A Pastor was visiting Mrs. Jones, an elderly member of his congregation. The pastor said, “You know, my dear Mrs. Jones, that you are getting on in years and although I pray to the almighty that he will grant you many more years in good health, you really should now be thinking more of the hereafter.”
Mrs. Jones replied, “Thank you, Pastor, but I am always thinking about the hereafter.”
The pastor was rather surprised with this response. “Really?” he said.
“Oh yes, Pastor, every time I go upstairs, I say to myself, ‘what am I here after?’ and every time I go into my kitchen, I say to myself, ‘what am I here after?’ I do it all the time now.”
This morning I want to talk with you about the hereafter.
In this passage of scripture from Revelation we get a glimpse of the hereafter. We get a peek behind the curtain. John the Revelator gives us a taste of what those who have gone before us what those who have gone before us and completed their journey of life and faith are experiencing in the presence of the Living God in heaven. And what a picture it is!
A great multitude, too great to count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. Clothed in robes of white, holding palm branches in their hands, singing praise to God, raising their voices in perpetual worship of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God.
And he goes on to tell us about the promise they have claimed, the inheritance they have received:
“Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down on them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
This morning on this All Saints Sunday we gather to remember and to celebrate the lives of those who have gone before us.
We are here this morning to remember and to give thanks for the legacy of life that person has left behind for you to celebrate. Who do you remember today? Whose face do you picture? For most of us when I ask that question we picture someone in our mind that has gone on before us, someone who have lived their life on this earth and they now live with God in heaven. Some of you have brought their pictures and added them to this beautiful display.
This morning we gather to remember them and the influence and impact they had on us while they were here with us. But the real reason that we celebrate is because for the person of faith we know that they are not dead. These are they who have completed their journey of faith and have now inherited the promise of eternal life and the hope of heaven. They have joined that heavenly throng of worshippers in the glory and splendor of God’s eternal presence.
Over and over again the Lord reminds us of this promise.
To the Pharisee Nicodemus who came to Jesus under the cover of darkness Jesus makes the promise recorded in John 3:16 that we have come to cherish: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Standing before the tomb of his friend Lazarus, Jesus wept with those who mourned the loss. But their weeping soon turned to joy and laughter as Jesus spoke the word and Lazarus emerged from the tomb. Jesus turned to his sister Martha and said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.”
To the thief hanging on the cross who asked Jesus to remember him he said, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
And Peter in his first epistle to the church reminds us of this promise with these powerful words: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.”
Friends that is the core of our Christian faith. The greatest enemy of life is death. But death has been defeated. Death seems so final. So strong and powerful. But I am here to remind you this morning that its strength is limited, its power is not supreme, and its coming is not the end. This why we can celebrate on a day like today. This is why in the face of the last several weeks we have faced as a church family does not destroy us and cause us to give up or lose hope. When we place our faith in Jesus Christ we know there is something more. There is something greater. There is something beyond.
The sound of Martha's voice on the other end of the telephone always brought a smile to Brother Jim's face. She was not only one of the oldest members of the congregation, but one of the most faithful. Aunt Martie, as all the children called her, just seemed to ooze faith, hope, and love wherever she went. This time, however, there seemed to be an unusual tone to her words. "Preacher, could you stop by this afternoon? I need to talk with you." "Of course. I'll be there around 3:00."
As they sat facing each other in the quiet of her small living room, Jim learned the reason for what he sensed in her voice. She had not been feeling well, so she went to her doctor for some tests. The ``results,'' as it turned out, were not at all good. Her doctor had to break the bad news to her that she was terminally ill and that her life span was to be only a few months.
"He says I probably have six months to live." Martha's words were certainly serious, yet there was a definite calm about her. "I'm so sorry to . . . " but before Jim could finish, Martha interrupted.
"Don't be. The Lord has been good. I have lived a long life. I'm ready to go. You know that." "I know," Jim whispered with a reassuring nod.
"But I do want to talk with you about my funeral. I have been thinking about it, and there are things that I know I want."
The two talked quietly for a long time. They talked about Martha's favorite hymns, the passages of Scripture that had meant so much to her through the years, and the many memories they shared from the five years Jim had been with Central Church.
When it seemed that they had covered just about everything, Aunt Martie paused, looked up at Jim with a twinkle in her eye, and then added, "One more thing, preacher. When they bury me, I want my old Bible in one hand and a fork in the other." "A fork?" Jim was sure he had heard everything, but this caught him by surprise. "Why do you want to be buried with a fork?"
"I have been thinking about all of the church dinners and banquets that I attended through the years," she explained. "I couldn't begin to count them all. But one thing sticks in my mind. At those really nice get-togethers, when the meal was almost finished, a server or maybe the hostess would come by to collect the dirty dishes. I can hear the words now. Sometimes, at the best ones, somebody would lean over my shoulder and whisper, `You can keep your fork.' And do you know what that meant? Dessert was coming! "It didn't mean a cup of Jell-O or pudding or even a dish of ice cream. You don't need a fork for that. It meant the good stuff, like chocolate cake or cherry pie! When they told me I could keep my fork, I knew the best was yet to come! "That's exactly what I want people to talk about at my funeral. Oh, they can talk about all the good times we had together. That would be nice.
"But when they walk by my casket and look at my pretty blue dress, I want them to turn to one another and say, `Why the fork?'
"This is what I want you to say. I want you to tell them that I kept my fork because the best is yet to come."
Do you believe it? Have you ever thought about that fact? Friends with Jesus the Best is yet to come?
Some people think that the message of life beyond the grave is wishful thinking. They believe that such talk is our way of coping with horrible loss. I believe these people are wrong. Our hope of Heaven is based on Jesus. He claimed to be God, He demonstrated that He was God, and He told us that His words would help us to know God. His death was foretold by the prophets and also by his own words. His resurrection was a one of a kind event. This one who said He could lead us to life beyond the grave, came back from the grave Himself.
Our hope is based on a sure foundation. It is not wishful thinking, it is a bold confidence. This confidence is available to anyone who will put their trust in Christ. “Trusting Jesus” however is more than pious words. It is more than intellectual understanding. The kind of trust that God calls for is the kind of trust that says that we are willing to “bet our lives” on Jesus and what He has done for us. That’s the kind of faith and trust these people we remember here this morning had. That is why their lives are so significant and memorable. Yes we remember all of the little things and they lift our spirits and put a smile on our faces. But beyond that as we look beyond the surface of their lives we see and remember their heart. Our challenge is remembering and celebrating their legacy to face the reality of death and to pursue that which will enable us to “live even though we die.”
What I want you to see is that the key to how we face death is determined by your focus. Whether it is seen as the end or as the beginning; defeat or victory; depends upon what you are looking at.
- Are you looking at a lifeless corpse or are you focusing on the promise of the risen Savior?
- Are you dwelling on the trials and inequities of life or on the infinite strength available to face those trials?
- Are you drawing your sense of value from the crowd or from the Creator who sees you as on who is fearfully and wonderfully made?
- Are you focused on the journey or the destination?
- Are you betting your life on the philosophies of men or on the promise of Jesus?
Jesus said, “come to me all you are weary and heavily burdened, and I will give you rest.” That’s His invitation to You today. Put your confidence in Him. Believe His promise. Dare to believe that there is more to this life than what we see and feel. If you do this, you won’t miss your loved ones any less, but you won’t have to worry about them either. In those times of grief you will draw comfort from the fact that those who put their trust in Christ will see them again and we will have all eternity to catch up on lost time. The best is yet to come!
Amanda was a beautiful young girl in our church youth group in Wakefield. She was one of these girls that had it all. Strong Christian faith. She graduated near the top of her class. She was active and involved in leadership in our youth group. She sang beautifully. She always had a smile on her face.
Listen to how her mother Kim describes what happened in a story she just wrote and published in the latest book in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series.
“A rain-slicked highway on a summer afternoon ended all of her promise, all of her potential, all of her talent, all of her smiles. She was only nineteen.”
What do you do with that? I remember getting the call about her death. We had just recently moved here to Sterling. Robin and I were crushed by the news and devastated for the family!
Kim writes, “My immediate reaction to the news of her death was one sentence: ”My life is ruined.” She also says, “Along with the sheer grief of losing my precious daughter, I was overcome by fear. “
Robin and I were called on to sing at the service. There was an overwhelming feeling of grief and sadness in that packed out Wakefield sanctuary. We along with everyone else tried to offer comfort and support for the distraught family.
In the book Kim goes on to describe her journey: “I read countless books about grief. I understood completely the accounts of women who lost their children and went to bed for weeks. I envied them. I wanted to be in a numb state, even in a coma, where I wouldn’t feel this pain.”
Finally after nearly four years something began to change. “She says, “I was reminded by more than one friend that Amanda’s life had been filled with joy. What type of memorial to her would it be for me, her mother, to carry this shroud of grief and pain around for the rest of my life?...So today I choose joy…I am embracing joy. I will always mourn the loss of Amanda. There will be moments that hit me out of the blue, a stray song or random picture that will bring me to my knees in tears. But I will rise. And I will allow joy into my heart and into my life, for joy conquers fear.” (Newmark, 2014)
How do you go from despair to hope? How do you go from grief to comfort? How do you fear to joy?
You do it by remembering the promises of Jesus. You do it by holding on to the hope of heaven. You do it by claiming the legacy of life that is ours through the resurrection power of Jesus. You do it by remembering the best is yet to come.
Have you claimed that promise? You know the promise of eternal life and the hope of heaven is not just a future hope it is a present reality, a least it can be. This morning as you come to this altar, as you humble yourself before God, as you literally are surround by a great cloud of witnesses, and as you graciously partake of Christ’s lasting legacy that makes it all possible, I want to give you something to remind you of this truth. I want each one of you to take one of these. And if you have never made that decision to accept Christ and the legacy of life that He promises to all who believe may today be the day and may this be the reminder of that decision. And for those who have made that promise and live in the light of that hope and assurance may you carry this with you so that none of us will ever forget that the best is yet to come!
Newmark, A. (2014). Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Inner Strength: 101 Empowering Stories of Resilience, Positive Thinking & Overcoming Challenges. Cos Cob, CT: Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC.