the body” is “to be present with the Lord.” Then in Philippians 1:23 Paul adds that “to depart and be with Christ…is far better.” When a believer in Christ dies, his soul departs from his body to be present with God. The believer’s soul is now away from his body and at home with his Lord and Savior. His soul is now in heaven—in a far better place, while his body is buried awaiting the glorious resurrection of the redeemed.

Why is heaven a far better place than any part of the world? What is heaven? What does it look like? In light of Isaiah 65:17-25 I will consider these questions. But, before giving you four descriptions of heaven, I will first look at four reasons why some Christians are not interested in the subject of heaven, despite the fact that heaven is the most wonderful place of all the places that God has created.

Four reasons why some Christians are not interested in the study of heaven:

  1. We have become too attached to the things of this present world—too attached to our house, car, job, money, and other material things. We become too close to this world that we lose sight of heaven.
  2. We have become too comfortable in this present world. Beautiful homes. Nice cars. Wonderful jobs. Good health. Our prosperity makes us world focused. In the meantime, those who are poor and sick become less interested in staying in this world and more interested in going to heaven.
  3. We think that heaven is only for old people. Since we associate heaven with death and since we associate death with old people, we think that heaven is only for the old. Some say, “Well, I’m too young to think about heaven. I don’t want to go there yet. Let me first finish my education and get married, and then have children. Once I’m old, I will start thinking about heaven.”
  4. We feel intimidated to think of the unthinkable subject of heaven. Because heaven is a very difficult doctrine to study, we simply avoid this doctrine. Especially when we study this doctrine we encounter many questions to which the Bible does not give clear answers. I think our problem is that we focus on what the Bible does not say about heaven, rather than on what it says.

Someone narrates a story about the Scottish doctor who visited his dying close friend:

“Tell me, you are a believer of sorts. What will it be like after I die?” There was a moment of silence. Suddenly there was a scratching at the bedroom door. The doctor turned to his friend and said, “Did you hear that? It’s my dog. He’s been waiting patiently for me downstairs and has become impatient. He has never been in this room. He has no idea what it is like. He knows only one thing about it and that is that I am here. That’s all I know about the future….He’s there.”

How true! There are many things that we do not know about heaven. But we know one thing for sure—our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is there. The Puritan Samuel Rutherford (1600–1661) says, “Heaven and Christ are the same thing.” Rutherford continues, “O my Lord Jesus Christ, if I could be in heaven without thee, it would be a hell; and if I could be in hell, and have thee still, it would be a heaven to me, for thou art all the heaven I want.”

What makes heaven heaven is Christ’s presence; and what makes hell hell is His absence. Is it because of Jesus Christ that you desire to go to heaven?

May our knowledge that Rev. Korvemaker is now with Christ in heaven sweeten our sorrow.

 

Death Heaven Samuel Rutherford

Dedication, Doubt, & Declaration: A Message Delivered at the Grave-side Service for My Dear Mother-in-law Joan Jacoba Elshout

Dedication, Doubt, & Declaration

Note: This is a revised version of the message I delivered on May 13, 2013 at the grave-side service for my dear mother-in-law Joan Jacoba Elshout.  To read or print this message in a PDF file, click here. mom

Introduction

Before I proceed to the reading of God’s Word, allow me to first commend my dear father-in-law for his forty years of faithful and patient love for his wife. Dad, thank you for the godly example that you have left to us your children. You kept the vow that you had made to mom on your wedding day: to love her in sickness and in health. I understand that without God’s grace, you would not have been able to love mom in this way. Therefore, I praise God for His grace upon you.

Let’s now read our text for this short meditation—John 20:24-28.

24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” 26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” 28 Thomas said to    him, “My Lord and my God!”

Sadly, we remember Thomas as “Doubting Thomas.” But as Joshua Harris asserted, “God didn’t give the name ‘Doubting Thomas’, we did. God never defines us by our failures. He defines us by the perfection of his Son.” In the gospel God defines us not according to our sin, but according to His Son’s righteousness. You might ask, “What is the gospel?” Interestingly, in Mark 1:15 Jesus says, “repent and believe in the gospel” and you will be saved. Then when the Philippian Jailer asked Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” they replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…” (Acts 16:30-31). Notice that Paul and Silas did not say, “Believe in the gospel,” but instead “Believe in the Lord Jesus.” Observe also that Jesus says, “believe in the gospel,” and not “believe in me.” Here then we see that the gospel and Jesus Christ are essentially synonymous. The gospel is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the good news. He “came to seek and to save the lost” (John 19:10).

This afternoon, upon my mother-in-law’s request, I would like to proclaim this gospel to you. And I can only preach the gospel if I preach Christ to you. My mother-in-law would have agreed with Charles Spurgeon who rebuked ministers that did not preach Christ: “Leave Christ out? O my brethren, better leave the pulpit out altogether. If a man can preach one sermon without mentioning Christ’s name in it, it ought to be his last, certainly the last that any Christian ought to go to hear him preach.”

What I will do in this brief message is present the gospel by looking at Thomas’s life under three headings: (1) his dedication, (2) his doubt, & (3) his declaration. Let’s consider our first point.

 

I. His Dedication

In John 11 Lazarus whom Jesus loves is sick. Actually, as the story progresses we discover that Lazarus eventually dies. Jesus wants to go to Judea to revive Lazarus, but listen to what His disciples tell Him:

Then after this he [Jesus] said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?”16 So Thomas, called the Twin,said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

Please note Thomas’s remarkable dedication to his Master here. He is courageously willing to die with Jesus. He is loyal to the Lord’s work. To some extent my mother-in-law was like Thomas. She was also committed to the service of the Lord. Her passion was to serve others. In fact, even when she was sick, she was still thinking of how she could minister to others. When she became severely ill, she was greatly disappointed that she could no longer help others, especially Mrs. Lynn Krul from British Columbia who became like a mother to her. Everyone who knew my mother-in-law would not question her dedication to the Lord’s work. She evidently loved the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet, like Thomas, although she had a strong commitment to Jesus, her faith in Him was weak. Like Thomas, she also struggled with doubt. This brings us to our second point.

 

II. His Doubt

In our passage the dedicated Thomas shows his doubt to the testimony of his fellow disciples concerning the resurrection of Jesus. Thomas tells them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe” (v. 25). Before Jesus died, He Himself had informed Thomas of His resurrection (Mark 8:31). Thus we learn that you can be dedicated to the Lord’s work and at the same time doubt His word.  Are you like Thomas—dedicated and yet doubting? You actively serve God, but doubt His promises. You faithfully attend church services every Sunday, but you doubt the gospel promise that if you believe in Jesus you will be saved.

Nevertheless, despite his doubt, Thomas is an honest seeker of truth. He does not want to remain in his state of doubt. He eagerly looks for the truth. Do you recall his dialogue with Jesus in John 14:5-6? In this passage the confused Thomas asks Jesus about the way to His Father’s house—the way to heaven:

“Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Thomas doubts, but he is not content to remain doubting. He wants to be certain, especially of matters pertaining to eternal life. Sadly, some Christians seem to be content to stay in the place of doubt or unbelief. They don’t seek the truth. Perhaps you are struggling with assurance of salvation. Well, seek the truth that will set you free from the bondage of doubt. Read books about assurance of salvation. Attend bible study where your faith can be strengthened. Learn more about the gospel promises. Attend a church where the gospel is preached faithfully. Charles Spurgeon once mentioned, “Many a believer lives in the cottage of doubt when he might live in the mansion of faith.” My friend, you do not need to live in the cottage of doubt. Leave that place and live in the mansion of faith. You might ask, “Can I really know if I am saved?” Oh, yes, my friend, you can! As John the Beloved articulates, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). Take note, the Bible has been written in order for believers to have absolute knowledge of their salvation in Christ. Can you honestly sing with Fanny J. Crosby?

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
O what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
born of his Spirit, washed in his blood.

Now I am not saying that once you become a Christian, you will never experience doubt. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones explains in his book Spiritual Depression, “Doubts are not incompatible with faith…. Some people seem to think that once you become a Christian you should never be assailed by doubts. But that is not so, Peter still had faith (as he panicked in the storm in Matthew 14)…. His faith was not gone, but because it was weak, doubt mastered him and overwhelmed him and he was shaken…. Doubts will attack us, but that does not mean that we are to allow them to master us.”

With love let me challenge then those of you who are like Thomas. Are you allowing your doubt to rob you of the joy of assurance of salvation? Are you allowing your doubt to keep you from growing in your faith in Jesus? Are you making an effort to stay away from the cottage of doubt? Again like Thomas, my mother-in-law struggled with doubt, but she strove for assurance. She wanted to be certain of her salvation. Thankfully, after a long struggle, she experienced full assurance of salvation and could echo Thomas’s declaration which we will consider in our final point.

 

III. His Declaration

Thomas doubted. But look what he declares in our text after he has been confronted by Jesus, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). This confession is the clearest confession on the deity of Christ. Of all the Twelve Disciples, only Thomas explicitly calls Jesus God. In this sense, Thomas has surpassed his fellow disciples.

Notice the personal and possessive pronoun “my” in Thomas’s declaration: “My Lord and my God.” What Thomas is saying here is this: “Jesus is my Lord and my God, and I am His. Jesus belongs to me, and I belong to Him.” There is no more doubt here but assurance. I remember two days before my mother-in-law died, my wife and I skyped with her and sang for her the famous hymn “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” Despite her extreme fatigue, my mother-in-law still sang with us:

“Great is Thy faithfulness,” O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.

For many years my mother-in-law had struggled to call God her Father. Now by God’s grace she could prayerfully sing with full confidence, “O God my Father!” What a confession! What an assurance! Can you say by God’s grace that God is your Father, too? John 1:12 says, “But to all who did receive him who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” Oh, I urge you, my dear friend, to receive Jesus by faith and you will be given the right to become a child of God. Are you His child, or the Devil’s? Remember what Jesus says to the proud and self-righteous Pharisees in John 8:44, “You belong to your father, the devil.” They belong to Satan because they have not received Jesus. Have you received Jesus Christ as your only Lord and Savior? Think of the message that we have heard this morning—“Jesus receives sinners” (Luke 15:2), but you must receive Him, too.

On her death bed shortly before she died, my mother-in-law prayed with her hands lifted up toward heaven, “Lord Jesus…..please come quickly!” My aunt Beth (the only sister of my mother-in-law) and Mrs. Jackie Mol (best friend of my mother-in-law for over 40 years) personally heard these words. Unquestionably, my mother-in-law borrowed her prayer from John the Beloved who pleads in Revelation 22:20, “Come, Lord Jesus!” This is a prayer of a true believer who longs to be with Jesus Christ. This was my mother-in-law’s last prayer.

Amazingly, my mother-in-law had a calendar that provides her a daily verse. And the verse that she was supposed to read on the day she died was John 14:18, “I will not leave you as orphans [or comfortless]; I will come to you.” Indeed, Jesus heard my mother-in-law’s request. He came quickly and gently to take her home to be with Him. What a comfort and joy to know that she is now with her Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ! She is now free from sin and sickness. Also, it is a comfort to know that Christ bought not only her soul but also her body. As the Heidelberg Catechism so beautifully states in response to the question: “What is your only comfort in life and in death?”

That I am not my own, but belong body and soul, in life and in death to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil….Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.

This body then in the coffin that we are about to bury is Christ’s. He purchased it and it will someday be changed into an immortal one (1 Cor. 15:51-54). On the great day of the resurrection of the saints, this mortal body will be raised from this cemetery to be with the Lord forever and ever and ever. It is with this glorious doctrine of the resurrection that the Apostle Paul exhorts us to comfort one another (1 Thess. 4:18). Hence as we bury my mother-in-law’s body, we do not need to say goodbye but only good night to her, for we believers shall see her again in heaven. May the precious reality also that her soul is now in heaven sweeten our sorrow! She is now in a far better place than we can imagine (Phil. 1:23).

 

Conclusion

Let me close this message by simply asking you: Do you belong to Jesus? Does He belong to you? Is He your Lord and Savior? If not, I regret to tell you that if you die today you will go to hell and be there for eternity. Oh, once again I beg you to come to Jesus by faith and be saved. Jesus promises, “whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37). Therefore, with the words of the hymn writer Joseph Hart, I plead with you:

Come, ye sinners, poor and wretched,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready waits to save you,
Full of pity, love and pow’r:
He is able, He is able,
He is willing, doubt no more.

Jesus says, “Stop doubting and believe” (v. 27).

 

 

Death Funeral Gospel Sermon

Waiting for God Is the Best Part about Faith

By Greg Forde (guest blogger)

I never thought that I would find myself in agreement with anything the Rev. Al Sharpton had to say; and politically, I’m pretty sure I still don’t. But in a recent appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, the political commentator returned to his first calling.

While discussing the reactions to the recent shootings in Newtown, as well as those in New York and Pennsylvania, the conversation turned to God’s role in the shootings and His attendant grace and comfort towards the survivors. Their conversation basically centered on the age old question, often asked by both faithful and unfaithful liberals,—“How does a loving God allow bad things to happen, and how do Christians maintain their faith without a clear answer to that question?”

Sharpton’s response was immediate and direct. Sharpton reminded the panel that God is everywhere, in the good and in the bad, and faith is especially for those times when we do not have the answers.

In the fallen world we live in, God’s presence in evil is a hard concept to grab a hold of. For unbelievers, and I fear, even for believers, we don’t like operating without answers. Even worse, we don’t like waiting for answers. Actually, most of us don’t like waiting for anything. For instance, in a restaurant we want our service faster. When we are driving, we want the car in front of us to go faster. We even want our worship service to go faster. We just don’t like waiting for anybody, or for anything including God. This attitude is sad because waiting for God is the best part about faith.

Sharpton is right. When we can’t find an answer, when we can’t understand a circumstance on our terms, that’s when we need to turn to the gospel—to turn our eyes to the cross of Christ and remind ourselves and others that God has a wonderful plan and that He will show it to us on his schedule, not ours. Easy to believe, harder to do, isn’t it?

“Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.”  Psalm 46:10-11

 

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With his wife Pat, Greg Forde resides in Alto, Michigan and serves as an elder at Dutton URC, Caledonia, Michigan.

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