"What Did He Say?"#77-39
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on June 6, 2010
By Rev. Dr. Ken Klaus, Speaker of The Lutheran Hour
(Q&A Topic:Revisiting the question, "What happens when we die?")
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Text: Luke 7:13-15
Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed. So our children might live Jesus Christ carried their sins. So our sons and daughters might live God's sinless Son gave His life upon the cross. So we might know our children will live, God's Son rose from the dead. So we might be comforted when a loved one dies, Jesus offers this promise: "Because I live, you shall live also." May Jesus' resurrection promise become our living hope. Grant this Lord unto us all. Amen.
Southwest of Chicago and northeast of Springfield is the little village of Herscher, Illinois. On its website Herscher describes itself this way: "Small Town America at its Best!" It hardly seems possible that six words could encompass acres of land and its residents. It's too simple, too open, too clear-cut, but that's exactly what Herscher is... a place where stoplights are nonexistent and every passerby greets you with a smile and a wave.... To add anything else to the phrase would be complicated and unnecessary. Simply put, it's the truth: Herscher is "Small Town America at its best."
How do I know? I know because this past April I was given the opportunity to celebrate the centennial of Trinity Lutheran Church in Herscher. It was quite the celebration.
As part of my preparations, I asked the pastor for a history of the congregation. They sent a document to me which summarized the high and low points of the congregation's life. You can read that document for yourself on Trinity's web page or you can listen as I summarize. The centennial walk down memory lane spoke lovingly of great-grandparents, mostly German farmers, who came together to build a church for their families. The history told of pastors and teachers and meetings and when the Ladies' Aid was formed. It related how they built their entire first church for $9,082.00. The church history spoke with admiration of Elmer Siedentop who taught Sunday School for 54 years; it became sentimental when it recalled the first congregational picnic in 1911.
But the lighthearted tone of the congregation's history was set aside when the writer stopped to tell a story, a true story, from the congregation's past. The narrative began in 1912, almost 100 years ago. In that year, Mr. and Mrs. William Dickman donated some land to be used for the church's new cemetery. Of course, Mr. Dickman, along with the rest of the new congregation, knew that this land wouldn't be a true and proper cemetery until it had been fenced in and then blessed by the pastor. Mr. Dickman thought that he and his boys could take care of the fencing.
That's why, when the warmth of the Illinois spring finally took the frost out of the ground, anyone passing by would have seen Bill Dickman and his 12-year-old son, Herman, putting in the cemetery fence. As they worked, young Herman, quite naturally reflected and he asked, "Papa, I wonder who will be the first one buried in the new cemetery?" The history of Trinity Lutheran in Herscher tells us this. "A short time after that, Herman and his 15-year-old brother George contracted scarlet fever and died. They were the first ones buried in the new cemetery; Herman in October and George in November of 1912."
In the 100+ years since the congregation was founded, many things have happened in this sad and sinful world. America fought in the war to end all wars, and then she fought in a world war which was worse than the war to end all wars. We've seen the rise of the Nazi party and the fall of it; the rise of Communism and its hibernation; the rise of dictators and despots and the fall of many of them. We have weathered depressions, recessions, inflation, deflation, and economic stagnation. We have seen the rise of groups which support the rights of animals and the rulings of courts which take away the rights of the unborn... to be born. A century is a long time and the Christians who worship at Trinity Lutheran in Herscher have seen a lot. Still, when they sat down to report the things which were of importance to them, high on the list was the death of a 12-year-old boy.
You can understand that, can't you? Back when I was in the parish, many of my congregations would help serve a luncheon for grieving family members and friends. It was a kind and Christian thing to do. The folks who were putting on the light lunch always approached me and asked, "Pastor, how many do you think will be here?" It was almost always a guess. A large family usually meant a larger attendance; a person over the age of 90 usually meant a smaller crowd. But there were two kinds of funerals which were always large... two types of funerals where you had to come mighty early if you wanted to get a seat.
The first group of giant funerals were those which were given for a fireman or a policeman. Police Departments would send representatives - some from hundreds, even thousands of miles away. They would put on a procession of squad cars, all with lights flashing. Fire departments would send their giant trucks. Some of those trucks would be part of the procession, while others would extend their multi-storied ladders to form an arch under which the funeral procession would travel. At the cemetery bagpipes would play Amazing Grace; an honor guard would provide a loud, rifled salute and the pastor would have to shout so he might be heard by some of the hundreds who had gathered. Anyone who has ever attended such an event will never forget the impressive send off that is put on by these brothers and sisters for their fallen friend.
But there is another type of funeral which also commands a large crowd. I am, of course, talking about the funeral of a child, a teen, a young person. It makes little difference how the child has died, everyone knows, it's not right. Children are supposed to run and laugh and learn and get skinned elbows and knees, but they're not supposed to die. Teens are supposed to deal with acne and broken hearts and hormones and temptations and getting accepted at the right college, but they're not supposed to die. Grandparents who have seen life, who have lived their allotted span of years; they're allowed to pass away. Most certainly most of them will be mourned, but we understand their passing had to come and time will temper our pain.
But a child... there is no right time for one of our children, anyone's child, to die. If we are given the opportunity, we will scream into the grey face of death: 'take me instead!" But death is uncaring and cold and does not hear us no matter how long or how often we scream. Our children are not supposed to die. And when they're gone, we can conceive of no amount of time long enough to heal our hurting hearts. Hurting? What a poor, inadequate word to explain the absolute brokenness of an adult from whom death has stolen a child.
It is that brokenness which makes the funeral of a child such a large one. Even if we can think of nothing to say which might make a difference to those who were closest to the youngster, we can, by our presence show that we care. And so it was 2,000 years ago. The Gospel-writer Luke records, "(Jesus) went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. As the Lord drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her." Did you hear that? "A considerable crowd from the town went with her." Some things don't change, do they?
Here was a woman who was no stranger to grief. She had already lost her husband, and now her son, her only son, had died. Did he die of a disease? Was he brought down by an accident? Had he been murdered? We don't know his cause of death; we don't even know his name, or the name of his mother. We do know that this boy who had been the hope, the pride, the laughter, the sunshine, the center of his mother's affection was no more. If they were following custom, in all probability he had died only hours before. And now his mother, with her memories, had the responsibility, the duty to walk her son's funeral procession out of town to the graveyard.
It calls for a great leap of faith to believe that what happened next was entirely by accident. Two crowds met that day outside the town of Nain. One group was somber, sad, and sorrowful; the other loud, laughing, and light-hearted. The woman's tear-filled eyes might not have allowed her to focus on Jesus' face. No matter, He saw her. I have to believe; sometime before, God's Son had seen this mother's grief and timed their meeting as He did. Jesus looked upon the mother and Luke tells us, "He had compassion on her." Compassion. I think just about anybody would feel compassion for a childless parent. But I don't think any of us would do what Jesus did. Not many of us would approach a bereaved mother and say, "Do not weep." Christians who know this story say to themselves, "Ah, I know what Jesus is going to do. He is going to make it so she doesn't have to weep." Yes, you, with your unique perspectives in history, know what Jesus was going to do.
But that mother didn't know. And the people carrying the boy's dead body didn't know, and the people of the town didn't know, and Jesus' disciples didn't know. All the citizenry of Nain knew was that Somebody was interrupting their funeral and telling them not to cry. Not cry? Crying is what people do at a child's funeral. And now they were being told to "buck up and put on a happy face?" The crowd from Nain must have been thinking, "How cruel. How crass. How uncaring!" If that's what they were thinking, things were about to get worse. In less time than it takes to tell, Jesus came up to the bier, the stretcher the young man was laying on. Jesus came up to it and touched it. He came and touched it and the men carrying it stopped.
Once again, I can only ask, "How would you feel if Someone did that to a funeral you were attending? How would you feel if Someone stepped up to your bereaved family as you were leaving church, as you were departing the funeral home and told you, 'Don't be sad. Don't cry." How would you feel if this Stranger put His hand on the casket of your son, or your daughter? I've lead such funeral processions and I would not have been happy with the interruption, and if He could not remove His hand and Himself, He would be physically removed.
Indeed, that is what might have happened that day almost 2,000 years ago. It might have happened, but Jesus appears to be moving too fast for the shocked people to react or respond. In rapid fire Jesus had spoken to the widow and encouraged her not to cry; a few steps took Him to the corpse and its conveyance. Jesus touched the bier and stopped all forward momentum. Then He commanded, "Young man, I say to you, arise." Luke tells us, "The dead man sat up and began to speak" Luke doesn't tell us what the man said. He does say 'Jesus gave the boy back to his mother.' His mother.
Did she speak to her son or to Jesus? If she spoke to Jesus, what did she say? I mean, what do you say to Someone Who has just brought your son back from the dead? "Thanks a lot?" or "That was very nice of You" or "I know somebody down the road about five miles who just lost her son, would You be willing to come along with me and raise him up, too?" What do you say to Someone who has just given life to your dead child? How can you begin to repay Someone Who has just done something like that? Do you send Him a couple of dollars for the rest of your life? Do you put Him in your will? Folks, I've thought about it and I haven't been able to come up with anything which puts a dent in the debt you would owe to the Man Who raised your child from the dead.
Tell me, how about you? What did you come up with? What would you say? I'm sorry for belaboring the point, but the answer is important. You see, the answer is important because Jesus Christ, God's Son, our Savior has given life to your children, your grandchildren, every child who believes on Him as their Lord and Savior from sin. Think about that. Jesus Christ, God's Son, our Savior has given life to your children, your grandchildren, all of the children of the world who believe on Him as their Lord and Savior from sin. So your children could live is why God's Son had to die. So your children could live is why Jesus was born in Bethlehem; it is why He spent His life doing miracles, fulfilling prophecies, trying to explain to people how much their Father in heaven loved them. So your children could live is why Jesus allowed Himself to be arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. So your children could live is why He, the world's perfect Man, didn't defend Himself at His unfair trials. So your children could live is why He carried their sins through all of His time of torture; time when He was beaten, struck, crowned with thorns, whipped, spit upon, beaten yet again, and then Jesus, innocent Jesus, was condemned to the cross. So your children could live is why He allowed great Roman spikes to be nailed through His wrists and why He hung suspended between heaven and earth. Jesus, the Son of God, paid the price demanded so your children might be redeemed; so your children might live.
Now I know there are some of you who are listening to this message with a heavy heart. You have lost a son, a daughter to death. I know there are many more of you who have a friend who has suffered the death of a child. I know, it doesn't matter how long ago the event took place, that day can sometimes seem as if it were just yesterday. I also know that so far all this message has done is refresh those memories and sharpen your pain. For these last minutes you have been saying, "But Jesus didn't raise my child. He didn't save my child. He didn't come up to our funeral procession and stop it. He didn't tell me not to cry; He didn't tell my little boy or girl to get up." He didn't.
If that is what you believe ... and this message is for those who believe that, you need to
pay close attention now. Not counting Himself, Jesus came across three funerals in His
ministry. Two of them were for children, one was for an adult friend. Now here is what I want you to remember: the young man from Nain; the daughter of Jairus; His friend,
Lazarus, were all dead. Did you hear that? They were all dead. One had been dead for only a few minutes, one, the man from Nain, for a few hours; the last, Lazarus, he had
been dead for days. The only thing which was different between these three was time. Some had been dead for a longer time than the other. But in all these cases, Jesus
came and defeated death.
Jesus is going to defeat death for your child as well. Actually, He has already done that... but you can't see it. And because you can't see it, the pain remains. You need to know: Jesus is coming ... no, I know He's not coming as fast as you would like Him to ... but He is coming and when He comes, He will replicate the results of the Nain resurrection in a grander way than you could ever imagine. On that day when He comes, Jesus will say, "rise" and people will rise and then you will know that He has raised your son and daughter.
Jesus will come and bring resurrection life to your son and your daughter just as He did for the man of Nain and Jairus' daughter. The only difference between those stories and yours is time. Jesus is coming and when He returns, there will be life and laughter and joy and He will give your believing child back to you. That is what He has promised. That is what He will do. And He can do it, you know. Please, believe it. Be comforted by it. Jesus is coming back, and it's only a matter of time.
The father tried to be prompt coming home from work. That's because, his only son usually was waiting for him in the front yard. I say "usually" because this particular day his son wasn't there. Dad expected his boy, Mark, to be inside the front door. Mark wasn't there, either. Dad called and his shout for his son was met only with silence. Dad wandered the home and saw his wife visit with a neighbor in the backyard. He butted in and bluntly asked, "Where's Mark?" "I don't know where he is", mom said. "What do you mean you don't know where he is?" dad shot back. "Honey", mom said, "I don't know where he is, but I know who he's with. Your dad has taken him out for the afternoon." My friends, if you have a child who has died with faith in Jesus, I don't know exactly where he or she is, but I know Who he or she is with. And I know the Person Who they are with will be bringing them back. He'll bring back your child and it will be OK. That is our resurrection message, it is Jesus' comfort and If you need to know more about the Savior Who can do such things, please, call us at The Lutheran Hour. Amen.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers)
Topic: Clarification -What Happens When We Die
Announcer: And now, Pastor Ken Klaus re-answers questions from listeners. I'm Mark Eischer.
Klaus: Let me play the straight man here. I'm re-answering the questions?
Announcer: That's right, re-answering.
Klaus: There isn't even such a word as re-answering.
Announcer: There is now.
Klaus: Can you tell our listeners what it means to re-answer a question?
Announcer: Well, sad to say, there have been times when we've replied to a question and we didn't get the point across. Sometimes we didn't express the idea clearly; maybe we went off on a tangent somewhere. The bottom line is, our answers may have caused
more problems than we solved and for that reason, during the next few weeks, we're going to go back and try to re-answer some of those questions.
Klaus: Yeah, hopefully this time we'll do a better job. So, what is our first question for re¬answering?
Announcer: The question is: what happens when we die? Is it like we're sleeping? Are we immediately in heaven or hell, and why do we need a Judgment Day?
Klaus: Gotcha. OK. Let's begin with the person dying. We're not talking about one of those Reader's Digest stories where the person dies five times on the operating table. We're talking about really, truly, totally, completely dead. No coming back.
Announcer: So, in other words, brain dead. Legally dead. No further chance of resuscitation.
Klaus: Exactly. The Bible teaches that, at that moment, the soul separates from the body.
Announcer: And that's where things get interesting and all the questions begin.
Klaus: That's where the questions begin. It is quite proper to say the dead person's body is "sleeping." We can say that because the day will come when that body will be awakened.
Announcer: On Judgment Day.
Klaus: Yeah, on Judgment Day. But till then the body is sleeping. That's what Jesus said about Jairus' daughter. He said she was only sleeping. He said the same about Lazarus ... they were going to go and wake Lazarus up. That's why we say, "They rest in
Announcer: What about in the case where the body is, let's say, eaten by a shark or the body is completely vaporized in an explosion?
Klaus: No difference. The God Who created everything with a word can bring all the scattered molecules of a body back together again on Judgment Day.
Announcer: So, at the point of death the body and soul separate. We say the body is sleeping... and what do you say about the soul?
Klaus: The soul. The souls of those who have been saved by Jesus are immediately taken to heaven.
Announcer: And, how do we know that?
Klaus: Remember what Jesus said to the thief on the cross: "Today you will be with Me in paradise." The book of Revelation talks about the martyrs who are in heaven. Paul talks about having a desire to depart and be with Jesus (Phil 1 :23). All of those passages are clear in saying the saved soul is immediately in heaven.
Announcer: And how about the unsaved souls?
Klaus: The souls who have not believed in Jesus do not go into non-existence. They are sent to hell where they will suffer until the final judgment.
Announcer: Now, that takes us to our next question ... if everyone is judged at the time of their death, why have a Judgment Day?
Klaus: First, the purpose of Judgment Day is for Jesus to fulfill His prophecy that He would come back to judge the world. Judgment Day is when the final verdict will be given on those who are alive. And the part you're wondering about... Judgment Day is when the sentence of "guilty" or "innocent" will be pronounced on every man, and woman, and child who has ever lived.
Announcer: So, let me see if I have this right, it's like ... when we die we're judged immediately and the verdict is in at that point.
Announcer: But on Judgment Day that verdict is then officially pronounced for everyone to know.
Announcer: And what about our bodies?
Klaus: Ahh, dare not forget about our bodies. Our bodies will rise and be reunited with
their souls. Those who have been saved by Jesus will be given glorified bodies and be given a new heaven and earth in which to live.
Announcer: And, do we know what that will that be like? Klaus: I don't have a clue. All you can say is it will be without the ravages of sin. No pain, no problems, no tears, no illness, no death.
Announcer: Now, what about those who didn't believe in Jesus as their Savior?
Klaus: Ahhh, soul and body will also come together ... but they will not enjoy the eternity
which awaits them. Eternal punishment is a horrible thing. Announcer: Thank you, Pastor Klaus. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour
Ministries. Music selection for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by John Leavitt. Concordia Publishing House/SESAC
"I Know That My Redeemer Lives" From And My Mouth Will Declare Your Praise by the
Children's Choirs of St. Paul's Lutheran Church (© 1997 St. Paul's Lutheran Church, Ft.
"Komm, heiliger Geist, Herre Gott" by Jan Janca. From A Year of Grace by Craig Cramer (© 2003 Dulcian Productions)
"Oh, That I Had a Thousand Voices" arr. by Chris Loemker. Concordia Publishing House/SESAC